Yesterday afternoon we had Assembly. This time-honored tradition of bringing everyone together—faculty, students, staff, even facilities and dining hall as schedules allow—goes back to the founding of our school 95 years ago. It has been called different things over the years, but it has always had the same goal: bring together the community to share information, celebrate accomplishments, have a laugh, and see each other’s faces.
Of course, yesterday’s assembly looked a little different. We “gathered” on Zoom. 150 floating heads spilling across seven screens on my computer, each personality coming through loud and clear: some with virtual hats and jokey backgrounds, others sitting in bed or walking through their houses, and a few sweet shrinking violets who sat so still, hoping not to get noticed.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Every time we have a group Zoom call I worry about people talking over each other, forgetting to mute themselves, or worse… no one talking at all. But as soon as those faces filled the screen the connection was palatable. Smiling faces and friendly jokes gave way to respectful attention as faculty and students took turns making announcements, asking questions, and creating community. I was more than relieved. I was proud and happy to be back among my students.
At Solebury, we pride ourselves on our remarkable community as much as our world-class academics. When this crisis hit, we needed to quickly focus on the school work—the remote learning that would allow our students to not just tread water, but continue to learn and thrive. Our teachers are doing a stellar job, putting together lessons for students who are, in many cases, around the globe. But what about community in this time of pandemics and social distancing? How do we ensure that the connections stay strong?
I have found this answer in the many gatherings we have created in the short time we have been in the remote learning mode. It’s the Assembly I just spoke of. It's the grade level meetings I’ve hosted—two with the juniors, two with the seniors, one each so far with the 9th and 10th graders. One of our students now hosts an every Wednesday House Party, taking music requests from those who Zoom in. The ideas for virtual gatherings continue to hatch and we continue to find ways to bring our community together. Twelve years ago when I arrived at Solebury to be the Head, I decided I would stand in our front circle every morning and greet the students, faculty, and staff as the passed me on their way to class. That tradition continues in this virtual world. I realize I might look a little silly, but every morning at 8 finds me in the circle, with my iPad and cup of coffee, catching up with any student who ‘drops by’ for a quick ‘Zoom with Tom’ to start the day.
From the very start of my Solebury experience, I understood that Solebury was much more than a school. So, yes, we have focused on continuing to deliver a world-class education to our students, but we have also focused on all the other experiences that make us who we are. So, whether it’s a Tik Tok house competition or cooking with Kim and Safwa, our community is right there, strong as ever. This effort will continue to create time and space to bring students, faculty, and staff together and they will create the community.
That’s Solebury School.