Campuses rebuild community, together but distanced

New places and protocols require re-learning for all

Maya Benjamin, On-Campus Editor

Fridays in the fall of 2019 meant the weekend buzz vibrating through the halls and the commotion of football practices drifting across the field. They meant clusters of students covering the campus, some waiting for the bus to Fourth Lot and others simply enjoying the company of their friends. But the scene at the Upper School (US) is different this year. Face masks block the buzz, football has turned flag, and there isn’t a bus in sight. Students emerge from the Nicholas Athletic Center (NAC) or the main building and wait, socially distanced, to go home. School life has undergone several changes.

In addition to navigating one-way hallways and curtained-off classrooms, community members have had to adjust to a new definition of free time and a sense of re-learning.

With the upturned school routine, US Science Teacher Michael Chapman said his role now encompasses multiple jobs rather than just one.

“You have your classes that are in person, you have your hybrid students, you have the classes where you have a couple of students on Zoom; regardless of how you’re teaching, it’s a really interesting mix, and that [in conjunction] with all
the other protocols really makes it feel like we are doing three different jobs, three times the amount of work, for less output than we normally do,” he said.

Grade 5 Homeroom Teacher Gabrielle Mbeki said this fall has reminded her of her very first month at the school.

“It sometimes feels like the memory I have of Day One teaching, like I’m starting all over again,” she said. “You don’t recognize how comfortable you get into your set routine until something disrupts it. The same exhaustion that I felt my first year teaching I’m feeling now, almost 10 years later.”

English Teacher and Grade 11 Dean Beth McNamara emphasized how everyone, whether returning or new, has had to adapt.

“It’s the equivalent of being a first-year teacher in a school or a freshman in the school,” she said. “There’s just so much to remember. And now everybody is in that situation. I’m starting year 20 at BB&N. I don’t expect to have to think about which way I’m supposed to walk down the hallway or what time B block ends. I’m used to knowing it, and everything has changed. And it makes sense that it’s changed, but it’s exhausting for everybody to be remembering that or trying to remember that all the time.”

The idea of “free time” has also transformed, as new supervision and social-distancing protocols
limit where and how it can occur during an on- campus day. But despite how different scheduled down time now looks, Ms. McNamara said, it is now more important than ever.

“I would be disappointed in a normal year if a kid at BB&N answered ‘lunch’ when asked what the best part of school was. It just sounds counter to our primary mission,” she said. “But lunch might be the best part right now, and I’m totally okay with that because it is actually human connections and people being together, and that’s great.”

Win Williams ’30, who attends the Lower School (LS) in person, agreed that spending time with others on campus has been important and enjoyable.

“We can still see each other and play with each other,” she said. “It’s better than having to stay home and be apart from your friends.”

Being at school with friends while keeping a distance is difficult, though, Max Kerrigan ’25, who attends the Middle School (MS) in person, said. “I know a lot of the spaces are now used for classrooms and homerooms, so you can’t go there because if you touch something and get COVID, then they have to close down the whole school instead of just one part of it,” Max said. “So we don’t have as much freedom.”