Students bustle through the hallways when periods change. During lunch, we gather on the field, in the library, in the Forum, on the patio, perhaps even with middle schoolers’ band music audible from across Davenport Street. We attend clubs, practices and rehearsals face to face; we bump into people whom we haven’t seen in a year.
We sometimes attend a full class for which no Zoom meeting is needed or take a test with a pencil on printed paper. We might even do something Principal Katie Gibson ruled out for hybrid school in November: “sit on a sofa, side-by-side with your English teacher revising a paper.”
Two weeks after GDS let non-senior high school students come to all their classes, four days a week, in person, the school is starting, if haltingly, to come back to life.
The week in March 2020 when our school life as we knew it fell apart will no doubt be etched permanently in the community’s collective memory. For all that moment’s uncertainty, there was an unmistakable feeling that something was lost.
And although the ongoing return to campus this school year has been more gradual, it deserves to be recognized, discussed and remembered just as much. Even absent definitive completion, we must revel in the joys of ever increasing normalcy and, crucially, remain vigilant to ensure that the school culture we are reconstructing is as good as—no, better than—the one the pandemic forced us to leave behind.
Juniors, the youngest grade to have gone through a full year of regular school, will have an especially important role in that effort. But all high school community members ought to play their part in making GDS feel like GDS, or even a more welcoming, inclusive, open GDS than we’ve ever known. We can do more than fall into our old habits. If being back on campus is energizing, let the energy continue in place of pre-pandemic tedium.
Despite its thrill, the process of reopening is itself a difficult transition, as many of the pandemic’s social, emotional and academic effects are put in reverse. So let’s not pretend that the school experience we’re having is normal for our post-pandemic selves; let’s recognize that, to the contrary, it’s remarkable—a collective passage not unlike the one that threw us into isolation.
Of course, GDS’ reopening, like the broader society’s, is far from complete: Students’ movement is severely limited (most notably with going off campus off limits). Assemblies remain online. Not everyone is in person.
And yet what we have for these last weeks of the school year is meaningful progress, something worthy of being seen, appreciated and critiqued. Whether we do so or not, the way GDS emerges from the pandemic—the choices administrators make, yes, but just as importantly the choices we all make—will define GDS for years to come. In short, the way GDS feels and will feel is in our hands.
In that email on Nov. 16, 2020, preparing students for their long-awaited but unusually restricted initial return to campus, Gibson wrote, “Some of the things that make the GDS HS feel like home won’t be possible at this moment.” Now, just as the school year’s end comes in sight, the realm of the possible has expanded—and the organism that is the GDS high school is seeming more like its usual, vital self.