The past few weeks were the start of the Upper School experience for not only the Third Form, but also the Fourth. With a year-and-a-half of a distorted school experience, Fourth Formers now face a challenge: how to make up the lost time.
Though 2020 struck everyone in the community, it was also the year that current Fourth formers graduated from middle school, or, rather, passed through in the final months of virtual learning. Thus, as wide-eyed freshmen, they entered the Upper School last fall—excited to join the ranks of older students—but instead experienced little: dormant clubs, mini sport seasons, absent student-sections, and lunch with the same people everyday, sometimes to the crackle of broadcasted assemblies.
“Their challenge would be seeing all that this place has to offer,” Fourth Form Dean Mr. Timothy Lengel said, “all the stuff that happens outside of the classroom and on the sports field. All things they missed last year.”
And also in those places, are where underclassmen meet with upperclassmen. So, with limited sports and clubs, they—as Third Formers last year—had no example to follow as they teetered into their first year of high school expectations and our cultural norms.
“A certain level of mentorship is always useful,” Fourth Form Student Council representative Christopher Schwarting said. “Seeing upperclassmen’s examples in clubs and activities makes an impact on what we do.”
But more than with upperclassmen, Fourth Formers feel disconnected with peers in their own form. Even with whole-form gatherings this year, Fourth Form Student Council representative Quin Bongiovani sees this as a persistent concern.
“Compared to last year, it’s better, but we still have the quarter schedule, so you’re still seeing a lot of the same people every day except for during a few free periods,” Bongiovani said. “I’m lucky that there’s a lot of people in my grade that have the same free period as I do, but I know some people are struggling with connecting with other people as a whole.”
Schwarting echoed this sentiment, citing that their form was close-knit pre-COVID, but drifted apart during the previous months.
“In middle school, everyone knew each other’s name. As a grade, we tend to be very friendly and open and engage with each other, but last year, we weren’t able to see people and I think we lost some of those qualities. For me, it’s the first year that I didn’t know everyone’s name,” Schwarting said.
Parents of Fourth Formers have also noticed the distance their children encounter between their peers and the norms of the Upper School.
“We have a lot of kids whose parents believe that they are feeling disconnected, and I think they probably are feeling a little disconnected,” Upper School Dean of Students Mr. Luqman Kolade said. “They’re the only form who might not know what the norms of Haverford are because last year was just so different.”
Having observed the situation, the Fourth Form student representatives, with the support of the deans, are creating several events where Fourth Formers can interact with their classmates and upperclassmen.
“We’re looking to do more activities outside of school because, when you’re doing stuff during your personal time and enjoying yourself, that’s when you gel,” Bongionavi said.
Aside from the Fourth Form meet and greet that already happened, at which Sixth Form Signet Members were also present, they are planning a form-wide tailgate before a home football game, and are collaborating with students and deans at the Agnes Irwin School to organize an event where Fourth Formers could meet students from our sister schools. Mr. Lengel is also arranging for each member of the form to present a mini-reflection.
“They’re connected to each other in pockets, but we’re trying to get a sense of the form as a whole,” Mr. Lengel said. “And for that reason, I’m trying to set up mini reflections during form meetings—to have them sharing stories.”
The endpoint of these initiatives is difficult to describe, but the student representatives and deans are eager to observe what strides they’ll make this year. Still, their progress depends on the eagerness of the Fourth Formers and of upperclassmen.
“To the Fourth Formers, I’d say, take opportunities and reach out to anyone. Take the time to reach out to and engage with upperclassmen to express interest in various things,” Schwarting said. “For the upperclassmen, I hope that they’ll be open and actively reaching out to help a younger student who might seem like they’re lost or struggling.”