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Student article: 7th-grader Shirin interviews Director Sandy Mackenzie

The extraordinary event of the coronavirus pandemic will be remembered for many years to come. At Copenhagen International School it put a large amount of stress on both students and teachers as we had to switch to remote learning overnight. I still remember the thrill of engaging with homeschooling, and waking up to my whole class remotely on the computer while I was still eating breakfast. As you can imagine our school director Sandy Mackenzie was leading the emergency response and had to quickly take a number of difficult decisions. I have had an opportunity to interview Sandy about how he coped during this abnormal time, and also about the experiences of his first year at the school.

I first asked him about the Coronavirus and how he felt the school coped with it.

How do you feel the school coped with the virus?
"The global pandemic of COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone's lives. In Denmark, the lockdown came swiftly and early. As a school, I think that we have coped very well, thanks to the versatility of our students and the adaptability of our staff, as well as the support of our parents. We transitioned well into remote learning - an environment that was completely new to everyone - and modified as we went along. Then, into phase 1 of re-opening, we were one of the first schools in the world to make this move. The Primary School staff and students were incredible at following all of the guidelines of hand hygiene and social distancing as we adjusted to another entirely new way of doing things. I am sure that we have learned so much about ourselves through this experience - as individuals and as a school. Now there are schools all over the world who are looking to our lead so they know how to re-open their campus."

What do you miss the most during the pandemic?
"Human connection and interaction. We are not designed to spend so much time alone, nor are we meant to stand 2 metres apart when talking to each other - it feels unnatural."

How do you destress?
"I try to run regularly - during lockdown this has not been as often as it should have been!"

I couldn't agree more. Human interaction is a very important aspect of our school. Being remote is very hard for us and as Sandy said it feels unnatural.

Then I asked Sandy about his first year and his hopes and wishes for the school in the years to come.

What do you hope for CIS for the future?
"I hope for CIS to continue to be a beacon of hope, a place of joyful learning and a fantastic place to work. We have an amazing community that cares for each other and I hope that we will retain that identity for many years to come. When we say that we educate champions of a just and sustainable world, it is important to unpack all of those words. As champions, we all should be prepared to be upstanders - to be prepared to stand up for the ideals and ideas that we believe in. We need CIS and the world in which we are located to be sustainable, and we know that climate change is one of the greatest challenges that faces the current generation. We want our community, and our wider world, to be just one - each and every one of us has a role to play in making that happen by bringing our best selves into school (and beyond) every day. I am proud to be the Director of CIS, and I want everyone associated with the school to feel that sense of pride too."

How do you feel today compared to your first day on the job?
"On my first day, I felt a sense of excitement and wonder as I started my new role but also a large degree of nervousness because it was very new, and I was very aware that people were curious about the new Director! Today, I feel that I know and understand the community to a much greater degree. I also think that many people know who I am, and that I believe in our wonderful school and fantastic community."

What was the most memorable day to date?
"There have been many memorable days in this quite unusual year! The day when we realised that we had no water on campus was particularly memorable. What I found astounding, reassuring and impressive was the way in which everyone pulled together to respond to the problem. Parents were quick to pick up Primary School children, teachers were helpful and calm, Middle and High School students followed instructions and were thoughtful and understanding. It gave me an early indicator of the strength of our caring community."

What do you think makes CIS great?
"The people. Of course, we are so lucky with our fantastic building and superb location but the number one ingredient is the people. Our students and staff combine to make this school genuinely unique!"

Do you know everyone at the school?
"I wish I could say yes. I feel like I get to know more people every day but students being off campus during the pandemic has meant that this has been quite a challenge!"

As you can tell, Sandy has had an exciting year with some quite unusual turns. I agree with him that the remote learning experience has been a challenge, and I also agree that everyone has grown with it. Maybe the school could benefit from having more remote learning... but I think we all can agree that nothing beats a hug!

[This interview was conducted in June for our print publication Footprints, which has been discontinued. We're hoping Shirin's article will reach a wider audience by being published here and thank her for her contribution.]