Creativity in the Time of Covid-Nov. 15, 2020

Sarasota Film Festival to Feature “Into the Storm”

In April 2019, the VPA Film & Animation Department’s documentary “Into the Storm” premiered at the Sarasota Film Festival for a one-night-only special screening. The film, created by the class of 2019—Carol Fauls, Lindsey Jennings, Sydney Catalfino, and Kiara Harris—depicts the little-known story of the challenges of integrating the Sarasota County Schools, through the narrative of the epic story of the 1967 BHS Tornadoes basketball team. The team achieved an invitation to the state finals, won the championship, and returned home to discover their school had been closed. The documentary details the subsequent student-led protests that helped keep the school alive.

That night in 2019 set off a storm of interest: since its debut, buzz about this documentary throughout the community and beyond propelled it through the festival circuit, featured around the globe—including the Prague Youth Film Festival in December 2019. It’s been a sought-after slice of Sarasota history, and the VPA has received many requests for screening since its premiere that we’ve had to turn down due to festival protocol.

Those who have been hoping to see it, or to witness it again, are in for a treat: “Into the Storm” will be featured in the second annual Visions of the Black Experience festival held through Nov. 22 online. Sarasota Film Festival, New College, and the Barancik and Community foundations are involved. 

The film itself is available for free any time during the festival here.

The discussion at 5 p.m. will be here

Storm Makers: “Into the Storm” production team (L-R) Kiara Harris, Sydney Catalfino, Carol Fauls, and Lindsey Jennings.

Tropical Storm Eta Forces Cancellation

It turns out it can rain on our parade, a lesson learned this week as we braced for the high winds and record rains brought by unpredictable Eta, the tropical storm that forced school closures and rehearsal and show cancellations.

The Music and Dance departments had been planning Under the Willow, an outdoor concert featuring collaborative works from both disciplines. But Eta’s threat forced cancellation of the show, which was scheduled for Nov. 12.

Trying to outsmart a virus and discover new ways of celebrating the arts is proving more challenging than we’d hoped, but we won’t give up or give in easily. Plans now are underway to record the works to be released as a livestream in late November or early December.

An Emphasis on Hispanic Learners

As the Booker High School demographic evolves, leading to a majority Hispanic population, our administration, faculty and staff are redoubling efforts to engage our Hispanic stakeholders. This intentional practice, led by proud principal Dr. Rachel Shelley, has meant learning more about Hispanic cultures, celebrating our Hispanic students, and offering additional services to our Hispanic families.

On Nov. 7, a group of BHS teachers, along with parent leaders of the new BHS Hispanic Parents Community Network visited St. Jude Catholic Church to meet with Father Celestino Gutierrez, head priest, along with other church staff, to discuss access to services, strategies to connect with Hispanic families, and more. Field trip participants then journeyed to Key Grocery, a supermarket catering to Hispanic cuisines, and then finished with an al fresco traditional lunch, all distanced.

This “field trip” was one piece of a deliberate effort to unite more completely with our Hispanic families. Other aspects of the effort, closer to our Booker home, include large displays celebrating the many Hispanic cultures represented in our student population and offering more bilingual messaging to ensure access. In VPA Dance, the effort extends to the classroom, with students taking Flamenco with Mexican dance teacher Isabel Dubroqc, who also shares historical and cultural lessons that help her students appreciate the dance form and more.

COVID Transmissions offer Valuable Reminders-The Pandemic Swells

Co-existing with Covid these past eight months has brought deep uncertainties, and these escalated as schools opened to students and staff, placing many in proximity to more people than they’d seen since March. While Booker High School has taken measures to stave an outbreak with noteworthy success, this past week shook the VPA program with positive cases and exposures among students of the arts.

While Booker High remains the school in the district with the lowest incidence of cases and exclusions, the number went up this week, with just three positive cases impacting dozens of students overall. Through contact tracing conducted by the Department of Health and Booker administration, a total of 49 students and two teachers have had to be excluded from in-person learning for 14 days.

As an insight to guidelines, any person who has been within six feet of a Covid-positive person for a cumulative 15 minutes or more is deemed excluded from in-person learning for 14 days. Contact tracing is done through analyzing seating charts and camera footage, as well as measuring spaces and interviewing those involved. A final step of spread mitigation is a deep cleaning of areas known to have been spaces where a positive case has been; these sanitizing services are performed by our custodial staff, who have worked hard this year to ensure a clean and sanitized campus.

While it is not mandatory for an excluded person to pursue a diagnosis through testing, it might provide some peace of mind to do so, as those potential carriers also have a circle of influence within their homes and personal communities.

This is a reminder to all that now is not time to let down our guard; as we head into the holidays, marked traditionally with larger gatherings indoors, the medical community is predicting a drastic surge in cases that will follow what has been a concerning national uptick. This uptick has seen record numbers of people nationwide who’ve been diagnosed with Covid-19, and these numbers are reflected in the positive cases in the Sarasota region. The number of cases in schools reached a high last week, as reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. We should bear this trend in mind when making decisions about participating in any activity involving groups of people, from community art projects and performances to holiday celebrations. Our school community must remain vigilant–practice physical distancing, proper mask-wearing (covering the nose AND mouth), and hyper-hygiene—in order to continue our great record of low exposures and minimal spread. For all of us, this also means remembering that wherever we are, our actions impact our Booker High School community. Exclusions from class are disappointing and disruptive for students, their families, and teachers, and we owe it to one another to do our part to crush Covid in its tracks.

Upcoming Dates

Professional Day: Nov. 18–No School for Students

Thanksgiving Holiday: Nov. 25-27

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