Celebrating Our Start to the School Year
In today’s circumstances, it is understandable that we tend to focus on all of the things that are different. There are so many activities and traditions that we miss. It is, for this reason, all the more important to celebrate the continuity in our lives in the midst of all of the disruption and distance and to recognize that this thread of continuity will carry us through.
Quest Forward Academy started the school year on schedule by welcoming new students to the community at orientation — in person, safely distanced, and masked. As in prior years, new and returning students got to know each other in orientation events and design challenges in the first week. Classes for all students began virtually, right on schedule. Our students follow a schedule that will continue unchanged when we return to in-person learning. We still gather as a community to share, play, and learn. Classes still focus on the supportive, student-centered mentoring of each learner.
While it has easily been the weirdest start of a school year in our memories, the fact that we continue to preserve and grow our joyful learning community at a distance is a testament to resilience that will sustain us.
Below, members of this learning community look forward to the year ahead and reflect upon this surreal time. I hope their perspectives inspire and motivate you as they do me.
— Karen Kenkel, PhD
Director, Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa
“We’ve got this! Through pandemic and wildfires, students bravely dove into learning at the start of our school year.
We began with an orientation. New students joined their families on campus in celebration circles, socially-distanced safe zones, to meet the mentors, have fun with their peers, and get all the supplies they needed to quest successfully.
The whole school reunited online to learn about what makes Quest Forward Academy so special: its history, its approach to learning, its wonderful mentors, and staff. Students also had the chance to begin thinking about clubs and which ones they would start. Anime? Online Dance? Social Justice? The seeds were planted for another vibrant extracurricular life this year, apart but together!
Then it was time to quest! Classes began. Learning communities agreed to shared expectations for classroom behavior and friendships formed and deepened in small-group breakouts. The richness of the Quest Forward Academy experience was apparent early and often. Mentors shared their great appreciation for the students and the curriculum. We are off to a great start!”
— Jordan Bulger, English Mentor
“Returning virtually to Quest Forward has certainly been different [this year]… The pandemic has altered the way we shop, interact, learn, work, and live. It’s also taught me the importance of community and friendship. Making an effort to stay connected and informed says you care. For my family, although we ourselves luckily weren’t asked to evacuate yet, it’s still difficult seeing our friends suffer and our city burn.
[Coming back to school], the atmosphere was warm and accommodating, even through on a screen. It’s exciting seeing so many new additions and changes this year, from extra college preparedness to eager freshman and friendly mentors, you can easily feel how Quest Forward Academy is growing and evolving to better their school and community.”
— Jamie, 12th Grade
“In my role, I am fortunate to work with students from their first inquiry to enrollment. I know I am making a difference in so many students’ lives by giving them a platform to grow both socially and academically. I also have the privilege of hearing joyful, grateful parents. Many parents have told me that the school gave their child a voice to be themselves. They see their student being recognized as a person and not just a number. During critical times such as these, we understand the importance of building meaningful relationships with all students and families in order to kickoff what I know will be a fantastic year!”
— Valerie Carpenter, Director of Recruitment
“I had initially expected returning to school in the midst of a global pandemic and local wildfires to be extremely difficult and overwhelming. Yet, at Quest Forward Academy, the experience has been to the contrary. All of my mentors and the staff fully committed to making this experience a positive one. Regaining this element of my life has given me a sense of normalcy. I know many friends who have been impacted by recent events, and I’ve noticed that — much to the appreciation of these students — staff and mentors are there to address all concerns and work with people individually to ensure they’re still receiving a quality education and the support of a caring community given the situation. I’m so glad to once again be a part of this incredible community.
I felt extremely prepared for virtual learning returning to school this year. Even before transitioning to fully virtual, we used technology quite frequently, so we didn’t have a great deal to get used to. All members of our school community have played their part in helping virtual learning to become the new normal. In my personal experience, the transition was relatively seamless. There’s hardly anything I miss about in-person school that isn’t available virtually.
One of my favorite things about Quest Forward Academy has always been the close-knit community. I think we’ve all done a wonderful job of replicating it online. I know how much all of my mentors cherish teaching and being a part of our lives, so I knew how eager they were to continue connecting with us virtually. Even new staff members I hardly know seem like they are an organic part of QFA. I’m so glad to be in a friendly and accepting community that no virtual boundaries can come between!”
— Mira, 12th grade, President of Student Council
Karen Kenkel, PhD, is the founding Director of Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa. With over 30 years of experience in education administration and teaching in public and private schools, she wore many hats at Quest Forward Academy to ensure that students and mentors experience joyful learning in a nurturing environment.