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Together Again, Finally!

Kelly Slonaker

Canterbury students return for the 2020-21 school year after five months away.

Canterbury began in-person and remote classes on September 7th following several days of leadership training and orientation activities—and five long months away from the hilltop. The excitement was palpable as students reconnected with each other and with faculty, albeit virtually or six feet apart, and began the new school year.

To prepare for opening, the School went to extensive measures to ensure that the entire campus was set up for successful social distancing and remote learning: each learning space has been arranged with desks and chairs at least six feet apart; alternative spaces across campus, including the Brodie Room, Steele Hall Lecture Room, and numerous outdoor patios can be used as classrooms to allow for safe spacing and air flow; doors and hallways throughout every building have been marked as one-way to streamline foot traffic and prevent close contact; each classroom is equipped with a camera so that classes can continue to be recorded or live streamed for students learning remotely; the lunch period has been staggered to have fewer students eating at a time and students may choose to eat in the dining hall at designated tables that have clear plexiglass partitions (so they may remove their masks to eat and enjoy face-to-face conversation), or they may eat on the dining hall patio when weather permits; Dining Hall tables and chairs are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized in between waves of students, as are classrooms before and after each class; and, of course, students and faculty must wear masks whenever they are not in their dorm room/home or participating in cardio activities.

Recognizing that psychological and emotional safety is just as important as the physical health and safety of our community, the faculty participated in several days of professional development prior to students’ arrival, including diversity, equity and inclusion training led by consultant Margenett Moore-Roberts and faculty that she had trained to facilitate the work. Margenett is Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Constituency Management Group, and, in her role, she collaborates with organization leaders to develop and activate business practices that deliver on the inclusion imperative and the adoption of broader perspectives. Head of School Rachel Stone addressed the entire faculty and staff to kick off the professional development training and the start of the school year, framing the key themes that will be crucial to its success—Gratitude, Safety, Citizenship, and Teamwork. “I am so glad to be back together; it has been a long time and it was overdue,” she said. “We have every chance to do this well, and [...] let us remind each other we are on one team together. Each day we do this well brings us successfully to the next day with each other and with our students.” Rachel continued, “Beyond the medical/public health safety tied to COVID, we are also focused on psychological safety which plays an integral role in our efforts to be an inclusive community. The reason why we must grow even more committed to DEI work is that enabling our students to become moral leaders starts with an inclusive, anti-racist, self-aware mindset.”

Student leaders, including this year’s Sacristans, Sixth Form Council members, boarding and day student proctors, Lead Ambassadors, and International Student Ambassadors, were among the first students to arrive back on campus. The group also went through three days of training to prepare them for their leadership roles that included a detailed review of the health and safety protocols, collaboration on how to foster inclusion and belonging on campus, role-play on how to have difficult conversations, and more. The group’s role as leaders on campus will be even more evident this year as they help their peers navigate safe behavior by setting an example.

The remaining students arrived in waves over the course of several days. Returning students were able to register online before moving into their dorm or starting classes, and new students were welcomed outside by safely spaced greeters—wielding Canterbury pennants, banners, posters, and pom-poms—before they completed registration in Steele Hall. Students were gleefully reunited with friends in a series of outdoor orientation activities, including Form Adventures, and outdoor fun and games complete with kickball and lawn games, t-shirt tie-dying, mask decorating, hikes off campus, and an outdoor movie screening.

A staple of most mornings, School Meeting has moved to a hybrid virtual format, with students on campus meeting in their small advisory groups and students who are remote all joining Zoom to meet with the whole school. While we have never had a start to the school year quite like this one, it can also be said that there has perhaps never been such joy for our students and faculty to be reunited.