The past few weeks have seen an influx of news regarding COVID-related developments. Pfizer reported having a successful vaccine; meanwhile, the country’s daily case and death totals are veering sharply in the wrong direction. Between the hope and the uncertainty, one question is on nearly all Deerfield students’ minds: will Deerfield have students back on campus for winter term? If so, how will Deerfield limit COVID exposure in a region that may have more cases by January?
A key piece of Deerfield’s plan will be closing off its “bubble” more effectively by giving commuting day students the option to board on campus. The alternative for such students will most likely be learning virtually.
On November 5th, Head of School Dr. John Austin sent day students and their families an email introducing Deerfield’s plans for day students this winter. Dr. Austin wrote that Deerfield’s approach will be “to open additional dorm space in the center of campus and on Main Street” where “day students would live together.” Dr. Austin also provided a form for parents and students to leave their feedback on this idea.
Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Creagh sent a follow-up email on November 13th. After noting that the feedback she received from Dr. Austin’s form was “very positive,” Mrs. Creagh added that assigning day students rooms is a complicated process that depends on a number of factors. One factor is whether rooms previously occupied by international students, or any boarding student for that matter, will open up this winter because of travel restrictions. Mrs. Creagh noted that some international students might have to deal with “a complex set of travel and documentation considerations.” Ideally, day students would live with the same squad they were affiliated with this fall. However, it is unlikely that enough rooms will open up to accommodate all of a given squad’s commuting day students.
This new residential system would force some day students to live with other day students outside of their squads. While details are still unclear, day student dorms may also mix grades that traditionally live separately. Adapting to these changes would be the only way for many commuting day students to live on campus this winter.
Claire Patton ’22 and Jack de Bruyn Kops ’21 said that being isolated from their old squads would be a difficult change. Still, both said they would appreciate being on campus, as long as they could enjoy certain aspects of Deerfield beyond dorm life. Patton’s co-curricular will factor into how she feels about living in a day student dorm. She said, “If I have ski season, I’d definitely rather be on campus.”
De Bruyn Kops also hopes to get more out of living on campus if he ends up in a new day student dorm. He said that he’s “hoping if we do have to make that sacrifice, school would open up a little more.”
Boarding student Isha Rao ’22 also hopes that establishing a more secure bubble will result in a more normal Deerfield. Rao said that she would much rather be learning in person and living with her friends on campus this winter, but she would also like to see Deerfield move through its phases of restrictions more quickly if we have less risk of COVID coming onto campus from a surrounding town.
Rao said, “It depends on how long it takes us to get to where we are right now, in November. If it takes an entire month, I wouldn’t be too happy.” Rao and many others would like to see Deerfield move into “Emerging 2.0,” or perhaps a new 3.0 stage, in less time than what it took us this fall, yet maintaining a bubble alone won’t make this possible.
Preparations for further limiting COVID risk on campus this winter are promising, but countless factors that will shape Deerfield students’ winter term experiences. Establishing a tighter bubble by inviting commuting day students to live on campus will certainly help, but the entire community needs to do its part as well. If students can return to campus largely COVID-free and stay committed to following guidelines for the first few weeks of the term, Deerfield may look more like Deerfield this winter.