As another school year begins under the COVID-19 pandemic, so much of what will come in the next nine months remains uncertain, but, at least, the situation is not unprecedented.
In looking at the year ahead, the administration has set out to make this year seem as “normal” as possible. Yet what aspects constitute normalcy differ among those in our community. For Head of School Mr. Tyler Casertano, the first step stands as having everyone back on campus.
“Where it begins is having kids on campus as much as possible. COVID-19 demonstrated how important in-person learning is, especially at places like Haverford that ground themselves in community. Community is created by shared experiences and the spirit of togetherness, and, if everyone’s in different places, it’s really difficult to create that sense of community,” Mr. Casertano said.
To Upper School Dean of Students Mr. Luqman Kolade, these shared experiences define the school experience.
“They’re the things that make Haverford Haverford,” Mr. Kolade said. “Because we’ve missed almost two years, we realized the things we used to take for granted.”
Some cherish the community built over conversations in the dining hall and during assemblies and various symbols of our community displayed in customs like the dress code. Others miss the collective school spirit manifested at athletic and performing arts events.
Sixth Former Damian Ferraro said, “It made me really sad last year looking at Centennial and seeing it empty, and knowing that there wouldn’t be a concert—we even had to lip-sync for a Notables music video. I’m also hoping that we have people physically at soccer games or tennis matches this year, and not just watching through the live stream.”
Though final policies are still being decided and the pandemic is constantly changing, many sense that this year will bring back a larger sense of normalcy, with the currently planned opportunities for all these shared experiences.
But, in a different light, Upper School Latin teacher Ms. Sara Adkins prefers to view each year as building on the past, rather than a diversion from previous norms.
“Virtual meetings made it easier to find a time when everyone could meet, so I’ll probably be doing some of those this year and in the future.”Ms. Sara Adkins
“I don’t want to use the word ‘normal’; every year is going to be a new normal. Some things were useful last year, like virtual meetings that ended up being quite productive,” Ms. Adkins said. “Virtual meetings made it easier to find a time when everyone could meet, so I’ll probably be doing some of those this year and in the future.”
Yet, regardless of their perspective on normalcy, all agreed that the pervading symbol of the pandemic, and the one that will remind us of the fact that things are still different, are masks.
Assistant Head of School Mr. Mark Thorburn said, “The biggest thing this year that will make it seem less than normal is masks. But, masks allow us to interact. Last year, masks made a great difference in allowing us to stay in-person for most of the year.”
Though the simple gesture of seeing people smile as they pass by in the hall is something Ferraro will miss, he understands the necessity of precautions such as mask policies and social distancing—now a mandated three feet instead of six—and hopes upperclassmen will encourage their peers and underclassmen to follow these measures.
“I think it’s really important that we take these precautions seriously because it’ll take everyone diving into it together for us to stay safe and have the things we want,” Ferraro said.
“Underclassmen will be looking at the upperclassmen to see how to act in places like assemblies and community spaces.”Mr. Luqman Kolade
Mr. Kolade also emphasized the importance of upper-class leadership this year in guiding underclassmen who have never experienced various aspects of the upper school. The example set by the Fifth and Sixth Forms this year has the potential, more significantly than before, to change norms for the future classes.
“Underclassmen will be looking at the upperclassmen to see how to act in places like assemblies and community spaces,” Mr. Kolade said. “There’s a space to start things new since they [the underclassmen] might not really know what it’s been like before [the pandemic].”
Specifically, Ms. Adkins pointed out the opportunity to create new traditions and norms: a task which she sees falls on both faculty and Sixth Formers.
“We need to dig into what things were lost, and we need to help the school replicate them or remake them new. For example, EA week was very different this past year, and perhaps there’s room for creating a new, better EA week,” Ms. Adkins said.
But before any plans can be solidified, attention this year, as was last year, will constantly be given to the policies recommended or set by various institutions. Mr. Thorburn feels confident that, with the knowledge and precedent set last year and the rollout of vaccines, planning will be slightly less difficult this year.
Mr. Thorburn said, “We are continuing to pay attention to the information provided by Montgomery County and other local guidelines. Last year, we had to make plans, and then change them, but we know a lot more now, and we have the vaccine, which makes a difference in quarantining. [The precautionary policies] fall into similar categories as before.”
“The biggest challenge will be for some folks to relearn the culture of masking. The masks allow us to do so many of those community rituals and allow us to prioritize in-person learning and day-to-day togetherness.”Mr. Tyler Casertano
But many are wary of the severity, or lack thereof, with which members of the community will heed these policies, especially considering the cycle of loosened restrictions over the summer and, now, tightening restrictions with the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
“The biggest challenge will be for some folks to relearn the culture of masking. The masks allow us to do so many of those community rituals and allow us to prioritize in-person learning and day-to-day togetherness,” Mr. Casertano said.
For the community, a flexible mindset is required during this time, but, more importantly, is continuing the positive attitude—that which stemmed from just being together in person last year—into this year.
Ferraro said, “We need to approach each day with a positive outlook and be thankful for the experience that we have.”