After a summer of hopeful anticipation and earnest preparation, Loomis Chaffee this week began the 2020–21 school year like no other, with 716 students representing 32 U.S. states and 46 countries gathering together — some online and some in-person — for opening activities that culminated with the first day of classes and a virtual all-school convocation on Tuesday, September 1.
Head of School Sheila Culbert welcomed everyone, including more than 200 new students, in her convocation remarks on Tuesday evening, delivered via video to the school community.
“Regardless of where you will be studying, you are Loomis students,” Sheila said and shared her thoughts about the challenges the community will face together in the year ahead.
Student Council President Aidan Gillies reflected on what he has come to understand in his time at Loomis and shared wisdom and food for thought for each of the class years to consider.
Associate Head of School Webb Trenchard spoke about the topics of hopes and dreams and the concept of normalcy. During the pandemic, he said, he has found solace in walking and in reading poetry, and he quoted inspiring passages from poets on the topics of hopes, dreams, and normalcy.
While Opening Days were less hectic this year — there is typically a large influx of students on campus and a flurry of activities including dorm move-ins and preseason athletics practices — much of the action moved to the safety of the internet, where Pelicans from near and far took part in student orientations, registered for classes, connected with their advisors and class deans, collected their books and supplies, and joined their teachers and classmates for the start of what will be a remarkable school year.
In preparation for this year, teachers took part in professional development sessions over the summer to purposefully design their curricula and teach their courses in a changeable environment consisting of both online and in-person instruction. Members of the administration have met regularly with state and local health authorities, safety and educational consultants, and other faculty members to monitor current information about COVID-19 and determine workable safety procedures. The Physical Plant staff extensively modified the school’s physical spaces over the summer to enable safe, socially distanced classes and interactions.
The school is taking a phased approach to bringing students to campus. During the first five-week term, Loomis is providing on-campus instruction for students who are able to commute to and from campus and online instruction for students who cannot or chose not to commute. Sheila expressed cautious optimism that the school will be able to welcome boarding students in mid-October, when the second five-week term begins.
For those students able to come to campus, the first day focused on COVID-19 safety protocols, including health check-ins, mask-wearing, and social-distancing guidelines that students agreed to abide by. Returning students and faculty alike noted that it was strange but uplifting to return to campus and see many familiar faces and spaces — even masked and from a safe distance — for the first time since early March.
Both on-campus and online, optimism prevailed in the opening days of the new school year. “Have a great start to the year and remember to be your best selves and work towards the common good,” Sheila said in closing.