Administration reviews reopening’s early days

Screenshot of Student Body President Cyril Leahy ’21 in an interview, September 28, 2020 – Jeffrey Yang ’22

After all the grueling summer research, planning, and adjustments, faculty and staff apprehensively greeted boys back onto campus on September 9. Since then, the plans have found much success, but unexpected mishaps and areas for improvement have arisen as well. 

     The fire alarms that rang through Wilson Hall on one of the first few days of class were unplanned, as was the subsequent conglomeration of students on the track Sabol Field. In response, Head of School Dr. John Nagl admits the event as a fault in the system but is pleased with the community’s ability to maintain safety measures amid the chaos.

     “That was suboptimal; it was a fault in the system,” Dr. Nagl said. “Those things happen sometimes, but we did get everybody out of the building and in good time. We did the right thing in case it had been a real, real significant event, and we did have everybody wearing masks.” 

     Undeterred by this event, the safety measures have been largely successful. Members of the administration, including Dr. Nagl and Acting Head of Upper School Mr. Mark Fifer, are pleased with students’ compliance with wearing face masks.

     “The mask-wearing has gone, I think, reasonably well,” Mr. Fifer said. “You know, I think that this is going to be the piece that takes the most regular reminders for folks in order to maintain and sustain consistent adherence.”

     Additionally, the majority of students logging into the Magnus Health app each morning has been critical in ensuring the health of the community. While both Mr. Fifer and Dr. Nagl initially shared concern, they were assured by students’ understanding of the app’s significance.

     “I think that the Magnus health stuff has also gotten good, too. I think if people are sick, they’re not coming in,” Student Body President Cyril Leahy said. “So I think it just keeps people on their toes, and I think [the app is] smart.”

     A less physical change that has helped mitigate virus exposure is the new schedule. The cohorts of students in the lower and middle schools, Dr. Nagl reports, keep the boys’ interaction within the same easily trackable group.  

     Mr. Fifer emphasized the significance of the new daily three ninety-minute period schedule in minimizing upper school physical interactions and, so far, the few cases.

     “This learning framework and structure has allowed us to dramatically decrease the number of effective contacts between students, which when we consider from a health and safety lens, is beneficial. Decreasing the number of effective contacts allows us to maximize the possibility to maintain in-person learning,” Mr. Fifer said. 

Screenshot of Mr. Mark Fifer in an interview, September 28, 2020 – Jeffrey Yang ’22

     The upper school schedule also greatly restricts students from meeting peers outside of their classes. As student body president, Leahy has observed looser connections among the community and is saddened by the lack of opportunity to implement the changes he had planned last spring, when he was hopeful for a more typical year. Nevertheless, he is grateful to see as much of the community in person.

   “The nature of classes and the nature of how we have to go about this year is very physically disconnected. So I can feel the disconnection throughout the school,” Leahy said. “But it’s great to see people in the hallway and still say ‘Hi.’ You still get some of that old vibe.”

     The lack of interaction extends to assemblies, and clubs, and extracurricular activities. Mr. Fifer noted the difficulty of finding a time in the schedule for different groups to meet, both safely in person or virtually. 

     “Running all of the programming that is really important to the Haverford School experience, which is the programming that happens outside of the class and finding time to do that has been challenging,” Mr. Fifer said. “And so that’s been a challenge that we’re going to have to continue to work on. Where do we find time for student organizations to meet, student leadership groups, clubs, and organizations? Where can we find time for that to occur?” 

     Aside from students feeling distanced, the faculty have also lost most of their interaction with their colleagues. Moments in the day where teachers previously shared ideas for their classes, discussed student situations, or just spent time together, are critical, but now almost nonexistent.

     “The faculty hugely looks forward to gathering together around the coffee pot in the lunchroom in the mornings and having lunch together,” Dr. Nagl said. “The new schedule that we put in place to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus is getting in the way of that very, very positive interaction and what turns out to be one of the most important parts of the school.” 

     Furthermore, he worries that the lack of faculty interaction will affect their ability to support students who may need attention.  

     “I’m worried that the faculty aren’t going to be as happy because they thrive on that human-to-human interaction,” Dr. Nagl said. “But, also they’re not going to be as good at identifying challenges boys are having because they aren’t mixing together as effectively. And so we’re working hard to find ways to solve that challenge.”

     “Parents so far have been broadly speaking delighted and are very grateful for the work the faculty and staff did over the summer, [and] for the work the faculty are doing now. The county is pleased with the steps we’ve taken and wants us to continue doing what we’re doing,” Dr. Nagl said.

“It’s all fine until it’s not all fine until there’s a case and then we have to go through this process of contact tracing.”

Acting Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer

     All those interviewed stressed the importance of maintaining the safety precautions set in place. Ultimately, students’ sustained practicing of the rules and mindfulness in their daily interactions determine the schools’ ability to remain open in-person.

     Mr. Fifer said, “It’s all fine until it’s not all fine until there’s a case and then we have to go through this process of contact tracing. If we’re able to maintain adherence to those health and safety practices consistently, then the web of people who will be impacted by a potential case will be much smaller and much more contained than if there are folks who are not, in which case it becomes more difficult, perhaps, to maintain in-person learning for a period of time.”

Author: Jeffrey Yang '22

Managing editor Jeffrey Yang has written for The Index since 2018. He previously served as news editor. His feature "Fords immigrants under the spotlight: Mr. Kan's citizenship odyssey" earned a Gold Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Scholastic Writing Awards.