Coming Together During Digital Community Week

By Class Deans MiChelle Carpenter, Kallan Wood, Daniel Rufer and Piya Kashyap

Connection is at the center of Community Week, a time set aside for High Schoolers this year that encourages community-building in a time in which we’re all mandated to stay apart. Below, class deans MiChelle Carpenter, Kallan Wood, Daniel Rufer and Piya Kashyap describe how they brought this most recent Community Week to life.


MiChelle Carpenter, Dean of the Class of 2024:
There have been several impactful moments in our Community Weeks, with the Circle Practice ranking at the top of the list. The Class and our Advisors have used this First Nations tradition as a means to start talking about the prickly, messy but unavoidable topic of race. Many members of the Class have already been having these conversations (some even attended protests during the summer of 2020), but others have never even thought about the impact that race and racism has on their lived experience. The Circle Practice is structured in a way that makes room for everyone. Because there is no dialogue, the only option is to listen to one another, which I regard as an inherently antiracist activity.

So far, the 2024 Advisory Team has been able to find a way to bring the Class (mostly) together, and the “10th Street Pavilion” and the 46 Gym have been instrumental and indispensable to this goal. Community Week is certainly about programming but it’s also about logistics; until the advent of the pandemic, the mechanisms for creating Class cohesion were “built-in” (ex. The Freshmen Retreat, the Philosophy/Religion trip, Class meetings, etc.) Now, Class bonding requires deliberate planning and Community Week has provided a really essential framework. Having lunch or playing HORSE all together were insurmountable hurdles but now, every few weeks (and weather permitting), the Freshmen can put names to (masked) faces. The value of this kind of connection cannot be overstated.

Kallan K. Wood, Dean of the Class of 2023
The words I continually return to this year, my lighthouse in this pandemic storm, is the epigraph from E.M. Forster’s novel, Howards End; “Only connect…” These two words plus the ellipsis refocus and ground me when I find myself contending with the unimaginable, or perhaps more accurately, finding my way to what is yet to be realized.

The task of this year has been to make real the unimaginable. In July, it was not hard but impossible to imagine what hybrid teaching would be in practice, what “Deaning” from a distance for remote-only students would mean and what community building would entail given all of our variables. When I say it was impossible to imagine, I mean I had no reference point. The mechanisms I have now found a rhythm using in concert with one another, bluetooth speaker, iPad, laptop plugged into the smartboard/monitor, facilitating conversation between students in the room and students on a screen, I didn’t have a template for, however, I had goals and intentions, I had a lighthouse…Thus it has been with our Community Weeks.

Our struggle to connect, to find new relationships, to fortify the bonds that existed before our way of life was deleted and rewritten, has been a constant theme for our students but I think more broadly, for our school community. As a Dean, remembering that our Community Weeks are about creating opportunities and fostering moments of connection is what helps guide my programming. Additionally, learning to be ok with and find true value in the small, quieter moments of connection has become an important part of working in the unimaginable. Perhaps connection arrives in the form of 30 really engaged minutes of a Circle Practice on Zoom or the way I can see students’ faces fixed on a visiting speaker’s words, like they were when Caroline Randall Williams spoke to the high school in January.  

This year relentlessly asks us to get comfortable in the unimaginable, to draw the blueprints and carefully construct the house at the same time and trust that we have the tools, experience, expertise and team to pull it off. Moreover, this year has called on us to redefine our teaching practices, our classrooms and our support systems, as well as redefine how we create and experience connection. It goes without saying that none of this has or is easy and none of us want to continue to live this way. But as difficult, scary and uncomfortable living, working and breathing in the unimaginable is, it has given us a renewed faith in our ability to create and to be creators. It is all too easy to feel unmoored, adrift, the abyss awaits and it’s sounding pretty good. But that’s when we need to remember to look to the lighthouse, to work even harder to only connect.

Daniel Rufer, Dean of the Class of 2022
Mr. Davison likes to say “we are a community where a school breaks out,” so it seems only logical that community week would break out of a hybrid/pandemic school year. I think we are all missing the sense of community that comes from physically occupying the same space with our peers, colleagues, and loved ones. Community Week is one way that the high school has intentionally thought to create shared experiences for each of the grades. It’s not perfect and two of the four community weeks had to be completely remote for the 11th grade, but halting academics to promote the greater sense of community is never a bad thing.

One thing that surprised me is that even in the weeks where everyone was remote, the community was built because in the hybrid schedule everyone’s experience is different. I think it’s good that for a couple weeks out of the year, whether it’s at home or in-person, kids have a shared space to meet with their peers. Similarly, I was surprised at how well difficult conversations about race/racism could occur over Zoom. Certainly something is lost by not being in person, but I think it’s also fair to say that something is gained when your gaze is digitally forced to concentrate on the speaker. 

The second community week reminded me that no matter how much we adults try to plan meaningful events for kids, the most meaningful events in their lives will be spontaneous, such as the hour long hide-and-seek game that broke out at the end of our November on-campus day. Fun will find a way for us silly adults to just get out of the way every now and again.

Piya Kashyap, Dean of the Class of 2021
Community Week is a signature feature of our hybrid schedule, which was designed to make space for our co-curricular program, the value of which we think is as important as our academic program. It has been both an exercise in innovation, collaboration, creativity and grit, therefore, to design each of these Community Weeks from scratch and during a pandemic, to boot! We knew that we wanted to implement antiracist programming throughout the week in an effort to address the Black@Grace testimonies and the list of demands put together by the Grace leaders of Black Students Demand Change. We decided early on that the third Community Week would be devoted to the annual Martin Luther King Jr. symposium, which would offer the community a chance to focus exclusively on this crucial high school programming. We have also implemented a regular race-explicit circle practice while trying to also bring the grade together in order to strengthen relationships and reflect on school culture and grade identity. 

I have been working with the Senior Advisory Board, a group of seniors who applied to design and implement – alongside me and some other faculty – antiracist programming and other senior focused programming. The perspectives and input of these seniors has been invaluable to the success of the Community programming each week. I will continue to consult students when designing these weeks as the inclusion of their voices and their honest feedback is truly essential.

Ms. Kashyap and seniors ice skating