No dances, no off-campus trips, and no interscholastic games. Social distancing measures have eliminated the possibility of many activities we previously enjoyed. Students moving in on campus or preparing for school virtually are all wondering what activities the school will host.
Without a doubt, extracurriculars are going to run differently this year. Most art lessons and meetings will occur during the Flex blocks — one-hour periods every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that fit into the new schedule. Third formers will take art during the Wednesday morning Flex block, while upper schoolers will have more loosely allocated flex block times and the option for afternoon studio art. Second formers will take art during academic color blocks.
Meeting times for clubs, however, are still uncertain. “As the year goes on, these clubs may adopt a rotational system (same block, different club each week), much like the way Cultural Alliance and a few other clubs operated two years ago,” says Academic Dean Kathy Leggat.
Other activities will be held in the afternoon through the four-day-two-day system (HL sports). Because interscholastic sports are cancelled, varsity teams are changing their training styles and potentially team size, and non-varsity-level teams have merged into single intramural groups. There are also a plethora of other options — both athletic and non-athletic — including Literature and Photography, bird watching, and mountain biking.
The student body seems optimistic about Flex blocks and the new extracurricular options. “Although I’ll have limited contact with my friends, the new free time will make me more flexible,” comments Michelle Kim ’23. “I’m also impressed with the large selection of afternoon activities offered this year.”
Weekend and evening activities, handled by the joint efforts of the Student Activity Committee (SAC) and Spirit Committee, will be drastically different from last year. On the first weekend back, some boarding students will still be in quarantine, so the SAC will host virtual escape rooms that allow students to have fun in their dorms and with their online-learning peers.
The next weekend, the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) group will hold a speech or workshop to discuss current issues, and the SAC will also host a live stream magic show, in which the students will be able to interact with the magician in real-time. The committee is also considering other fun activities such as Netflix streaming parties and DJ listening parties. “We are trying to schedule virtual events every weekend,” comments Student Activity Director Timothy LeRoy, “and thinking outside of the box to keep the student body engaged in a safe way.”
Although virtual events will appeal to both boarding and online-learning students, those studying internationally will have a harder time connecting with others. “It’s really difficult for me to participate in virtual events because of my time zone,” says Noemi Iwasaki ’22, who will be studying virtually in Japan for the fall term. “Although it can’t be helped, I’m still disappointed that I will miss out on many interesting activities.” Noemi suggests that the school set up group support for online-learning students, especially to connect and give guidance to those in similar time zones.
Since events like Spirit Week and St. Mark’s Day will no longer be possible, the Spirit Committee plans to sprinkle themed days and weeks throughout the year.
Furthermore, the new social distancing guidelines allow for increased dorm-based interaction on campus, making it easy to hold activities and competitions to earn dorm points for the Groton Games. As the term continues, dorms may be paired up to enjoy lawn games and s’mores pits together. If safety conditions improve, these dorm pairs may be merged into multi-dorm groups later on in the year.
“The most important thing to remember is that the more people listen to the rules and stay safe, the more opportunities for activities we’ll have in the future,” says Spirit Committee Head Lilly Gordon ’21.
Cultural celebrations will be hard to hold virtually. “We hope to recognize significant holidays virtually and with larger, outside gatherings,” says Mr. LeRoy, “but there will be little to no food involved in any of the SAC activities in the near future.”
There is one recurring theme in planning for the new school year: uncertainty. The SAC and Spirit Committee can only look 3 weeks ahead, and plans for extracurriculars are anything but set in stone. However unclear these times may be, the sense of community that we have will encourage us to move forward.