Campus re-opens for artists and individual grades

Printed with permission of Tanisha Gunby ’21

After an increase in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County prompted a complete school closure Jan. 8, on-campus  activities returned, with athletic practices starting Feb. 1 and weekend social activities starting Feb. 14, organized by grade level.

Head of Upper School Beth Slattery said because the Los Angeles Department of Public Health (LADPH) lowered restrictions, students were able to safely return to campus.

The school started by inviting 60 student artists to an outdoor gathering, where easels, pottery wheels and other supplies were set up Feb. 6.

Advanced Placement Studio Art student Lola Butan ’21 said although she set up an easel and painting area in her home  earlier in the  school year, she longed for the atmosphere and supplies available on campus, and the announcement was a pleasant surprise for her.

“When I got the email that [the school] was going to be allowing groups of artists back on campus,  I was super excited,” Butan said. “I’ve really missed being able to make art while being around friends,  and I’ve also really missed the studio space at [the school], it doesn’t compare to what I made at home. When I get back on campus,  I’m definitely going to work on a new painting in the studio space,  and I’m also really excited to see friends that I haven’t been able to see for months.”

Student artists and athletes have practiced their activities in their own homes while off campus.

Although the school will try to include all students in the activities, Slattery said seniors will be given more chances to be on campus than other students.

“We’re trying to prioritize everybody having an opportunity to come, but we’re also mindful of what seniors deserve to have,” Slattery said. “So one of the reasons why we [chose to invite] visual arts, mostly seniors, is because this is their last chance [to use the campus to  work].”

Prefect Council sent an email announcing the restart of on-campus social activities over Presidents Day weekend Feb. 3. Students will be split up by class, with each grade visiting campus on a different day. Seniors, juniors and sophomores can attend Feb. 13, 14 and 15, respectively. All students are required to social distance and wear masks during the gathering.

Slattery said the weekend events will be similar to the evening events held previously, but they have been moved to weekends to allow more students to participate.

“We figured the evening [activities] were perfectly fine, but it was cold,” Slattery said. “A lot of kids didn’t come because it was after their school day, and they had work. We figured that if we [held activities] on weekends, it might make it more available to people who have had transportation issues because we just want to be as inclusive as possible.”

Head Prefect Jonathan Cosgrove ’21 said he and  Prefect Council have been working to find a way to safely provide a social space for students.

“I think we’re approaching a time in [the COVID-19] pandemic where we’re able to plan more things on campus, and that’s great,” Cosgrove said. “It’s really amazing to be able to help with the social aspect of school because while academics have transitioned well, the social aspects have been lacking. Anything we can do on campus is a really great way for people to leave their home, leave their desk and interact  outside of the screen.”

The re-opening includes the optional return for student-led groups as well.

In addition to the social activities, President  Rick Commons announced in an email Feb. 5 that affinity groups, performing arts, robotics and clubs will be returning to campus in the upcoming weeks.

Although many athletic events such as tournaments, meets, travel opportunities and indoor training sessions were entirely canceled because of the pandemic, on-campus practices were held completely outdoors during operation, and the school made many changes to follow theCOVID-19 guidelines implemented by the LADPH.

In addition to the current COVID-19 protocol, the school has begun piloting a COVID-19 pooled testing program for certain athletes and coaches. They are required to take a nasal swab test every week, and individual results will not be provided.

Head of Athletics Terry Barnum described the process of pooled testing in an email to athletes who are returning to practice.

“The school will be notified if a pool tests positive, meaning that at least one sample in the pool was positive for COVID-19,” Barnum wrote. “If that is the case, the pool will be quarantined and additional, individual, diagnostic testing will commence. If the pool tests negative, it means there is a very high likelihood that everyone in the pool is virus-free, and the pool is cleared to continue practicing for another week.”

Girls water polo player Ayva Magna ’22 said the campus closures were unfortunate for student-athletes, but the school did well at keeping them safe.

“We were all really upset when practices were shut down,” Magna said. “Being able to get out of the house, see your friends and get some form of playing water polo in was the best part of the school day for most of us. I look forward to going back on campus for practice.”