NEARI President Larry Purtill's message to members as summer approaches and school ends.

On March 13, just over three months ago, everything changed.

The pandemic hit full force and in a week's time you were asked to do what seemed almost insurmountable. You were asked to move to distance learning and provide education in a totally different manner and from home. You were asked to keep our colleges, schools, and town offices safe from a threat we knew little about. You were asked to deliver services for all, while at the same time, confined to your home and protecting and caring for your own family from the growing threat of Covid-19.

If you are a member at the Department of Health, you were asked to work almost around the clock, in person, and on the job to keep the rest of Rhode Island safe. It seemed like an impossible ask.

Yet, each and every one of you stepped up and together we succeeded beyond all expectations. It is not an overstatement to say we did it as well, if not better, than anywhere else in the country.

Working with the Governor's office, RIDE, and our state agencies, educators and education support professionals provided instruction to our students. You reached out to them on a daily basis, checked in to be sure they were safe, delivered meals to those who needed it, and provided the social and emotional care for which they have looked to you over the last many months.

Instead of saying “we can't do it,” you did it.

It was not only Covid-19, but the economic downfall that accompanied it that led to 200,000 unemployed Rhode Islanders and businesses closing. That impacted you and your students as well. These past few weeks, with the murder of George Floyd, we are face to face with a 401-year-old history of systemic racism in this country and the impact it has on our educational system and how many of our students and members across the country are marginalized. I said on “Ask Larry and Bob,” we are living through 1918, the 1930s and 1968 again, this time all at once. Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to step up, listen, learn and be part of a systematic change that impacts society – and as educators, which we all are, we can be a catalyst for that change.

Thanks is not enough for what you accomplished these past 100 days. It came at a price. You have worked harder than ever, stressed about the needs of your students, co-workers, and fellow Rhode Islanders. Many of you worked from home while also trying to help educate your own children, and many of you had parents and family members to care for.

Rhode Island asked a lot of you and now I am asking for more – this time it is about you.

As school ends today for many of you and the weather warms, please take time for yourself. Each of us has been impacted and we all need time to catch our breath, be with our families, and try to relax. Go to the beach (safely of course), read a book, ride a bike (my favorite), take a nap or just do nothing. You cannot meet the social emotional needs of others if you do not take care of yourselves. And if you are working this summer, please take time off!

I would love to say it is over and we are on the other side of this, but obviously I cannot. I will be thrilled when I never again have to ask you to have patience and be flexible. We know school will start at the end of August and what exactly that looks like will depend on any viral spread over the summer, along with CDC and Department of Health guidelines.

One thing I know for sure is that your voice needs to be heard as the state and each district plans for the schools to reopen. Yes, there are more questions than answers but as we have learned in the past few months: together we will meet the challenge as never before.

I have never been prouder to be an educator and a member of our 12,000-person organization who stepped up and did what a short time ago seemed impossible. I want to thank each and every one of you for your inspiration and how you provided for the students of Rhode Island and kept all Rhode Islanders safe. Please take some time and enjoy the summer.

In solidarity,