Seniors on Campus

Parker found a way to bring the students back to building


Photo credit: Zach Joseph

Seniors celebrating social distant at the senior grade-wide event. Photo by Zach Joseph.

Many senior traditions seemed unlikely to happen once Parker announced all Upper School students would begin the year remotely. Traditions like walking around the gym during its own Morning Exercise, senior pictures, Country Fair, and the 12 Days MX were likely canceled. But on the night of  Friday, September 11, one of those traditions was continued in a COVID-friendly manner: Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).

Over the summer, senior Grade Heads Yadiner Sabir and Emma Castaldi, along with Upper School Dean of Student Life Joe Bruno and Head of Upper School Justin Brandon, talked about how to reimagine senior year. Their focus was to maintain as many traditions as they could with the current climate. 

The first event they planned was an effort to bring all of the seniors back to Parker for the first time together since March 13. There was an event planned for each grade to return to campus, starting with 12th grade and then in descending order of grade from there. “We want them to be fun events where students are able to come together and just hang out with one another for a little bit. We still need to be masked, we still need to stay six feet away…” Bruno said. “We want to make this [senior] year as special as possible. Not that we don’t care about the other grades, not that those events will not be special, but there are a lot of senior year events that we want to try to incorporate in some way or another.”

Earlier on the day of the event, Bruno sent an email to the class of 2021 with Big Brothers Big Sisters assignments. The only information given was which class or grade everyone was assigned to, not about how the system will work this year. Seniors were also split into two groups based on their BBBS assignments and were to stay in those groups for the remainder of the night. Upon arrival, students’ temperatures were checked along with their answers to symptom questions, then they were sent to the courtyard.

All the adults were very nervous about bringing the seniors back on campus… I am very happy with how it turned out”

— Yadiner Sabir

The three-hour event began with Sabir and Bruno passing out blue BBBS shirts to every senior. Following that, the time was used for socializing throughout the courtyard in a socially distanced way. Seniors were mingling groups often, and not always social distancing, so Sabir and Bruno had to frequently remind the students to follow protocols. “All the adults were very nervous about bringing the seniors back on campus… I am very happy with how it turned out,” Sabir said. “Keeping the distance was hard for everybody, but I think the students were responsive when they were approached about maintaining distance.”

Later in the event, Bruno had each group line up in pairs to get ready for the BBBS walk around the field, which the students did not know about prior to the event. As the students began to walk onto the field with their partner––prohibited from making contact with each other––the bagpipes began and the ceremony commenced. “I definitely did not imagine my Big Brother Big Sister walk around to look like that,” 14-year Parker senior Emma Jung said. “This was one of many traditions I have been looking forward to since I started Parker, and it was sad that we didn’t get the ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ walk around.”

While the event was meant for the seniors to have fun, see their friends, and maintain traditions, it was also used as a trial to see how well the students could adhere to the social distancing and mask guidelines. Similar to Advisory Day, it was seen as a test run for whether Parker could bring its students in for events later in the year. “We did Advisory Day and I think it went smooth, but I don’t think I saw one person six feet from another person. It is natural for people to clump, to get together, to stand in line right behind the next person,” Bruno said. “So I think we need to be really consistent and stern with the protocol, and we will see how that goes over this month.”

Another factor to think about, according to Sabir, was how the public would perceive Parker bringing an entire grade of students to the building. It could be seen as tone-deaf had it not been done with the proper guidelines and safety measures, and that was on Sabir’s mind when planning the event. “Also how that was going to look in the public eye,” Sabir said. “We wanted to make sure that whatever we did was responsible and that it looked responsible.”

The group that planned the senior event will regroup once grades 9-11 have completed their events to discuss whether it’s possible to bring the students into the building again. Bruno had suggested a movie night on the field as an idea for this event, so something like that may not be out of the question moving forward.

The biggest challenge with bringing students in large groups to the building is the responsibility to enforce the guidelines. Social distancing was not great at the Advisory Day or senior event, according to Bruno, but it wasn’t bad either. “We need to make sure people are taking this seriously before we can start to gather people on a regular basis,” Bruno said.

Looking towards the end of the year, Sabir is optimistic about other senior traditions being upheld. “I have a feeling that if things stay the same, we might be able to have some sort of in-person graduation on the field in the spring,” Sabir said. “That’s my hope.”