It took hundreds of Covid-19 tests and three carefully orchestrated arrival days to get us here, but we are here.
Fall has officially descended on the Hilltop, and just like that, the sound of students and faculty can once again be heard all over campus. It took 642 negative Covid tests and three carefully orchestrated arrival days to get us here, but we are here. While move-in looked and felt much different than it has in past years, everything went as planned.
Following move-in, Head of School Tim Richards P '15 kicked off our first-ever virtual student orientation on Wednesday, September 9. The program consisted of seven separate orientation modules delivered over two days. These modules covered everything from campus safety and community responsibility to the new daily schedule and afternoon program requirements. It also included this video about our new dining hall protocols.
On Thursday evening, Head of School Tim Richards P '15 delivered a powerful Opening Chapel Talk from a nearly empty chapel. The talk was live streamed, allowing day students and distance learners to watch from home, while our on-campus community watched in advisory groups scattered across campus.
In his talk, Richards said, "The title we gave to our reopening plan was not an afterthought. Better Together speaks to our belief that community is at the core of the Pomfret Experience. I’ll admit that it’s a tad ironic that I have chosen to focus on that topic as I speak to you from an almost unoccupied Chapel, but bear with me.
"Single neurons in our brains don’t do much on their own, but if you string trillions of them together in a specific way, you get a thought. John, Paul, George and Ringo were all fine individual musicians, but when they came together as The Beatles, they changed music and modern culture. Peanut butter is tasty, and chocolate is delicious, but when you combine them in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, you get a truly sublime candy bar."
On Sunday, Gwyneth Connell, director of the Grauer Family Institute, and Doug MacLeod, director of studies, announced academic awards over Zoom during this year's Convocation ceremony. Literally a "calling together," this annual event recognized the academic achievements of last year's top-performing students.
"How many of you know what's important?" asked Connell in her opening remarks. "Sometimes, in our most cynical moments, it is easiest to pretend that nothing is really that important. After all, deciding what's important means choosing to care, choosing to invest, choosing to risk disappointment, or even heartbreak. And yet, maybe what's truly most important is the very act of deciding that something is."
This week also marked the start of classes, and with it, a renewed focus on the health and safety protocols first outlined in our reopening plan, Better Together. To ensure that these protocols are working, Pomfret is conducting regular "surveillance" testing that targets about 10 percent of our campus population each week. Because we think transparency is really important, we are sharing the results on a publicly available Covid-19 dashboard, which is updated every Monday and any time a member of our campus community tests positive for Covid-19.
"Any decision to modify campus operations, including the decision to cancel in-person classes or curtail residential life, will be made based on several factors," said Assistant Head of School Don Gibbs. These factors include the prevalence of illness in our community, our ability to provide adequate ongoing medical care and support to our student population, and our ability to operate and maintain vital campus infrastructure.
And though we welcomed the majority of our students back to campus this week, we have not forgotten about our distance learners, who make up nearly a quarter of our student population right now. "For those students who cannot make it back to campus right away, classes will feel a little different this fall," said Gwyneth Connell, director of the Grauer Institute. "But the essence of the Pomfret Experience, rich with human relationships, challenging courses, and engaging learning opportunities, will remain unchanged."
And, of course, even before students arrived, faculty were already hard at work preparing for a year unlike any other, in part, through an annual peer-to-peer professional development event known as "PomCon" (Pomfret Conference). The event, which spanned three days, was an amazing demonstration of their expertise and commitment to this community.
Participating in PomCon for the first time were four new faculty members, two of whom are Pomfret alumni. Will Mitchell '84 has taken the reins as director of advancement, and Joshua Wildes '04 has returned to the Hilltop to teach math. They are joined by Kena Gilmour, a recent Hamilton graduate, who will be teaching Humanities and working in the Collaborative Learning Center, and Natalia Aragon, a native Spanish speaker hailing from Argentina, who joins the World Languages Department as a Spanish teacher.