Curing Mid-Winter Blues

Winter Term is the shortest of Phillips Academy’s trimesters, but to most students, it feels like the longest. The bitterly cold New England weather, combined with the hassle of trudging around a snowy campus every day and the inevitable “bug” that goes around the school makes the entire PA community grumpy, depressed and unmotivated. Generally speaking, it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder at its greatest. Shawn Fulford, Instructor in Math and house counselor in Eaton Cottage, recently proposed to the faculty a new plan for the school year that she hopes will help students to relax more during the school year. Her plan, dubbed “Rest and Rhythm,” proposes the addition of two long weekends to the school year, one each in the Fall and Spring Terms. While her suggestion is a good one, and (if implemented) will undoubtedly help students to find a comforting pattern in the two terms affected, the current proposal does nothing to alleviate the stresses of Winter Term. The administration certainly can’t keep us from getting the flu, nor can they make the cold weather disappear. But the general malaise of Winter Term has another cause: simply put, there is very little to look forward to in the dreary days of January, February and March at Phillips Academy. In the Fall Term, the entire campus is excited to come back and reconnect with friends after three months at home. Then there’s the anticipation about the Andover-Exeter football game, Parent’s Weekend, Grasshopper Night, the ever-popular Sadie Hawkins dance and the excitement about the approaching holidays in December. In Spring Term, not only does the warm weather lift everyone’s spirits, but there is also the Spring Carnival, Grandparent’s Weekend, Prom and Commencement to plan for. In these two terms, the PA community rides on a perpetual wave of excitement and anticipation that can usually overcome even the most taxing of workloads. However, Winter Term is generally depressing. The biggest event of the three long months is Head of School Day, and due to the very nature of a holiday, it’s hard to anticipate the event with as much enthusiasm as many other traditions—you never know when it’s going to happen, so how can you really get excited about it? And even after Mrs. Chase has wielded her field hockey stick, I’ve heard countless students complain that “now there’s nothing to look forward to.” In general, they’re right. Compared to the offerings of the other two terms, winter traditions at Andover are limited. The most notable of the annual Winter Term offerings are the Blue and Silver semi-formal dance and the Valentine’s Day festivities (both of which, incidentally, aren’t quite as much fun if you find yourself in the majority of students without a significant other). Due to a lack of student interest, even the winter carnival has been called off for the foreseeable future. The best way to remedy this problem would be to establish more yearly annual events during the winter term. Part of the fun of Grasshopper Night, Spring Carnival, or any of the other activities scheduled in the Fall and Spring Terms lies in the fact that they are traditions, and you can always count on them to be there. If we had a few more of those traditions in the Winter Term, students would become more motivated and would be able to keep a high level of energy throughout the term. One option would be to implement Jonathan Adler’s ’08 idea of having an annual mid-year club rally. Not only would such a rally provide a collective energy boost to the student body, but it would also provide students with a second chance to get involved in clubs that they might not have otherwise. The excitement of starting something new would undoubtedly help students to enjoy the term more. With the prospect of Ryley being out of commission for the next few years during the renovation of Commons, it is more important than ever to ensure that we students have outlets to just relax during the Winter Term. Having more winter traditions to look forward to would help provide the sense of normalcy during the Winter Term that Ms. Fulford’s “Rest and Rhythm” proposal would add to the fall and spring. Ideally, the addition of the two extra long weekends under the “Rest and Rhythm” plan combined with the establishment of more winter traditions at Phillips would allow us to get the down time and the relaxation that we so badly need throughout the year and would also help cure the campus-wide case of the midwinter blues that plagues faculty, staff and students alike.