Associate Head of School Catherine Rodrigue teaches class in the Ian H. Graham '50 Athletic Center foyer. Over the summer, many campus spaces were repurposed as socially-distanced classrooms.
It’s been a roller coaster of a term, for sure, and Peddie has rolled with it. There’s a saying around here: “Champions adjust.” We use it when circumstances beyond our control force changes to our carefully formulated school schedules, plans and goals. This year, “champions adjust” has been taken to a whole new level.
After making it through a spring term like no other in Peddie’s history, families, employees and school administrators almost immediately moved to planning for the 2020-2021 academic year. With data from health officials changing continuously, a social justice movement requiring immediate and long-overdue national attention, and an unprecedented election looming, we all struggled to imagine what the next school year would look like. Would campus be open? Would families feel comfortable allowing their students to return? Could our health center, our building services team and our residential faculty safely manage this new world we were facing? The community wrestled with these and literally thousands of related questions as the summer wore on.
And by mid-August, Peddie students, true to their Falcon spirit, flew to the nest. Those who could safely and comfortably come to campus did so; those who made the difficult decision not to be on our physical campus arrived in full spirit from homes as close as West Windsor and as far as Beijing. Some parents made the difficult decision to entrust their children to Peddie in the midst of a global pandemic; some students sacrificed the privilege of coming to campus in an effort to ensure the health and safety of their loved ones.
Peddie began the term in a completely novel format, with one-third of students as fully-remote learners, and day students and boarders alternating in-person and remote weeks. And, as they did last March, faculty reinvented their classrooms once more.
“I share your frustrations and the roller-coaster emotions,” Associate Head of School Catherine Rodrigue said in an email to faculty after the second week of the term. “It's as if we are all first-year teachers in our insecurities around the technology and the online environment.”
Emily Miller, director of academic technology, quickly organized a series of workshops for faculty, led by their peers, sharing tools and tricks to help students navigate this new way of learning.
And Peddie students? Well, they did as they always do — they challenged and supported one another with both sensitivity and gusto.
“I observed classes throughout the term,” said Rodrigue, “I saw teachers using Edpuzzle, Microsoft Whiteboard, One Note, Google Docs, Modules, Chat, Zoom breakouts (of course) and other more familiar tools. Students were laughing, collaborating, and thinking in multiple novel ways. They seemed genuinely happy to be in a classroom space with their fellow students and classmates, whether online or in-person.”
And even though everything was different, there was the profound joy of being together. After-school athletics and arts offerings re-introduced students to the joys of simply playing — on center campus, the outdoor basketball or tennis courts, under the tent in Swig courtyard and in newly-discovered or transformed spaces like the gazebo by Peddie Lake or the crew pavilion behind the athletic center. Activities like an outdoor great escape challenge, scavenger hunt and even pot-your-own-plant, combined with food trucks of all kinds, broke the routine.
Students brought their A-game to their free time too, hosting podcasts, inviting guest speakers, producing a radio play, and completely re-inventing Peddie-Blair week.
“As a community, what we have learned since last March will be lessons for a lifetime,” said Rodrigue, “But for now, we’ll take the face masks, the social distancing, the hand sanitizer and the temperature checks if it means we have the privilege — and the joy — of teaching our Falcons.”