Our Apollo 13

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The 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 13 mission was April 11. Many of our readers may be most familiar with this mission from the 1995 film of the same name starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon, among others. The crew of NASA’s Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third group of astronauts to land on the moon. An explosion in one of the oxygen tanks during the flight forced the crew to abandon their plan, orbit the moon and return to earth. Certain functions of the ship were crippled so the astronauts, working with the team of engineers at Mission Control had to improvise and calculate, literally on the fly, to ensure the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew. 

In honor of the anniversary, our homebound family watched the perennial favorite. My husband, an engineer, grew up enthralled with the Apollo launches and recalls this mission in vivid detail. In the movie, he loves the part when the mission control engineers pull out their slide rules to make recalculations. When I watched last week I was struck differently by one of the more famous lines. The flight director, Gene Kranz, played by Ed Harris, overhears two engineers talk about the astronaut’s low chance of survival. Kranz interrupts them by saying, “With all due respect, I believe this will be our finest hour.”

That line reminded me of our teachers and parents in this historic period. We are asking all of them to pull out their slide rules and recalculate the way we teach our students. Instead of running from the challenge, they are rising to it, embracing new technology, working with the tools they have but may not be completely comfortable with. They are trying new things and adapting those that work well and discarding those that do not. 

Our teachers and our parents are making it all work on behalf of the students. If there was ever a time when the value of our strong school to home partnership snaps into sharp focus, it is now. At school, we often talk about the many benefits of our cross curricular instruction. Our teachers’ natural tendency to consult with and collaborate with one another is helping everyone as they adapt to new technologies and solve problems. Clearly this partnership spotlights the value of cross curricular instruction that we do so well. We are also buoyed by our teachers’ flexibility. Lesson plans may have changed but our academic goals have not. As an independent school, we realize the importance of our teachers’ freedom and autonomy to teach our curriculum is a vital tool in our #distancelearning toolbox.

This is surely our finest hour in the midst of a pandemic health crisis but there are many more brilliant hours ahead. Our very finest hours happen in classrooms that are located in school buildings, playgrounds, gymnasiums and outdoor classrooms, not when we are isolated at home. Our finest hour chimes in the face of a first grader who has cracked the code for reading. Our finest hour happens when a middle school student confidently speaks in front of their class, in Spanish! Field learning makes up some of our finest hours, as well. Ask any student who has been on our Fourth Grade Chesapeake Bay Studies trip about that experience. It is three days and two nights worth of finest hours. 

Like Apollo 13, COVID – 19 is a challenging mission for Kent School and it is bringing out the best in us. But our finest hours are ahead of us when we can be together again, growing and learning on our beautiful campus. Our community has come together to make this pivot to distance learning one of our finest moments, but I look forward to our finest hour. See you on campus soon.

Tricia Cammerzell, Assistant Head of School for Advancement, is in her thirteenth year at Kent School. She is the parent of alumni graduating in 2009 and 2015.



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