Updated: Oct 29, 2021
One of the best things, in my opinion, about going to ERHS is that we have the wonderful Mylene Keipp as our principal. I’ve never heard a single bad word about Mrs. Keipp in all my years at Eagle Rock, even during the uncertainty of quarantine and the unpleasantness of online school, which is a testament to her amicable nature and the kindness that she shows to every student.
I keep this at the forefront of my mind as the two of us set out on a walk around campus so that I can ask her about how she’s been feeling about being back on campus with students; it makes me less nervous. Knowing that Briana Garcia, one of the Eagle Scream’s lovely photographers, will be shadowing us also helps.
I start by asking Mrs. Keipp about what she enjoys about being back at school fully in person. She takes a moment to think, and then:
“Seeing people past a screen, and knowing that we're all working together. When we were on campus without students, it didn’t feel the same. Y’know, it was just like a place without students, it was weird. How do you have school without students?”
I nod, and ask a follow up question: how has it been seeing how students have changed after not seeing them for a year and a half?
“Hair colors, hair style, height — you don't see that in a camera, and lots of students have their camera off. I historically teach 7th grade and so my 7th graders are all like —” She gestures, and I know that what she means is that they've grown up. “So the students that I taught in 7th grade are now juniors and seniors, y’know, the ones last year, are eighth graders, obviously, two years ago, 9th graders. So it's exciting.”
I tell her a story about not recognizing one of my classmates on the first day of school because of how much they'd changed, and she laughs. I ask about things and people who have made her less anxious about reopening, and Mrs. Keipp immediately brings up the school’s administrators, demonstrating how highly she regards them.
“We have an incredible administrative team. So Ms. Cisneros, Ms. Leonido, Ms. Tsu, Mr. Lord, the four of them are incredible leaders. Ms. Cisneros’ organization for just the whole school, Mr. Lord's history, Ms. Tsu’s ability to categorize things that we need in terms of athletics and textbooks. Ms. Leonido is the head counselor. They do everything to make our eight period schedule run. These four are just an incredible part of our team, and then our teachers wanting to learn and grow, our families wanting to support us.
“Again, we don't have a school without students. And so folks say things like, ‘How do we support students?’ We have to talk to students and ask students what they want. And so we interviewed groups of students about what they're excited about, what they're nervous about, what supports they need. And overall, it was that they just want to know that they have a connection and they feel safe. I feel like that's the Eagle Rock way.”
It definitely is the Eagle Rock way. My next question is more personal: how have you been dealing with the stress of opening back up fully again?
“Again, it's teamwork. Knowing that it's not me doing everything, it's all of us working together and over communicating. One of the things that we've been doing is really saying we need to focus on our mental health and our interdependence. That we all need to talk with each other, especially with weekly COVID testing. We were in the North Gym, we were in the South Gym in one room, we were in two rooms. And I feel like it’s better now.”
I assure her that weekly testing has gotten a lot better.
“Right? What's hard, too, is that it changes. Monday, Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday -- well, next week is Wednesday, Thursday! And some teachers, and some families are saying, ‘Well, why don't we use these classes and not these classes?’ And my thing is at our eight period day school, every class is important. I will never say one period is less important. They're equal. And that's the beauty of an IB school: every subject is important. So we're just learning how to spread the wealth.”
I mention that students I’ve talked to about weekly testing have been appreciative and pleasantly surprised by the consistency of weekly testing, and it’s clear that she appreciates the knowledge. We pass Mr. Biscotto as we loop back around the bungalows by the North Gym, and Mrs. Keipp stops to say high to him before answering my next question about what students could be doing to make things easier for administration.
“One is continuing to check in with each other and over communicate, because it's not just my job. A specific example is masking. There are folks that are concerned that, ‘Oh, my friend is not wearing the mask, will you talk to them?’ But . . . you can talk to your friend. I'm not the mask police, right? When I talk with different students, they don't want the schools to close, they want us to be safe. So that's why they're going to test, and that's why they're going to wear their mask. That's why they're going to get their vaccinations. Because they don't want to go back home. We want to be back together as long as it’s safe. I feel that each of us is an important leader in the pandemic. It’s everybody, it’s not ‘Well, Mrs. Keipp said I had to wear my mask!’ No! Our community says it's important to wear our mask.”
Then, I get onto one of the more interesting questions: what's the craziest thing that you've had happen to you since school reopened? I anticipate that her answer will be something interesting, and it is.
“That's a hard one. I mean, because part of it, like, you wouldn't even believe. Well, I guess it’s that the idea that stealing soap dispensers is a good thing.”
Unfortunately, I know exactly what she’s talking about: the soap dispensers missing from the boy’s bathroom.
“If we’re going to be clean and safe, we need soap. And the fact that someone thinks that's funny . . .”
Like, how are you supposed to wash your hands? I ask. I laugh, and Mrs. Keipp gives her own disbelieving chuckle.
“Yeah, especially you're in the bathroom. Like, yeah.”
Moving on, I ask what the best thing that's happened to Mrs. Keipp since reopening, another question I’m interested in the answer to.
“I would probably say knowing my old group of 7th graders. They're graduating and, like, knowing that I've seen them for six years. The class of '22 is my first full class, right? I mean, I've been here, but we were 7th graders together. That's really cool. It's just — it's so fast. You know what I mean? You were 7th graders, you know, and now you're gonna be seniors. I think that's incredible. I got a letter from an alumni last year, talking about things that she learned here that helped her transfer and be successful in college. Those types of things . . . Like, we know it happens, but we don't often get letters or things that confirm that, so that's really cool.”
The answer to my following question is one I’m sure is important to all ERHS’s juniors and seniors: how worried are you that the school might shut down again?
“I trust science. I trust the CDC. I trust the L.A. County Department of Health. I feel that our district is being as proactive as it can, and that it would have to be something very drastic for us to close and — knock on wood — we haven't had any outbreaks. We haven't been free from positive cases, but what we’ve been discovering through contact tracing is that they’re not coming from campus, they’re coming from somewhere else. And considering how big we are, that's pretty good. It goes back to testing because once we know we have the positive results: don't come to school! Without the consistent testing, how would we know?”
The last question I ask is “What is one thing you want students to know, about anything, COVID or otherwise?” She takes a few moments to think, and then:
“That the ROCK — respect our school and community, optimize effort, challenge learning, and above all, kindness matters — is the foundation of an international baccalaureate school when you think globally and act locally. And I feel like that's especially important in a pandemic that we are responsible for each other. And that kind of idea is community, right? That nobody exists in isolation. The school is successful for many reasons, and not because of me. It's because of lots of different stakeholders and partners. And what does it mean to respect others? It's about being open to perspectives, and there are many right answers. And how do you show maturity and holding different perspectives?”
Certainly not by taking the soap dispensers off of the wall.
We found out recently that Mrs. Keipp has been promoted, and that her last day as principal of ERHS will be October 29, this Friday.
I got the chance to listen in on a conversation that Mrs. Keipp had with two of my fellow Eagle’s Scream writers, Karla and Lily, about her leaving and how she wants to be remembered at the school. Hearing Mrs. Keipp talk thinking school needs friendship benches, and how she doesn’t want to be the last Filipino-American woman to be principal ERHS’s principal, and how . . . really hit it home that in under a month, we’ll have to say goodbye (for now, at least) to a presence that absolutely lights up our campus, a presence that is always open and supportive.
I’ve only had four principals so far throughout my life, but I can say with certainty that Mrs. Keipp is and will always be my favorite one. Thank you for being such a kind and energetic principal, Mrs. Keipp. I know I speak for everyone on campus when I say that we’re going to miss you dearly.