Are you really “going to Deerfield” if you’re just sitting at home taking online classes on your computer all day long? Being on campus plays an integral role in creating one’s Deerfield experience, and while this year’s campus life has looked drastically different from past years, we are immensely privileged that Deerfield has re-opened and allowed us to return for in-person classes, especially while thousands of schools across the country cannot.
We throw around the term “Deerfield experience” quite often, but what does it actually entail? Students that have been here since pre-COVID times may tell you stories of glorious Choate Days, music-filled evenings in the Starfield during KFC, and evenings spent at DeNunzio disco or the semi-formal dance. Other students may tell you about the less grand moments: early mornings spent doing work in the dining hall, getting a snack from the Greer, nights spent with friends in the dorm, or singing the Evensong after Sunday sit-down.
There’s a long list of traditions that stretch through our school’s history that have cultivated the Deerfield experience into something very desirable but also highly personal to all students.
More students have chosen to do remote learning this winter versus the fall. While there are a multitude of valid reasons that I’ve heard people cite for staying home, such as travel restrictions, family reasons, or health concerns, it must be made clear that students should not be choosing to stay home because this year’s campus activities are not “fun” enough.
Students choosing to stay home miss out on residential life on campus, the very structure that the Deerfield experience is built upon. They aren’t buying-in to the school’s efforts to keep the community together, because absences in classes, dorms, or at sit-downs also affect the experience of the students that have returned to campus. They aren’t buying-in to help create a new ideal of the “Deerfield experience” for this year, reluctant to accept the lasting impact that COVID-19 will have on everything that we do.
Any returning student will remember the experience of transitioning to remote learning for spring term last year. The inherent difficulties of online learning meant struggling to maintain one’s concentration through a screen and also trying to sustain a strong work ethic while generally not feeling very connected with your teachers or classmates.
Now, with some students in the classroom and some students Zoomed in, there’s extra pressure placed on teachers to keep everyone engaged and provide remote students with the same education that the in-person students are receiving. It’s an impossible feat, especially when either student or teacher often have to deal with technical difficulties. From my own classes, I’ve noticed how my teachers have been forced to juggle going back and forth between the in-person class and the remote learners in order to ensure that the students on Zoom stay connected with what’s happening in the classroom.
I know that this year has looked nothing like what has traditionally been thought of as the “Deerfield experience.” But unlike some of our peer schools, Deerfield has made it possible for students across all grade levels to return safely and experience a new school year: albeit one with a staggered class schedule, socially distanced meals, and many evenings spent walking in the cold with friends.
While the social scene on campus has clearly changed significantly this year, the core of the Deerfield experience is made up of the relationships that can be formed in the dorms, in classes, and during co-curriculars.
Due to the rural location of campus, a strict de-densifying plan, and a robust testing system, Deerfield has also had uncommon success with the task of re-opening campus in comparison to several of our peer schools. Our community has had very few positive cases and to better preserve the integrity of the Deerfield bubble, this winter the administration even had day students decide to either move on campus or learn remotely for the entirety of the term.
After COVID-19 has prevented the majority of schools in the U.S. from opening, we should take advantage of all that Deerfield has offered us this year: in-person classes with teachers that care about our success, safe housing in the dorms with nearly all singles, and efforts to provide students with valuable co-curricular experiences even without inter-scholastic competition. While de-densifying has forced many of our social circles to grow smaller, it can be easy to forget that the ability to interact with groups of people within the safety of the Deerfield bubble is a rare privilege during a pandemic.
The Deerfield experience has certainly evolved from what it traditionally has been, but we still have our community and the chance to safely spend time with each other in person, which is something that we shouldn’t take for granted.