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We’re Back!

Kelly Slonaker

It's busy back on the hilltop! Canterbury began in-person classes on September 8, following several days of leadership training and orientation activities. The excitement was palpable as students reconnected with each other and with faculty and began the new school year.

Faculty spent the week leading up to the first student arrivals preparing for the new school year with several days of professional development. New faculty members were introduced, and all faculty were apprised of the new health and safety protocols, discussed updates to the curriculum for the year, reviewed new technology for student engagement, and underwent training for handling adolescent relationships. At the Opening Faculty and Staff meeting in the Chapel of Our Lady on August 23, Head of School Rachel Stone addressed faculty and staff and discussed the impressive range of their abilities and how they translate to a range of possibilities for students. “[...] as much as we draw energy, passion, and purpose from our work with students on campus, ultimately we must foster in them as much range as we can and then expect them to take that framework with them to college and beyond. Think about the friends they make while on our hilltop, the languages they learn, the new sports they explore, the independence they gain, the healthy risks they embrace. Some fall in love with travel; others find a home-away-from-home on campus or with day students. Some learn to sing, or draw, or build, or code. Some discover spirituality while others deepen their faith. All learn to be more open-minded and to consider the ideas and beliefs of others as they grow in their ability to develop thoughtful, informed opinions. There is simply no better small boarding school experience—an experience that fosters range—than what all of you have built here at Canterbury.” The meeting was followed by dinner and a chance for faculty to catch up in the Steers Center.

Student leaders, including Sixth Form Council members, Sacristans, Boarding and Day Student Proctors, International Student Ambassadors, and Admission Lead Ambassadors, were the first to arrive back on campus on August 30. The groups went through three days of extensive training to prepare them for their leadership roles that included a detailed review of the updated 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 student leaders also went over the newly established Saints Promise, which serves as a detailed pledge from the entire Canterbury community to build and sustain a diverse, equitable, inclusive, safe, and just environment. The Saints Promise was developed by the Canterbury Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee over the past year and will begin to be rolled out to the rest of the School community this fall. Student leaders will be responsible for upholding and exemplifying the tenets of the promise for their peers.

Invited varsity athletes were the next group of students to return and dived right into practices to prepare for a full season of competition. Similar to last year, student-athletes will not be required to wear masks while practicing indoors or outdoors, though Canterbury will adhere to mutually agreed-upon protocols established with peer schools for competition. The athletic season kicks off with a Varsity Field Hockey game and Girls’ Varsity Soccer scrimmage on Tuesday, September 14, both against rival the Frederick Gunn School.

The remaining students arrived in waves over the course of several days and were gleefully reunited with old friends—and introduced to new ones—in a series of outdoor orientation activities, including Form Adventures (which offered opportunities for peer bonding and acquainted new students with campus), outdoor lawn games, and an all-school cookout complete with barbecue and an ice cream truck. New parents had the opportunity to meet faculty, staff, and each other at a welcome reception in the Steers Center.

Students had their first (abbreviated) day of classes on Wednesday, September 8, which featured an exciting change from last year: a staple of Monday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, School Meeting has returned to Maguire Auditorium after being conducted virtually for a year and a half! The in-person gathering of students, faculty, and staff was an incredible start to the year, and the excitement and joy of the community reverberated through the auditorium. Per tradition, the 2021-22 Sixth Form Council led Friday’s meeting and set the tone for a year that’s sure to be filled with enthusiasm and gratitude.

This past weekend’s activities included the Canterbury Games on Saturday—which featured basketball and volleyball tournaments, relay races, board games, and kickball under the lights on the turf—and plenty of Sunday afternoon activities, such as t-shirt tie-dying, cookie decorating, hikes off campus, and shopping runs. Sunday’s Mass of the Holy Spirit brought the community together in the Chapel of Our Lady and was celebrated by alumnus Fr. Steven DeMaio ’03. The 2021-22 Sacristans were officially installed during the Mass and performed their new role with exuberance and care.

Canterbury was able to shift back to in-person meetings thanks to an impressive 95 percent community vaccination rate, allowing many of the last year’s health and safety measures to be amended. Plexiglass partitions in the dining hall have been removed, and family and friends can once again attend sporting events and other outdoor gatherings on the hilltop. The School required vaccinations for students, faculty, and staff (with limited exemptions for medical or religious reasons). In compliance with current Centers for Disease Control and State of Connecticut mask mandates, students, faculty, and staff are free to move about campus without masks but must remain masked while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. This protocol is in effect with the exceptions of boarding students’ own dorms, which are considered “family units,” faculty and staff members’ own offices, and while exercising indoors. Regardless of vaccination status, all faculty and staff were tested for COVID-19 one week prior to the first students’ arrival, and each student was required to produce a negative PCR test before returning to campus. The School will continue to do weekly surveillance testing for any unvaccinated community members and for athletes as they compete against other schools. Canterbury hopes to reach a mask-optional approach once the Delta variant presents a less significant risk and will continue to offer outdoor activities as often as the weather permits.

The entire community is elated to be back on the hilltop and in the swing of a new, promising year!