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.
This would have been the 50th Wilderness Orientation at Proctor. Fifty years of faculty and new students joining together for a five day, four night backpacking experience in the White Mountains. We had grand plans to celebrate this milestone anniversary, but COVID-19 testing and general uncertainty around the start of the year saw us cancel our traditional Wilderness Orientation in late July. However, collectively, we recognize the value of shared experiences in the woods with our new students, and so we put together an abridged Orientation experience. Kudos to Wilderness Orientation Coordinator Kayden Will and her team of logistical geniuses for planning the overnight camping experience in Proctor’s woodlands for our ninth graders.
Packs were slightly lighter than usual this year, as was the level of discomfort and uncertainty for our ninth graders. But the core of the experience remained the same. Students emerged from the woods Sunday afternoon with smiles and a sense of confidence that can only be obtained by overcoming your fears.
As a community, we felt that same sense of relief and accomplishment when we received a complete panel of negative COVID-19 PCR tests for all of our students on Saturday morning. We all breathed a temporary sigh of relief, thought to ourselves, “We did it!. We initiated Phase 2 of our reopening plan. And while we can be proud of our accomplishment, of the collective buy-in from students, parents, faculty, and staff to adhering to safety guidelines, pre-arrival testing and quarantining practices, and mutual accountability, we would be foolish to think we’ve walked out of the proverbial woods as our 9th graders did Sunday afternoon.
We have passed this first test, but the bigger test now becomes a daily one. One whose difficulty runs parallel to our temptation for complacency. We have said since the beginning of COVID-19 that our handling of this pandemic would be a marathon, not a sprint. We will not “win” because we followed protocol for the first week of school, but rather must remain disciplined in our approach to life on campus each and every day that we have students living on campus.
Looking at the horizon that is this school year is simultaneously thrilling and exhausting. But we can learn much from our time in the woods, from the pacing required to hike the highest peaks and traverse the most challenging stretches of wilderness. We learn that taking care of each other is paramount to our success. We learn that each step we take counts. That route and routine matters. That planning, and then following that plan, helps the group be confident in their ability to reach the destination. We learn that holding each other accountable to best practices, to a standard of community stewardship, is each of our jobs, not just the responsibility of those “in charge”. And we learn that hard work and discipline pay off when we are able to peer out over the terrain covered, as difficult as it may be, and say to each other, “We just hiked that. Good work.” We are not out of the woods yet. Our journey is just beginning. But there is not a group of faculty, staff, students, or parents with whom we would rather be navigating this fall.