On Saturday, September 11, Hunter Churchill and I gathered our seven Proctor students and their student leader, River De Vink, to hike on Day #4 of Wilderness Orientation. We had decided that morning that we would head up Mount Willey, a formidable 4,285 foot peak in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Each Registration Day, you can feel the rollercoaster of emotion as families arrive on campus and their Proctor experience begins in earnest. The theoretical idea of having a child attend boarding school becomes reality, and while much of everyone’s energy centers around excitement for what lies ahead, we acknowledge there is just enough anxiety and sense of loss to make the emotions of the day challenging.
For the past 51 years, the first week of September at Proctor Academy has been synonymous with Wilderness Orientation. While last year’s Orientation program had to be altered due to COVID-19, Proctor’s 118 new students are set to head into the wilderness of the White Mountains for five days once again. The experience that awaits them - the vastness of the wilderness, the challenges of hiking high peaks, and the relationships forged with classmates and faculty leaders - will lay the foundation for their Proctor journey
After a bit of a delay due to a few stubborn COVID-19 tests, we released our dorm pods Saturday morning and jumped right into action with our 9th graders heading into the woods for an overnight camping trip as part of an abridged Wilderness Orientation experience. Meanwhile, soccer, field hockey, and football players practiced and a new masked-normal began to emerge over the weekend.
We last had students on campus on March 6. Snow covered the ground as student scurried to busses and hugged each other good bye. The excitement of Spring Break overshadowed the fears of COVID-19 that had begun to creep into our lives during the weeks prior. While we knew the Spring Term might be disrupted a bit (a delayed return for classes and maybe we would have to cancel Project Period?), few of us could have predicted what the next six months had in store: lockdowns, masks, remote learning, a remote graduation for the Class of 2020, a pandemic of racial injustice, and so much more.
Adolescents are designed to change. The students who arrived on campus on Registration Day were not the same who came out of the woods with their Orientation groups on Sunday afternoon, and they will not be the same that walk across the graduation stage. As we find the rhythm of a new academic year, we embark on a journey of self-discovery alongside our students.
Last Sunday I parked the truck on the hairpin on the Kancamagus, hauled my pack out of the back, and started down the trail to meet Brooks Bicknell. He was coming out of the woods to tend to Ocean Classroom business; I was headed in to pick up the group for the second leg of the trip. Wisps of clouds began to knit together when I handed the truck keys to Brooks. I had a sense of what the next two days would bring. Rain.
Wilderness Orientation groups finalized packing in the Teddy Maloney ‘88 Rink early Wednesday morning before loading onto busses and departing for their four night, five day adventure in the White Mountains. The busyness of Registration Days had faded into the backdrop, and while the unknown of Orientation weighed on some nearly as much as their packs, a reserved excitement hung in the air.