This is a very unusual year. So, we are responding in a creative way. As ecological designers and educators, we are thinking through the ways our systems are resilient—and ways they are not—and determining how to carry out critical functions after disturbance to these systems. We are excited about the possibilities this “bridge year” holds as we continue critical self-examination, innovative teaching and learning, and community action.

The Class of 2020 completed remarkable winter and spring community planning projects, all while learning how to engage meaningfully with stakeholders online in the midst of a pandemic. Their team projects explore questions such as: How can human resilience in the face of climate change be measured and improved? Does green burial fit into family land? Can a right-of-way be a wildlife corridor?

In nearly five decades of teaching ecological design, there has never been a year like this.

Conway takes a holistic problem-solving approach to everything we do. In the spring of this year we transitioned to a term of remote teaching. Because the class had already formed a strong cohort, we were able to succeed quite well; however, at the end of the school year, the faculty, staff, and trustees recognized that this model was probably not sustainable, as so much of the Conway experience is realized by working in a design studio environment and out in the field. In response we asked our next class to delay full in-person participation until September 2021. And this year, we have embarked on a year of learning: a Bridge Year of Reflection and Creative Action.

Conway is taking an exploratory approach to inter-related challenges.

Our highest priority is the health and safety of our students, employees, and community. We are taking every possible precaution to ensure that no one in our community becomes ill—but if they do, they will be supported by every means available.

Conway’s faculty, staff, and trustees are taking this special Bridge Year opportunity to explore innovative ideas to ensure the school’s long-term well-being.

  • We are engaging in scenario planning to prepare for different possible pandemic and economic realities.
  • We are innovating how we learn and teach together.
  • We are deepening our commitment to environmental justice.

This year we are committed to focusing on the racial reckoning and accelerating climate change impacts. We are ramping up our efforts to become a more diverse and equitable institution. We must understand the role of race at the school and develop strategies and methods to address inequities.

We intend to deepen our relationships with partners who work with underserved neighborhoods and communities, as well as strengthen the project services that Conway can bring to meet community needs.

Equally, our work on the climate crisis cannot be fully effective without addressing how climate change disproportionately affects low-income communities, especially those of color.

One of our graduation traditions is a musical offering by an ad hoc chorus of students, trustees, faculty, and staff. When we had to take the ceremony online, we forged ahead with our plans and made it work using a music collaboration app.

It is our hope that by fall 2021, students can be with us on campus full time. We are also designing alternative hybrid teaching models that meet Conway’s high standards. Next year’s class has already started.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, we have invited the class to meet online. We are committed to maintaining the Conway model of teaching and learning, experimenting with online teaching, and planning new curriculum models. We currently have sixteen students—from fifteen communities across the nation—engaged in a year-long remote course, The Story of a Place: Introduction to Observing a Site. Once they arrive on campus for the 2021-2022 year, these students will know each other and the faculty better than any class in Conway’s history.

The Conway School is simultaneously facing four interrelated crises: health, racial, climate, and financial. All of this requires a serious and creative consideration of what design and planning mean in this new world—and how Conway can address the crises we face.