From wearing a mask in class to attending Chapel virtually, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of daily life at Holderness. One of the most significant changes is the replacement of Saturday morning classes in favor of programs to support students’ social and emotional health.
For decades, Holderness students have attended Saturday morning classes before participating in afternoon athletic practices and games. Following the emergence of COVID-19 and the ensuing logistics of social distancing, however, it became clear that some aspects of the traditional Holderness schedule had to change. After considering numerous scenarios, teachers and administrators saw an opportunity and decided to forego Saturday morning classes in favor of programs that focus on student health and wellbeing. “There have been a lot of initiatives we haven’t found time and space for in the schedule over the past few years that we wanted to do around socio-emotional learning,” says Director of Teaching & Learning Kelsey Berry. This year, with pandemic-related stress a real concern, students will get that socio-emotional boost.
On a typical Saturday morning this year, students can get some extra sleep - so important to the developing adolescent brain - eat breakfast, and then begin their day with a virtual assembly in their dorms. From there, they will move on to a rotating menu of enrichment programs and grade-specific programming. The rotating programs will include equity and inclusion, health and wellness, and outdoors and service. Already this fall, juniors have spent time performing trail work on the Nanamocomuck Ski Trail in the White Mountains, a key travel corridor used during the school’s Out Back program each March. Students will continue to make regular Saturday work trips to the backcountry ski trail, which the school adopted from the U.S. Forest Service last year.
Back on campus, other students have spent their Saturdays focused on equity and inclusion. On a recent Saturday in September, students and teachers gathered in small groups to hold conversations about the impact of racist, homophobic, xenophobic, antisemitic, anti-Asian, and sexist language in the Holderness community and beyond. Those conversations led to further discussions about how to create a community without such language, where all students could feel valued and welcomed. “We have long hoped for a regular time to allow students to explore their own identities and the way those identities interact with our world and with one another. Our Saturday programming for Equity and Inclusion allows for that to happen,” says English teacher and Director of Equity and Inclusion Jini Rae Sparkman. “Our young people need spaces to grapple with the hard questions of our time and imagine a new future. Our time together on Saturdays is a first step towards creating that space and giving time in order that they might begin to understand and imagine what that looks like for each of our community members, employees and students.”
The college process is another area of focus for the new Saturday program. This year, grade-specific programming will include multiple days focused on the college process for seniors and juniors. Throughout the fall, seniors will spend time meeting with their college advisor, work on college applications, and polish their essays with some of the school’s English teachers. This spring, Juniors will begin college-specific work. “I think it will be invaluable to have that dedicated time and space to work on their college applications that’s not Monday through Friday, and doesn’t conflict with an athletic commitment,” says Interim Director of College Counseling Erika Blauth. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to work in small groups and one-on-one settings and cover a variety of topics - from art supplements to athletic recruiting to financial aid to essays.”
Whether students spend their Saturdays working on their college applications, focusing on equity and inclusion, or sprucing up a wilderness ski trail, they will be active, engaged, and learning. It will be different from what past Holderness students experienced on Saturday mornings, but today’s students are growing up in a world reshaped by COVID-19. “A lot of schools are talking about how it’s an opportunity to rethink school from the ground up,” Kelsey Berry says. “One of the principles of the learning master plan that we’ve come up with is to balance conventional and progressive pedagogy, and I think we’re doing that well.”
Holderness School’s iconic outdoor rink is open for another season, less than two weeks after New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu instituted a temporary ban on indoor ice hockey and skating activities due to COVID-19.
Sophia Schwartz’s ‘09 wide-range of talents is on the big screen at the If3 International Ski Festival starting Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. The film called Jack of all Trades is about her 2020 winter journey to complete three goals: land a double backflip, ski the Grand Teton, and ski the Jackson Hole Trifecta.
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