On Campus

Inside BB&N: Underclassman formals: Teachers offer insight on why they have stayed away from formals

The 2021 Student Council took matters into their own hands this winter after learning the school administration would not support a sophomore semi-formal. So, for the first time in 12 years, on February 24, a dance for sophomores took place (see “Sophomore Semi,” Vol. 47, Issue 8). The dance was not school-affiliated, although the entire Class of 2021 was invited.

“Think of it more like a sweet sixteen or bar mitzvah,” Sophomore Class President Alan Bers ’21, who helped organize the event, said. 

The school’s last underclassman dance was held in 2006. While the class of 2021 isn’t the first grade to have proposed a semi, they are the first in recent history to have organized one on their own.

Sophomore Grade Dean Fred Coyne said he sees the value in underclassman dances. Originally, the grade council had been working with Mr. Coyne to plan a school-sanctioned semi, but the school administration informed the council members that it would not approve a school-affiliated dance. 

“It’s so important to build on a class community,” Mr. Coyne said. “I know that the administration doesn’t see a need for underclassman dances, but they’re a great opportunity to strengthen a grade if executed correctly.” 

Freshman Grade Dean David Strodel said that although there is occasional interest in formal underclassman dances, the school saves these types of events for junior and senior years with prom. 

“Formal dances and [the] promotion of them take time and expense, and we think that waiting until the final two years helps make those a bit of a privilege,” Mr. Strodel said. 

Ninth graders, who are still adjusting to high school, tend to feel more comfortable at informal grade-wide events as opposed to traditional formal dances, Mr. Strodel added. To allow for such opportunities, he organizes annual freshman class trips to laser tag and a Red Sox game, and a Six Flags trip for both sophomores and freshmen. These activities can run if only 30 or 40 kids are interested, he hadded, whereas that kind of tunrout would kill a dance. He also schedules less formal dances for the ninth graders, such as the Bivouac dance, opting for a more casual atmosphere than that of an extravagant formal.    

Dean of Students Rory Morton ’81 said these more frequent and smaller-scale events for freshmen and sophomores are possible because they do not have to pay for a semi.

Following the decision to end formal underclassman dances at the school,  many parents expressed resounding agreement, Mr. Morton said, adding that in the past, parents had complained about various problems related to these dances, particularly financial burden and behavioral issues—all reasons the school took into account when deciding to stop holding semi formals. 

“Additionally, these events can be quite expensive and lavish,” Mr. Morton said. “The general consensus was that it was inappropriate to ask families to pay for so many expensive events every year, especially if kids were going to more than one semi-type event.” 

“There were issues providing enough chaperones who could provide the right amount of supervision, and on several occasions we had issues with kids bringing alcohol to the dances or being under the influence of alcohol at the dance,” he said. “We probably averaged one disciplinary case a year based on behavior that took place at these events.”

Since junior and senior proms remain a part of the US and they are a tradition, large-scale underclassman dances are not necessary and tax school resources, Mr. Morton said. And while supervision and costs are still potential problems at prom, he said it’s easier to manage those when there are just two major school-sponsored dances per year.

“If [underclass] kids want to do something like that, they’re certainly capable of doing it on their own,” Mr. Morton said. “It just doesn’t need to be a school event.”

Chances of a school-sanctioned underclassman dance in the future remain low, Mr. Morton said. 

“I wouldn’t support it, and I don’t think there’s any need for it. People do occasionally try to bring back these dances, but the administration is always going to have reservations.”

­­—Bea Scanlon ’21

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