Zooming into School: GDS’ First Week

A slide from the opening assembly, with Russell Shaw as a Caterpillar

2020 was supposed to be a celebratory year for GDS. The culmination of One GDS with the ceremonial cutting of a deep green ribbon, bringing to conclusion years of planning, development and construction, would come just in time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the school on a unified campus, coinciding for the high school with the phasing out of AP classes and a new schedule. 

But in the spring, students and teachers were suddenly thrown into distance learning. Most community members still had confidence, though, that the world would return to some form of normalcy by the beginning of the school year. As time late spring turned into summer, some felt traces of apathy about the upcoming start of school because of lost expectations. Rather than filling the halls of the newly united campus, everyone would continue to work from home.

“It’s a little bit disappointing,” senior Arthur Delot-Vilain said. “You spend three years of high school thinking about how you get to be a senior—how you get to have these traditions, especially the senior trip, First Friday and the run-in. Then to have the whole thing shift on you and realize you can’t have those things is disheartening.”

This year’s high school opening assembly happened just as 2020 has: unexpectedly. After the original Zoom meeting reached maximum capacity before all participants were in and another Zoom was created, students heard speeches from Head of School Russell Shaw and High School Principal Katie Gibson, while the chat was bombarded with hundreds of messages cheering for each grade. Shaw’s speech was largely focused on individual and school metamorphosis, using the metaphor of caterpillars and cocoons as a comparison to GDS and COVID-19. Gibson addressed challenges with distance learning and upcoming opportunities for the virtual school year. 

The script of Katie Gibson’s  speech, revealed to the school during the opening assembly due to a technical hiccup.

“It was nice to see everyone again and have that sense of school community,” junior Noah Freedman said. “I felt bad for the administration. I felt that they were trying to produce a good assembly.”

Seniors were frustrated with the virtual interruptions. There had been a tradition to interrupt Shaw and Gibson’s speeches when the word “seniors” or the current class year came up. During this year’s virtual assembly, seniors wanted to have their mics turned on live.

“We’re still trying to mimic what they had in real life, but there are limitations. If we allowed everyone to unmute themselves, it would have been chaos,” High School Office Manager Kelly Morris said. “All you hear is the loudest noise. You don’t hear people talking or applauding.”

After the request was denied, the Class of 2021 spontaneously decided to leave the Zoom. For the class of 2024, the Zoom was quite a welcome to high school. 

“My initial reaction was that I was overwhelmed,” freshman Avram Shapiro said. “My main feeling was there was a lot of stuff happening, but it was fun. I could’ve seen how it would’ve been more fun in person, but I could appreciate it to a certain extent.”

While adjusting to school during COVID-19 is hard for everyone, it is especially challenging for those new to the GDS high school. Faculty have made it a priority to help form connections between all students, implementing new strategies to interface with students in their classes.

“Obviously, the first day of school wasn’t what I hoped for before the pandemic,” said Shapiro. “How could’ve we expected more from it given the circumstances? I think they [the teachers] did a good job, considering what they had.”

GDS’ new LMS building on Thursday morning.

After the first day of classes, students went to campus to pick up materials for the school year. Teachers had spent multiple days receiving ordered materials, organizing bags in the Forum and putting stuff inside them. 

  “It was nice to see the new campus,” Freedman said. “It was a little sad to see what could have been this year, but it was nice to see all the teachers.”

Zoom Bar During First Friday

After another day of classes, First Friday festivities went a little more smoothly than the opening assembly. Seniors helped plan parts of the afternoon. Traditional competitions such as “Name That Tune” and “Cookie Face” remained, but new games included trivia and “Home Scavenger Hunt.” Highlights from First Friday included 11th Grade Dean Khalid Bashir showcasing his Coconut Curls shampoo during his multiple “Home Scavenger Hunt” wins, history teacher Sue Ikenberry singing “We Are The Champions” and Director of Student Life and Wellness Bobby Asher playing “WAP.” 

The Class of 2021 spamming the chat during first friday.

In the new reality of what school has become, history teacher Yani Aleman believes we should try to look for what can be gained. 

“It’s weird that we’re starting the year virtually, but we shouldn’t just write it off as bad,” Aleman said. “It’s different. It’s filled with opportunities to learn in different ways.”

Seth Riker ’22