Biv is back for freshmen and sophomores

Students return after one-year hiatus


Maya Benjamin, Managing Editor

This summer, the school’s freshmen returned to searching for Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap and sash- cord rope alongside pencils and folders during their back-to-school shopping.

On the first day of school, freshmen piled on buses headed to Harrisville, New Hampshire, for Bivouac, a 10-day camping trip that acts as an orientation to the Upper School (US). Whether by digging their own latrines, bathing in a lake, or cooking meals together on an open fire, all students partake in this school tradition before graduating.

Last year, the class of 2024 became the third class since Bivouac’s inception in 1951 to not attend Bivouac as freshmen; the class of 1955 had their trip canceled due to the polio epidemic, and the class of 1956 did not attend Bivouac because of the reorganization of the Middle School. The school hosted orientation activities in the spring, but Riana Desai ’24 said she missed the Bivouac experience.

“The loss of Bivouac definitely affected returning students’ connections with the new students,” Riana said. “Missing the Bivouac experience in freshman year was a little disappointing for me because I would have had a chance to step outside of my comfort zone in the outdoors.”

As a result of the community vaccination rate, the regulations for overnight summer camps, and the COVID protocols in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the school decided that it was safe to venture back to Bivouac this year, Director of Student Support Services Kim Gold said. The school has been communicating with the Department of Public Health (DPH), and Ms. Gold said the DPH is confident in the safety of Bivouac considering the outdoor nature of the program.

To ensure the safety of students and faculty, the school has created health policies for the program. Anyone participating in Bivouac must be fully vaccinated except for those with documented and approved religious or medical exemptions. The latter will experience additional restrictions while at Bivouac. Unvaccinated students who do not have religious or medical exemptions are not allowed to attend the trip and are excused from the graduation requirement. All students attending Bivouac must also complete a PCR or rapid-antigen test 72 or 24 hours, respectively, before departure.

“All health policies apply to everyone,” Ms. Gold said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on a short stay, a Junior Guide, or a faculty/staff member. We’re applying health policies across the board.”

Other than COVID protocols, Bivouac Director and Grade 9 Dean David Strodel ’78 said, Bivouac will run similarly to as it has in past years. The class of 2025 departed the morning of September 8 and will return the evening of September 17, and the short-stay program for new juniors will run as usual. This year, the entire sophomore class will also experience a shortened Bivouac from September 18-20.

The class of 2025 will spend their first two days in Harrisville, New Hampshire building A-frames, setting up tents, and digging latrines and sump holes. Over the next six days, the class will participate in Bivouac Day, a field day at the campsite, and five courses—climbing Mount Monadnock, doing an adventure race, traversing the ropes course, participating in an orientation discussion activity, and trying a new activity, Bio@Biv. The freshmen will spend the remaining two days visiting a local shepherd and cleaning up their squads.

Zach Berman ’25, who has been at the school since third grade, said he looks forward to meeting new students and forming connections.

“I think Bivouac will help integrate the new students into our school,” he said. “Forcing people to be together will probably result in friendships. It might be a little uncomfortable, but I think it will turn out pretty well.”

The class of 2024 will head straight from Cambridge to the base of Mount Monadnock on September 18. The sophomores will not set up their squads but will use the freshmen’s A-frames but set up their own tents. They will spend their only full day in Marienfield participating in a shortened Bivouac Day and rotating between activities like the ropes course, a baking activity, a scavenger hunt, and a demo on splitting wood. Before heading back to Cambridge on September 20, the sophomores will visit the local shepherd and clean up the campsite.

Despite the added logistics, Mr. Strodel said, he is excited to share the Bivouac experience with students again.

“There is a challenge to the entire process and experience but, for me, [there is] a special magic when all the preparation comes alive as real people get to experience a place and program that many have felt is one of the unique things we do,” Mr. Strodel said.

Junior Guide Julia Shephard ’22 said she hopes the freshmen and sophomores make the most of this “special tradition.”

“I hope that they can appreciate the atmosphere of Bivouac and the opportunity to slip into nature for a while,” she said. “No, latrines aren’t always fun, but Camp Marienfeld is a wonderful place, and there’s nothing like getting to the top of Mount Monadnock.”

US Math and Computer Science Teacher Mark Fidler, who has gone to Bivouac since 2001, said Bivouac gives him a chance to bond with students outside the classroom environment.

“Maybe they climbed Mount Monadnock with me, or maybe I belayed them up the wall on the high ropes, [or] I had dinner with their squad,” he said. “Whatever it might be, I feel like I have a connection with almost everyone. You don’t have that ‘let’s get to know each other’ the first couple of weeks of school. Right away, there’s this sense of trust and relaxation.”

US Math and Computer Science Department Head Chip Rollinson, who has gone to Bivouac since 2006, said he’s excited that the class of 2025 will get the full experience.

“When you’re up there for as long as you are at Bivouac, [there are] going to be times when you’re challenged, and you’re going to be out of your comfort zone at some point,” Mr. Rollinson said. “Learning how to gain strength through adversity is really important for navigating high school since there are times when you’re going to be out of your comfort zone and pushed to figure out how to problem-solve.”