On July 24th, almost three weeks before everyone learned that Concord Academy would go entirely online, the administration had already accepted the “cold reality” that it could not offer a boarding program in the fall. The decision to close campus to boarders was one of the “toughest decisions,” reads the Healthy Concord Reopening Update. Indeed, the decision must have felt like the school had to amputate one of its vital limbs. The closure of the boarding houses meant that over 40% of students would not only have to adjust to learning online, but would also have to lose their CA home. For boarders, school served as a second family, a second set of pets, and even a second town or country that they grew to love. All of these attributes of CA that boarders had grown to cherish, however, had been distilled into Zoom meetings.
Despite these setbacks, the faculty, administration, and Boarding Council have worked tirelessly to create events that emulate the normal boarding experience. Houses have been broken into smaller groups, called Squads, so that each boarder connects with their Head of House and house faculty members. Squads change every STAC so that students can interact with other members of their house as well. Instead of nightly study hall, optional study hours are offered each weeknight over Zoom so students can connect with faculty. Then at 9:30pm EST, “after hours” hang out time gives boarders an opportunity to connect with their housemates more informally. Hobson House, for example, hosts weekly movie nights. Instead of camping out on the common room sofas, boarders can join from them the comfort of their own homes.
Besides Squads, weekly house meetings are still important features of boarding life. House competitions are still being held, with students competing for the most house points in order to win prizes at the end of the year. Shouting at a screen and cheering into headphones is a far cry from the real thing, but it is another way to lend us a common experience. “Nothing’s perfect,” said Annie Bailey, “but we’re trying hard to instill a feeling of belonging.”
“[House and community meetings] really reminds me of CA,” says Matthew Guiterrez ’23, a boarding student from New York City. “They provide a good understanding of the direction in which the school is going.” Boarding activities reminds him of CA’s “home-like feeling.”
“It’s important for bonding,” says an anonymous boarder from New Jersey. “It helps us to salvage what is left of boarding life, and reminds us that no matter how far apart we may be, we’re all in this together.”
Boarders living in other timezones have also had to drastically adjust their schedules in order to participate in virtual programming. One boarder in South Korea is in class from 8:30pm to 3:30am every day. “I wake up very late,” he says, “and I drink a lot of strong milk tea to keep me focused during my late classes.” I am in a similar situation since my home city, Hong Kong, is 12 hours ahead of Concord. When STAC 2 starts, I will be in class from 8:30 PM until 3:30 AM. Keeping focused for my 1 AM Chemistry class will give a whole new meaning to “burning the candle (or the bunsen burner) at both ends.” Pulling all-nighters five days a week for an entire semester is physically draining, and although CA tries to accommodate all time zones in its new schedule, I have barely slept by the time I have to wake up for yet another Zoom meeting.
Although common rooms are empty and classrooms are closed, campus is far from deserted. “The Bulls are loyally affixed to Bradford, and I have boxes of Ghirardelli brownie mix that need baking!” said film teacher Justin Bull, referring to Saturday night house food, a well-loved boarding tradition.
It seems that many campus residents feel the same way: “I miss the energy, the laughter, the funny and sometimes esoteric conversations,” says Eve Fraser-Corp, school nurse and Admadjaja house affiliate. “Stay healthy in mind and body, keep learning, and see you soon!” Let’s hope Eve is right. I for one, am missing my other home.