No matter how many years I teach, I forget how exhausting the first weeks of school are. We find ourselves asking, “Were they ever gone?” as voices fill the dorms. The din in the dining room would be almost unbearable if the reunions weren’t so joyful! Most of our students haven’t seen each other since June, and when you’re a teenager three months feels like a year. The thing is they’re almost as glad to see us as they are each other. Enthusiastic hugs that almost knock me over. “Mrs. Gold, how was your summer?” And within an hour of registration, the athletes swarm the fields, enduring triple sessions for three days. It’s muggy, a little rainy. As if on cue, the mosquitos arrive.
Almost a week passes before classes begin. The first students arrived on a Tuesday for pre-season, Intercultural Orientation, new student orientation until the dorm and the campus is filled. Friendly upperclassmen in bright red t-shirts greet new arrivals to the dorm, “What’s up, bro?” and quickly help tentative families unload their SUVs packed with suitcases, fans, desk lamps, lacrosse sticks, hockey bags and mini-refrigerators. I watch the parents new to boarding school survey the room and set to work. As if on a mission, mothers purposefully make their sons’ beds. Parents load newly dry-cleaned clothes into the closets, fill the drawers, loft the beds. It is muggy, kids and parents are nervous, tempers are short. Some bicker. I get it.
Later I meet with the new families in the hot common room.The dorm parents and proctors introduce themselves, and I calculate our years of combined school experience in an attempt to assure the parents that their children are in good hands. The boys roll their eyes as their parents ask me questions. “Is there a laundry room?” Is the dorm locked at night? Are the bathrooms cleaned daily? Where do I send a package? What if he gets sick in the middle of the night? Can you take his phone away at bedtime?” (This question elicits an audible groan from one new sophomore…) We take our time with the new parents, but the boys are restless, jittery knees jiggling, anxious to get on with it, more than ready for their parents to go. Some of our students live locally.Others are from the Midwest and Korea and Turkey. Those families linger. I get it.
The days before classes begin can feel like camp. Campus tours. Icebreakers. Team building games. Practice classes for students new to the academy. When the weekend arrives, kids are organized by their grade, and they set off with faculty for two days of adventures designed to unite them as a class. (Note: for those who have been on dorm duty or pre-season all week, our energy is waning). Seniors head to New Hampshire and climb a mountain. Sophomores repurpose trash they collect and turn it into surprisingly lovely sculpture. We go bowling and eat ice-cream before noon. First-year students learn where their seats are in Chapel and in the Performing Arts Center where we gather twice a week for morning meeting. Clutching their schedules, they scout out their classrooms.
Finally, Sunday night arrives, and reality sets in. In the dorm meeting, we cover Major School Rules and assign dorm jobs.I remind them that Monday is a formal dress day. Kids borrow ties from each other, and one senior gives a mini-workshop on how to tie a tie. I strictly enforce lights out because……..well, I’m really tired.
And so it begins.