COVID-19 Prompts Changes to Housing System

On Wednesday, August 26, students could use the Student Reports Dashboard to view their housing assignments, which had not yet been formally released. Some of the information was inaccurate as some students received their assignment from the previous year, according to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students. Students in the first cohort of returners, including prefects and Junior and Senior boarders, will receive their correct housing assignments on September 3. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the coming school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Elliott believes that Andover will likely conduct a new housing process each term.

“This year’s housing process functioned very differently than past years because there was so much uncertainty and fluidity coming into the year. To the question of whether these housing decisions will be permanent, likely not. Kids will likely move out and we’ll redo the housing process each term. Again, plans are fluid and they are changing term by term so we’re trying our best to honor student choice,” said Elliott.

The first step of the housing process occurred in August, when the administration designated which dorms would be used for the first cohort of returners. Juniors and Seniors will be placed in different dorms, and prefects will live with their prefectees, according to Elliott. Some dorms will remain empty until the arrival of the second cohort, Lower and Upper boarders.

“Some of the dorms will be vacant to start the year, and some of those dorms, we will use for cohort two in the fall, and then we’ll actually do a housing process in the winter based on which students will be able to come back to campus. We’ll likely do the housing process several times this year. We’ve actually already communicated to students, and we’ll likely ask students to pack up all of their belongings at the end of each term when they head home,” said Elliott.

If the second cohort returns to campus in October, the first cohort will not have to move out of their rooms to accommodate them, according to Elliott. Housing assignments were designed so that if the second cohort returns, they will be able to safely quarantine for two weeks without contacting the first. Additionally, even with the removal of triples and one-room doubles, every boarder will be guaranteed on-campus housing, according to Elliott.

“There will be enough space for the Uppers and Lowers this fall in that the total number of boarding students this fall is smaller than we typically have as many folks have elected to be remote boarders or remote for the fall term even though we’ve eliminated triples and one-room doubles. The Andover Inn is being taken offline right now. We see it as a spot where students and their designated adults or guardians or family members can stay if they are needing to isolate in response to a positive COVID test until they are able to find a spot off campus,” said Elliott.

Elliott highlighted how Andover is trying to honor both student and faculty choice. Returning boarding students were given the option to identify three to five other boarders with whom they would like to live. According to Elliott, the administration tried its best to house Seniors with at least one of the students on their list. In addition, faculty chose whether they would like to teach in person or remotely. House counselors are composed of faculty members who chose to teach in person.

This year’s housing process brought changes to Andover’s prefecting system as well. For example, as smaller dorms begin the school year vacant, the prefects originally selected for those dorms will move to larger ones.

“Every ninth-grade dorm will have prefects residing there. Some of our prefects are not actually able to come to campus so they’ll support kids remotely. Some of our prefects are not living in the dorms where they were originally selected to serve. [For example,] the Hale prefects are actually living in Stevens,” said Elliott.

As dorm bathrooms are communal and students cannot wear masks to complete certain hygienic tasks, Andover will introduce initiatives to prevent the spread of the virus, such as providing disinfectant wipes, according to Elliott. A recent Instagram post by @andoveradmissions showed the installation of screens separating sinks.

“Bathrooms will be cleaned multiple times. We’ll leave disinfectant wipes in those spaces so students can actually wipe down the spaces if they would like to. We will likely have, in larger dorms, bathroom schedules, but bathrooms will be used by students in the same dorm pod in most cases… For the most part, students will only use the bathroom to which they are assigned in their dorm pods, and that will help reduce levels of exposure and keep kids safe. Then there are some dorms that will operate with single-user bathrooms, so they’ll just rotate through,” said Elliott.

While Kate Pfiser ’21 noted some of the inconveniences in this year’s housing system, she believes that Andover’s plan is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in dorms.

“Given the situation, I think Andover has done a pretty good job handling housing. I know it’s definitely been frustrating for some people, especially Lowers and Uppers who aren’t able to return immediately, and I know some people who ended up in not ideal housing because of factors that they couldn’t control. It seems like things will be pretty fluid this year and people may have to switch dorms and rooms at any point in the year though, which is frustrating but understandable,” said Pfiser.

During the mandatory two-week quarantine for boarding students returning to campus, all meals will be delivered to dorms, according to Elliott. Following this two-week period, students will eat breakfast in their dorms and pick up their lunch and dinner at Paresky Commons.

“I think Paresky is really thinking carefully about dietary needs and restrictions… and making sure they are stocking pantries in each of those dorm common rooms with healthy and delicious snacks,” said Elliott.