With 9,053 coronavirus deaths as of Wednesday morning, Spain trailed only nearby Italy among nations with the most fatalities stemming from the current global pandemic.
That grim reality leaves 14-year-old Lucia De Villota uneasy.
“The worst places are Barcelona and Madrid because they’re the main cities,” said De Villota, a freshman at Foxcroft Academy originally from the Spanish capital of Madrid, which has a population of 6.55 million.
“It’s pretty bad because it’s close to Italy and a lot of people travel between Italy and Spain, so it got contagious there pretty quickly,” she said.
De Villota is one of approximately 45 boarding students from around the world who, after consulting with their families, decided to remain at Foxcroft Academy this spring rather than return home as the virus continued to spread from continent to continent.
“I could have gone back, but my parents prefer me to stay here,” she said. “They know I’ll be more safe here because in Spain it’s not very good.”
While local students who attend the school are studying by computer from their homes, the boarding students still live on campus with their dormitory parents. Like their classmates, they are taking courses online from their teachers.
“We have a two-front situation,” Foxcroft head of school Arnold Shorey said. “Not only are we supporting online learning, but we’re also trying to shelter [the boarding] students and obviously keep them engaged in their learning while trying to come up with fun things for them to do on the weekends and at night.”
The international students still at Foxcroft remain on campus for health and safety reasons, but activities ranging from open gym time to movie nights provide entertainment while respecting social distancing guidelines.
“In the dorms there are no major changes,” said 18-year-old Alfonso Morales, a Foxcroft Academy senior from Guatemala City, Guatemala. “The dorm parents are trying to keep us busy, and they do a good job.”
While Guatemala had experienced just 39 COVID-19 cases and one related death as of early Wednesday, Morales and his family also decided he should remain at Foxcroft Academy for health and safety considerations.
“You can’t blame parents for wanting their children with them during a crisis like this,” Shorey said. “At the same time we said to the parents that your child can stay here as long as they need to, and who knows how long that’s going to be?
“It might go beyond [graduation day on] June 7, but we just want to make sure that their children get a lot of love and support. We’ll do that as long as we need to.”
Morales and De Villota have gotten used to taking online classes from the quiet of their dorm rooms instead of in the traditional classroom setting.
“In global politics we usually discuss a lot of things in class, or in English, the teacher usually tells us stories to explain what we’re talking about,” De Villota said. “You can see that the teachers are putting so much effort to make it the same and to distract us from the virus.
“Any questions we have we can ask them and it feels just like we’re in class, only with iPads.”
De Villota and Morales say what the boarding students miss most from their anticipated high school experience is the interaction with the rest of the student body whether in the hallway, the cafeteria, the classroom or outside of school.
“I miss the small details that you have in your everyday routine,” Morales said. “Going to school is good when you get to interact with a lot of people and are talking all the time, but at the same time we have to stay safe.”
While international students like Morales and De Villota may not have as many opportunities to interact with all the friends they’ve made locally — save for texting and social media — they savor the more frequent chances to check in with their families back home.
“Before I just texted my parents, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Good morning,’” Morales added. “Now with the virus, I FaceTime them every day.”
Morales and De Villota expect to remain at Foxcroft until the end of the academic year unless the continuing pandemic prompts additional changes.
“My parents are always worried because I’m far away, and I’m worried, too, because if someone in my family gets the virus it’s hard to deal with,” De Villota said. “But my parents know I’m safe here and that they’re taking good care of us.
“At the same time, my parents told me I need to stay calm because it’s something that’s happening all around the world and if we start panicking it’s not going to help. We just need to wash our hands a lot, be careful and do social distancing. Just be careful.”