Facing ‘the End of Something,’ Lifers Reminisce on 14 Years at GDS

The 2009/2010 GDS lower/middle school yearbook shows pictures of Denise Jones and Jody Welsh’s pre-K/K class, including the author and interviewees. Photos by Olivia Brown.

The first members of the class of 2022 arrived at GDS in 2008. Some walked that fall into Jody Welsh and Denise Jones’ combined pre-K and kindergarten class, where I would join them the next year. Now, they are less than two months away from graduation and grappling with the fast-approaching end of their 14-year GDS careers.

Five of the seniors who were in that class—Dylan Bronner, Sophia Gore, Kira Grossfield, Noah Shelton and Joyce Simmons—joined me recently for a conversation about their experiences at GDS and the emotions surfacing as they prepare to go.

Near the end, I asked if anyone was left with any more memories they wanted to recount. Shelton recalled being given his GDS email address. Bronner jumped in: “Every account I’ve ever made has been under my dbronner22 email.”

“So what’s going to happen?” I asked.

“I’m gonna have to reset everything,” he said.

The interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

You’re going to be done taking classes next week. Has the approaching end of the school year made you think more, or even differently, about your long careers at GDS?

Simmons: Yes, especially thinking about the next step, going to college, because I’ve been here my whole life—it’s all I’ve ever known. I had an admitted-students day a few days ago, and that was one of the first times when I had to go out and meet new people.

Gore: When I was going through the college process, to Joyce’s point, it made me realize what I wanted in college. I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve been a new student or didn’t know anybody going in, which is daunting. But it made me realize I wanted a smaller school or I wanted the feeling of more of a community kind of to mimic GDS—which I never thought I would have wanted, because I always love to hate on GDS.

What memories do you have that encapsulate a GDS education?

Grossfield: Especially with the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings, I’ve reflected a lot on how I was educated. It’s been really interesting. I think GDS has changed a lot since when we were in lower/middle school. I think it’s gotten a lot more liberal and probably politically correct than it was back in the day.

Seniors Kira Grossfield, left, and Joyce Simmons reflect on their time at GDS.

Bronner: When I think of staples of GDS forever, I think of going into the middle school gym for the really big all-school assemblies—like the lion dances coming in, or having the pride assembly, or doing the Christmas assembly. The big yearly assemblies. I can still visualize what they looked like.

Shelton: They do a good job with learning about different cultures and a lot of different types of people, whether it was one of the big assemblies in the gym with the whole school, or just one of the Friday assemblies in the black box.

Does GDS feel like the same school that it was in 2008 when you arrived?

Bronner: I think the morals are still the same, but I do think that the way that a lot of the stuff we learned is taught to the kids now is a little bit different. Or I’d assume so based on some of the stuff I know they’re not doing anymore, like Turkey Run [which was an old third-grade overnight camping trip during which students and teachers dressed in colonial attire].

Grossfield: They’re probably not doing the underground railroad. [For a simulation during the fifth-grade overnight, students pretended to be escaping enslavement while being chased by acted slave catchers.] That was bad.

Shelton: A lot of the teachers have changed. It’s gonna happen. It’s also a new lower/middle school building, so, from when we were there, everything is different visually.

Bronner: We have a lot more diverse staff now. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I know that we have a lot more, not only racially diverse staff, but a lot of LGBTQ+-identifying staff members, too.

Are you conscious of your unique position as lifers, compared to other classmates of yours who arrived at GDS later?

Simmons: Sometimes, there’ll be a group of us who have been here a while, and we’ll be talking about a funny story, or about the camping trips, or a teacher, and the newer students—I don’t realize it in the moment, but talking to them later, they’re like, “I could not relate whatsoever.”

We’ve talked some about how GDS has changed. How have you changed? How has your education at GDS shaped you?

Gore: GDS is really good at creating an environment for talking and being able to talk about hard subjects. I remember being in an outside-of-school, camp-type situation, where even discussing race was a very big deal. GDS made us comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Senior Dylan Bronner speaks during a group interview with the Bit.

Simmons: I’ve definitely come to realize, since being at GDS, learning and knowledge is fun and cool. In first grade, when we would read our first book or something, especially as a girl, you’re like, “Oh, do I need to know all of this? It’s too hard.” But GDS makes it fun, and they make it interesting, and you want to do the best you can. I feel like not every school fosters that type of environment.

Pretty soon, you’ll graduate. How do you expect to approach that transition?

Bronner: The closer I’ve gotten to it, the more difficult it’s become. It feels now that it came a lot quicker than I expected. And so I’m spending a lot of time now looking back at a lot of stuff that I learned, a lot of stuff that I went through.

Grossfield: I have always been very bad at keeping in touch with people. And I’m going to try my hardest, but I’ve been reaching the realization that it truly is the end of something. Yes, we’ll probably see people, but this just won’t exist anymore. So I’ve been coming to terms with that.

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