Just in Time

Some might consider it inauspicious to have Seabury’s new expansion inaugurated during a pandemic, but actually, the new space could not come at a better time. The expansion adds significant square footage to the campus, making required social distancing protocols much easier to follow. Even before the pandemic limited the number of people permitted in a given area, the school was approaching maximum enrollment capacity and stretching the limits of the old campus, so the expansion provides much needed breathing room (with masks, of course) for in-person school to take place. This is certainly the most unique school year in recent memory, defined by a newly minted campus and the COVID-19 pandemic; “new normal” has been a phrase in common use. 

“The first two weeks were harder,” says freshman Cole Shumaker, when asked about how he is adjusting to the new COVID safety protocols. “It has definitely gotten easier; I’ve gotten used to it.” Students have to take an online symptom screening before school, have their temperature taken upon arrival, disinfect any desks they use, wear masks and remain six feet apart from each other at all times. These stringent precautions aim to dramatically reduce the risk of person-to-person transmission.

“It’s better for everybody to be in person,” says faculty member Bill Gollier. “It’s better for everybody to be here. This is much better than Connected Learning for sure.” While Connected Learning had a lighter schedule and was the only system that was nearly entirely COVID-risk free, in-person classes seem to be preferred by most. 

“I definitely like in person better, but the way they handled online school this year was better than last year,” says eighth grader Hazel Powers. “If I had the choice between either, I would choose in person school because it’s a lot easier to understand what’s going on in classes.” 

Of course, one major benefit of being in person in the new campus. In a larger space, the aforementioned safety protocols are easier to follow. On top of that, the sparkling new building has plenty of useful new features, namely the new science classrooms.

“I love the access to the outside through a door, and the sunlight and the massive lab area,” says science teacher Eric Nelson, one of the chief beneficiaries of the new expansion. “It’s a great environment to teach science in.”

Nelson’s classroom, in a tie with Ms. Schrader’s adjoining room, is the largest in the entire school, excluding the commons when it is being used for classes (which is often the case, at least while social distancing regulations remain in place). The new campus is not just popular among the science teachers: “I like the roominess of it, the openness of it,” says Gollier. “I like that we can be better organized. I think it just is a better fit for the whole academic part.” 

There are some things, though, that will be missed about the old parts of campus: “I will admit I miss the trailers,” says Gollier. “I miss the trailers; I liked them a lot. That was a unique situation, but like all things it was time to move on.” 

Despite the fact that navigating the school is much easier because Reese Hall and the main building are connected, some students say they still miss the old outdoor space: “I liked working outside,” says Powers. 

While the new building is indeed helpful during the pandemic, it is not perfect: “being a lab teacher, the hybrid system is difficult,” says Nelson. “I’m getting better at it, but I think the students that have been in my classes know that the lab is fairly unique and fast moving. You just lose something watching it being done on the computer.” 

While teachers are missing the academic advantages of school before the pandemic, students are missing the social aspect. Powers says she misses “seeing [her] friends and being able to talk to [her] friends during school.” Although the new mask protocol makes some communication difficult, Powers says she is adjusting well: “It was pretty easy to pick up, because you kind of forget about the mask after a while and then it feels normal, besides randomly getting chastised like ‘stay far apart!’” 

It would have been nice to inaugurate the expanded campus in a normal year, but it is fortunate that this campus expansion is ready just in time to help with the pandemic protocols. With an uncertain future ahead, it is good to know that Seabury has new and improved resources at its disposal, ready for whatever is to come.