The “new normal”: How Dana Hall is handling a divided student body

As a community built on sisterhood and connection, Dana Hall has been faced with the challenge of a divided campus due to COVID-19. Since about one third of the Upper School’s student body is fully remote until at least January while the other two thirds are hybrid, keeping the students united has been a continuous struggle.

Emily Soucy ’24 explained that people new to Dana Hall are having an especially hard time meeting new people and making friends. Other than Zoom breakout rooms during class, which are usually filled with classwork conversation, intimate time with other students is hard to find if you don’t know them. Emily said, “if I didn’t meet my Dana friends in the summer I don’t know what I would do. There isn’t even much time to talk to in-person students, let alone remote ones. … The only time I have to socialize is a few minutes after lunch.”

Ms. Jessica Keimowitz, Head of the Upper School, said the School “is incredibly dependent on advisors and on class meetings to help new students make connections.” She also said that the campus is “quieter” and “much less lively” these days.

Many of the class traditions are being reimagined this year so that both remote and hybrid students can participate fully. Cabaret, the 9th-grade talent show, will be fully virtual, as will the 11th-grade Revels celebration. Hybrid student Arianne Randall ’22 said, “I’ve been looking forward to Revels for years. I’m excited to see what it is going to look like this year but I’m disappointed we won’t get the experience everyone before us did.” Although the play has the same script every year, the strange circumstances of COVID is allowing Junior Class Dean Katie Herd to “embrace the differences,” saying that “we have an opportunity to make this brand new and make it our own. We want to make it as magical as possible online by being creative to make it much more exciting for the students.”

For  the sophomores, the main tradition is Senior-Sophomore, in which each senior is assigned a sophomore who anonymously gives them candy, posters, and costumes, until the final day which reveals who their senior is. This tradition has been pushed to spring. 

The senior class has been reimagining “black days,” the monthly anniversary of graduation in which the entire senior class dresses in black and does a “ring tap” with their class rings. The first two black days of the school year fell when the senior hybrid cohort was on campus. Remote students were encouraged to dress up at home and submit pictures and videos of them in their outfits for a video montage, and the ring tap happened over Zoom. The next black day will be fully remote.

As hybrid student Mia D’Angelo ’21 explained, “the attempts to keep things as normal as possible is great, but it is just hard to ignore all of the things that we are missing out on. It is also hard having so many of my classmates apart from us. I miss my silver sisters.”

Dana Hall’s hybrid guidelines consist of splitting up in two cohorts: Cohort D (12th graders, 11th graders, 6th graders, and 5th graders) and Cohort H (10th graders, 9th graders, 8th graders, and 7th graders). This different type of separation causes a divide by not only hybrid and remote students but by grades as well. Many classes have students from only one grade, so students have fewer opportunities to mix with students in other grades. As Ally Soucy ’21, older sister of Emily, said, “It is my sister’s first year at Dana as a freshman, and it is so weird not being able to see her or make her more comfortable in this new environment.”

Morning and All-School Meetings happen every Monday and Wednesday mornings, which allow the different grades to at least see each other’s faces. Clubs are also meeting over Zoom this fall.

Photo: Cabaret is among the class traditions being reimagined in the pandemic. Image source: Dana Hall website.

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