Tuesday, September 8, was in many ways a typical first day of school: cheerful greetings, senior cars decorated to show Class of ’21 pride, a bit of confusion and first-day jitters, and sunny skies that lent poignance to summer’s end. But a closer look revealed a start of school like no other, with students and faculty alike wearing masks, washing their hands frequently, and maintaining a safe distance from one another, all with the goal of keeping our campus safe and avoiding an outbreak of COVID-19.
The “soft opening,” with half the students on campus this week and the other half next week, to be followed by the entire student body on week three, proved to be a success. Drop-off went smoothly; lunch lines were manageable, despite the new protocols in place; the technology that allows students to participate in live classes remotely worked relatively well, though there are still some kinks to work out.
All students had been well versed in the new guidelines and procedures during their grade-level orientations, the week prior to the opening of school. A bit of practice helped launch behaviors that are sure to become second nature before long.
On Wednesday, Head of School Ned Parsons addressed the Upper School students, as he customarily does at the beginning of the year. After introducing new faculty and staff members, Parsons went on to note that “this year, it nearly goes without saying, is different in so many ways.”
His remarks addressed three main topics: the coronavirus and community safety; the school’s efforts to address systemic racism inside and outside our walls; and the upcoming presidential election.
The challenges are very real, said Parsons, but so are the opportunities. “I’ve seen what this community can do with a challenge,” Parsons said on the Zoom webinar that students watched from home or from their advisories. “We rise up at Rivers, and we put our best selves into meeting the challenge.”
And, he emphasized, the work belongs to us all. “There are no exemptions, no exceptions. Let us build the community we strive to be. Let us all own our share in the effort. Let us begin.”
Looking ahead, parents will have the opportunity to participate in the opening of school activity by attending a Welcome Webinar for Parents, which Parsons will host on Wednesday, September 16. Middle School parents are invited to join a virtual Middle School parent orientation on September 23, and all parents are encouraged to participate in parent-focused Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) trainings, which will be offered at various times throughout the year, beginning on September 24.