March 25, 2020 — As COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of people around the world, it’s also creating a seismic shift in the educational landscape at NMH.
Instead of the usual bustling campus with students flowing in and out of Alumni Hall, the walkways are now quiet. Instead of teachers gathering together in classrooms and department offices to plan the rest of the spring semester, they are meeting online and testing the technology they’ll use to teach remotely for the next two months.
In mid-March, with federal and state governments issuing advisories to stay home and avoid contact with others to limit the spread of COVID-19, NMH quickly re-imagined itself. Priority number one: to protect the health and safety of students and employees. The school moved its classes to remote learning platforms for the rest of the spring semester, and faculty spent spring break re-working their teaching methods so they could welcome students back to classes that will look vastly different than they did just a few weeks ago. Most NMH employees are working from home. Resident faculty and their families are staying put as much as possible, and practicing social distancing.
Faculty members, deans, and Head of School Brian Hargrove have been reaching out to NMH students — who are now scattered around the world at home with their families — and inviting them to share what’s on their minds. The questions streamed in. How will classes work when students and teachers aren’t together on campus? How will juniors and seniors stay on track with their college planning? How can seniors celebrate their final semester of high school?
“None of this is easy,” said Head of School Brian Hargrove, “but Northfield Mount Hermon has not only survived other challenging times, it has thrived. Now is the time we have to ignite our imagination, leverage our compassion, cultivate our self-discipline, and lean on one another.” (Note: A Q&A regarding the school’s response to COVID-19 can be found here.)
NMH’s classes begin again on March 30, after an extended spring break. At the same time, the school is launching a virtual campus community to complement online classes, advising, and college counseling sessions. “We are developing ways to create and sustain a community experience and keep students connected with friends, teammates, and campus mentors,” said Dean of Students Nicole Hager. “What happens outside the classroom makes us who we are as members of the NMH community, and we are going to do everything we can to deliver as much of this experience remotely as possible. All of us at NMH are more committed than ever to keeping us together from every reach of the globe.”
And committed to meeting students where they are — literally — with “the strong academic program they expect,” said Dean of Faculty Bea Garcia. College counselors report that college and university admission offices around the country have pivoted just as NMH and other independent schools have done, and will be open-minded about remote-learning transcripts. To seniors heading into their final months of high school, Hargrove said that he is still holding out hope for an on-campus Commencement on May 24, though he admitted that may be overly optimistic. “Rest assured, seniors,” he said, “we will honor and celebrate you on campus as soon as we can safely and practically do so.”
As Hargrove spent hours on the phone and email with students, parents, employees, and alumni, he found most questions difficult to answer. Except for the one that came from Dariya ’21, who’s from Kazakhstan but is currently staying in New York City. She asked, via email, “Do you miss us?”
That one was easy. “Absolutely — you better believe it!” Hargrove replied. “All I wish for is to have our students back on campus. This is their school. They belong here.” But for now, he added, “we need to make the most of these circumstances. Let’s take comfort in our collective ability to stand strong and make a difference in the world.”