All Seniors will have the option to board on campus in February while other students will stay remote for the remainder of Winter Term. Seniors were required to notify the school of their decision by Thursday, December 10.
Winter Break will begin on December 17, but instead of returning to campus in January, as previously planned, students will continue to learn remotely through the end of the month.
According to Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington, the recent rise in local Covid-19 cases and the flu season’s approaching peak are two reasons for the change. Kington also cited the inability to gather outdoors in tents during the winter months.
“Based on the latest data, compounded by challenges presented by the winter months, we now believe that repopulating the campus to the extent we have this fall would compromise our primary goal of protecting the health of our campus community,” wrote Kington in an email to the Andover community on November 6.
Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, hopes that a large portion of the Senior class will return to campus in February. According to Elliott, the administration expects around 300 students to be on campus, including a small group of non-Seniors who have challenges accessing the academic program from home.
“I hope we’re going to have 300 kids on campus. We know that we’ll be inviting back a cohort of kids who are non-Seniors who need to be on campus to access our program, and so that will be a subset of the 300. But we’re hoping that it’s a big, big percentage of the Seniors who are here,” said Elliott.
According to Elliott, one of the primary reasons to bring only Seniors back to campus is for class bonding. Seniors will be residing in the large dormitories of Flagstaff, West Quad North, and West Quad South, in hopes of unifying the class.
“We wanted to create a sense of neighborhoods and communities and actually not wanting the class to feel divided. We just did the numbers and felt like we could make it work with Flagstaff and the Quads, knowing kids are suddenly going to Paresky [Commons] to eat. I felt like they’d have a natural reason to be there and basically be together,” said Elliott.
Boarders who lived in Flagstaff and the Quads during Fall Term will face the possibility of displacement as boarders from other clusters and day students move in. According to Elliott, the housing process is going to focus on the people a person requested to live with rather than where. Additionally, proctors, day student mentors, and co-presidents will be dispersed throughout the dorms in order to have student leaders in each dorm space.
“We’re going to honor kids’ requests about with whom they’d like to live and not where. One of the reasons why we had all the students pack up all their belongings is that we can start with a fresh slate and then honor with whom kids wanted to live and not about where they wanted to live. So very much possible that kids would not be returning to the dorm,” said Elliott.
Though initially unsure of whether or not to return, Siddhant Sinha ’21 shared that hearing about the administration’s success in preventing the spread of Covid-19 during Fall Term has convinced him to return.
“I was a bit skeptical to go back in the fall as I had my doubts about the health protocols on campus, but it seems like the [Fall Term] was a success. That made me feel more comfortable with returning in February,” said Sinha.
Day students CC Song ’21 and Christy Wei ’21 expressed excitement about trying the boarding experience and spending time in person with peers.
“Given that college applications are going to be over in January, I thought boarding with other Seniors would be really fun,” said Wei.
Song added, “I’m really excited to get to spend more time with my friends and all the Seniors especially after we’ve missed out on so many months together, and I know that in the worst case I will still be able to go home pretty easily.”
As Covid-19 vaccines begin to make headway, the administration plans to monitor the decisions made by the state government. Considering the more immediate need of the elderly and those with underlying conditions, the school does not anticipate gaining access to the vaccine in the near future, according to Elliott.
“We’re all waiting to see and hear how state governments largely are going to be making decisions about how those vaccines are going to become accessible. I think that our student body is likely some of the last folks to have access to it on a large scale. Perhaps some faculty and staff members would have access sooner, based upon protocols that are put in place, so we’ll see. We’re not anticipating that we’re going to be early to get our whole community vaccinated. I think we’ll just wait and see how this rolls out,” said Elliott.
While Seniors returning in February will have access to facilities that were not open to boarders for most of the fall, including the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Borden Memorial Gym, and Snyder Center, they are not guaranteed to have in-person classes. As was the case in Fall Term, instructors will make that decision for themselves.
“I think that there were some teachers who made a choice not to teach in person because of the composition of their class in terms of having some kids there and some kids remote. Having all-Senior electives, where potentially the whole class could be on campus, likely could factor into some teachers’ decisions about whether or not they teach in person, but the choice is still theirs. We’re just as excited and curious to see how that pans out,” said Elliott.
Looking ahead to the spring, the school is still hoping to welcome all students back to campus and do so over a shorter period than the phased return of Fall Term. According to Elliott, safety protocols such as masking and social distancing are likely to remain in place come spring.
Elliott said, “We’re still hoping at this point that we’re going to be able to invite everyone back in the spring and bring them back sooner, and have them follow our protocols that we established this fall in terms of testing, contact tracing, physical distancing, and masking. All those things we’re expecting, but we’re hoping everyone’s going to be here, which is going to be great.”