Community Split on Whether Unification Has Improved Cross-Divisional Connection 

Some high school students have met weekly with lower/middle buddies since Oct. 18. Photo by Olivia Brown.

GDS’ goal of a unified campus came to fruition in the fall of 2020, yet COVID-19 threw a year-long curveball at the school’s efforts to have all students together on a single campus in person. 

This fall, all grades—pre-K through 12th—are located together on the Davenport Street campus after lower/middle school students were relocated from MacArthur Boulevard. But the jury is still out on whether the school’s aspiration for unity has been achieved. 

“It’s not like we pass lower/middle schoolers in the hallway or anything, but there’s certainly a feel on campus of having the lower/middle school campus as our next-door neighbors,” senior Sophie Zinn, a co-founder of the GDS Buddy Program, said.

One of the key components of the unified vision was the administration’s belief that having students of all ages on the same campus would enhance each student’s experience at the school. 

Leigh Tait, the interim director of Community Engagement and Experiential Learning, said it is “less organic” for student mentorship to happen in initiatives like the Buddy Program “when the other campus is 15 minutes down the road.” 

Freshman Alexa Gillespie said that she believes the administration’s original goal is actually taking shape. She said it was exciting when lower/middle school students were cheering for her volleyball games in the lower/middle school gym, which never would have happened with separate campuses. 

“It was really easy for lower/middle school students to come and watch us, so it was nice for them to come support us during our game,” Gillespie said. “It’s really nice to be on the same campus and be able to just walk over there, especially if people in high school have a younger sibling.” 

Other high school students disagree about whether one campus actually yields a shared experience for all ages. Some students say that they only feel a small sense of connection with the younger students and barely have contact with them, despite the buildings’ proximity to each other.

Sophomore Lola Bouquet-Gragnolati, a member of the GDS Buddy Program, explained that she has only interacted with the lower schoolers when she picked up her younger buddy at the lower/middle school building. 

“I feel really separate, especially since I never see them,” Bouquet-Gragnolati said. 

Senior Bella Young-Dismuke agreed, saying the lower/middle school is “just a new building to look at every now and then.” 

Young-Dismuke recognized that GDS has been somewhat restricted in its ability to bring the various classes together because of the remaining threat that COVID-19 poses to younger students, which High School Principal Katie Gibson also acknowledged. Gibson said the pandemic has made it so all-school events have been scarce, but she emphasized the benefits of the change so far.  

“For families who have a kid in the lower school and a kid in the high school and are making multiple drop-offs throughout the city, it’s not particularly environmentally friendly or easy,” Gibson said of the two-campus model.

9th Grade Dean Abe Pachikara agreed that school unification is positive for the community.

“The united campus brings everyone who is on the campus together,” Pachikara said. “Even if it’s just that we’re in physical proximity to each other, that physical proximity just lends [itself] to being more of a community.” 

Pachikara has hopes for the future of one GDS, including cross-divisional interactions among students and faculty. 

“My vision of one campus is teachers not staying in their divisions,” Pachikara said. “That’s the vision. That’s a long-term goal. We need a lot of work to get there.”