‘Back to the Future’: The Return to Campus

A sophomore staff writer reflects on his experience returning to campus for school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students ate lunch socially distanced with their cohorts on the Upper Quad.

Leo Saperstein

From the moment I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by multiple waves of friendly, unfamiliar adults who checked both my temperature and my status on various health and safety apps to ensure that I was beginning my first day of school at the upper school campus safely.

After standing in three or so lines outside of Munger Science Center, Upper School Deans Nia Kilgore and Sara Brookshire handed me both a detailed name-tag, specifying, just below my name, my primary classroom and designated outdoor area, as well as a plain, gray wristband, which signified that I belonged to cohort 15. The bracelet matched in color with a few gray signs propped up on select lunch tables that were designated for my cohort. After receiving the name tag and wristband, Senior Prefect Brooke Stanford guided us wide-eyed sophomores to our designated rooms. Walking with me were Harry Tarses ’23, Carter Staggs ’23, Zoe Shapiro ’23 and about five others whom I had seen in previous years. I went with this group, made up of students from different cohorts, as we were toured around the campus, dropping people off at each building along the way before I walked off toward my class in Rugby Hall.

I came into my group’s classroom third. The cohort had several students from my English class and several others with whom I do not share any classes. In total, there were seven of us, all taking different virtual classes, except for the occasional silly moment when two of us were in the same class, visible in the periphery of each other’s Zoom frames. For the most part of the day, we sat there taking notes on our laptop, doing practice problems or switching between Spotify and solitaire.

During the 15-minute break between the first and second classes, students from different cohorts began chaotically commingling . As everybody left their classrooms and outdoor spaces, they headed toward the cafeteria for snacks. There seemed to be a group-wide catharsis, born from the experience of eating, chatting and meeting with each other between classes—it was calming and refreshing, even in the messiness , because it felt like everybody had been imagining this experience for months. In an effort to maintain distance between students, Upper School Student Discipline and Attendance Coordinator Gabe Preciado and other faculty members walked around and gave reminders to students who had gotten too close to each other.

Back in Rugby Hall 202, math sped by, then lunch began. On the quad, cohorts had began intermixing again. Lunch felt nearly the same as break, except it was four times longer, more people were adjusting their masks as they ate and there was the issue of finding a spot to actually sit down.

With all these factors in mind, a large part of me was drawn back to the comfort of my indoor designated area. I even walked back to the room halfway through lunch, but I turned around and began to think: there was no way that I would spend my lunch, my first one at school in nearly a year, translating lines of Latin so that I wouldn’t have to when I got back home. I walked out toward the familiar faces once more and talked with my friends for the rest of the period. I then finished my day back in the usual classroom, Rugby Hall 202, before I checked out with security and went home.

Leaving through the main entrance, I was filled with regret; I felt like I hadn’t enjoyed myself as much as I should have. That feeling, I concluded, was due to the novelty of the situation. I wanted to relive the day because, having waited for it for so long, it felt too brief when I actually experienced it. Most importantly, though, I realized that, no matter what, I would not want to miss a single opportunity to come to another day of on-campus school.