A Special Kind of Normal
The first day of the 2021/22 academic year wasn’t entirely “normal,” of course. Cars lined up at the Lower School to drop students off—after faculty and staff first scanned QR codes to ensure the student was healthy and it was safe to attend classes. At the Middle School, there were smiles so wide that the masks almost didn’t matter; the joy in students’ and teachers’ eyes were enough. Most of the Upper School gathered in the Robert L. Smith Meeting Room for Meeting for Worship, but the 9th grade went to the auditorium instead to ensure a safe physical distance. It wasn’t a normal kickoff, but that made the elements that were normal matter a little bit more.
The Class of 2022 chose an apt tagline for their senior year: DA22LE. In the morning sun, a glitzy student-decorated, roped-off, and red-carpeted section of the Upper School staircase provided a special welcome to seniors: Underclassmen cheered and tossed candy as the Class of 2022 arrived on their last first day at Sidwell Friends. Some students and classes got their pictures taken, all while greeting friends, faculty and staff.
That doesn’t mean that faculty and staff weren’t using the skills learned during virtual and hybrid instruction to ensure a safe and effective in-person experience. Like the Upper School, the Middle School’s opening Meeting was spread out across campus; some students gathered in RLS, where Principal Rachel Kane Zoomed her remarks to the rest of the students in the Middle School building (taking a moment to rotate her camera so all of the students could have a “greeting from the Meeting” and wave at one another). Some Upper School Advisories took advantage of the weather to have their first consultations outside. And, though lunches are now individually packaged, students still sprawl outside to eat with friends. Some habits from virtual learning live on: A few students sported pajama-like pants to class—but, to be fair, that was already high Sidwellian fashion before the pandemic sent everyone into elastic waists for a year.
"The first day of school is always one of my favorites—there is so much energy and joy that permeates the hallways when our little ones are back, and we miss that feeling all summer," said Lower School principal Adele Paynter. "It is one part exhausting and two parts pure joy!"
It may be some time before things feel truly back to normal, as Sidwell Friends balances the benefits of in-person learning with the commitment to keep the community safe and healthy. But for the first day of this academic year, a little bit of normal felt very, very special.
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