Head of School Day: A Gift of Time

When I entered my dorm on a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, everyone I saw looked exhausted. Then, all of a sudden, I saw my roommate scroll through his phone and instantly grin from ear to ear. Was it a funny Tiktok or meme? As I opened the new email that had just popped up in my own inbox, I understood: Head of School Day had finally arrived. Initially, I joined my roommate in celebrating and was excited to make the most of the extra free time. However, due to the challenges of virtual learning, Head of School Day did not live up to many students’ expectations for the holiday. Instead, it added to stress and packed schedules to the point that some struggled to find time to maintain their well being.

Many students struggled to manage the workload during Head of School Week, even with the day off. None of the Juniors I’ve talked to were able to enjoy the “free time” that Head of School Day supposedly granted us, and when I discussed the matter with an older student, he echoed this sentiment. Because the compressed schedule Head of School Day happened during a time when students would normally be preparing for Midterms, the day off forced us to play catch-up to an ever growing pile of other homework. Combined with the fact that EBI and Advising were scheduled during lunchtime, it made for an especially stressful few days. Any benefits that EBI and Advising, two of the key student wellness programs at Andover, might have provided were limited by the rushed format.

With an accelerated pace of classes, EBI, lunch, and advising compromised, the first thing to suffer from this compressed schedule was our quality of life and mental health. A few advisors organized advising during lunch so that students wouldn’t go hungry, while others cancelled advising as a whole, opting to let students eat while forgoing the benefit of meeting with their group. Both merging lunch and advising and cancelling advising altogether are detrimental to student well being, as the first option leaves little time to enjoy either activity and the second option eliminates a meeting that can provide help in such a rushed week. After a hurried advising-and-lunch on the steps of Sam Phil (which I was late to because I had math right before), I had to dash right to Music Theory. EBI class meetings only caused more of the same issue. Students should not have been expected to rush to Commons after ASM on Wednesday, grab food, eat it, and log into Zoom for EBI all within the span of an hour. Hard-pressed to keep up self-care or find assistance, many students found Head of School Day a disappointing experience.

While I haven’t experienced a pre-pandemic Head of School Day myself, to my knowledge, Head of School days usually diminish student stress levels. According to my prefect Bryan Jimenez, during a normal Head of School Day, the Head of School would come into the dining hall (which would serve a popular food that day) to announce the beginning of the day off, and the day would be widely celebrated among students as well. He seemed to have fond memories of the last “normal” Head of School Day, then went on to say how this one was a bit of a letdown. While at first I wondered how he enjoyed it even with the four-day schedule, I understood his perspective once I learned that normally, all of Monday’s classes would be cancelled instead of rescheduled into the rest of the week.

When exploring where exactly Head of School Day planning went awry this year, it is clear that the virtual learning timetable is the culprit. The two class meetings per week schedule design meant that cancelling Monday’s classes would have disrupted pacing for the rest of the term. Given that some periods meet on Mondays and others do not, there also would have been a gap in learning between class sections. This gap is usually negligible, given that meetings are more frequent, but this year missing one period was much more significant. Head of School Day, though a relaxing “gift of time” in normal years, turned out to be difficult to implement under current circumstances. Despite the administration’s good intentions of giving us a day off, Head of School Day’s impacts on our workloads and mental health did not align with the purpose of this originally-beloved holiday.