“The lessons taught at Dorr are all about taking care of the collective, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly in reference to his decision to cancel all overnight events at the John Dorr Nature Laboratory for the 2020-2021 school year. Dorr has been canceled to mitigate the potential risks of having students living in close quarters, Kelly wrote in an email.
This is the first time in Dorr’s history that it will be closed, Director of Dorr Glenn Sherratt said. Instead, Dorr programming will be brought to the Bronx campus. Kelly said he thought it best to make the decision now, and not based on a week-by-week metric once the 2020-2021 academic year commences. “Planning for Dorr involves more than just the Dorr faculty. In a year when life is going to be different, making the call to shift now… is the most prudent thing to do on behalf of some sense of continuity for the entire school community,” he said.
The Dorr programming on the Bronx campus will be a continuation of the curriculum at Dorr, Sherratt said. “Although we can’t duplicate the things we do at Dorr, we know we can adapt them in ways that support and enhance the robust curriculum that already exists.”
The Nursery Division (ND) will continue their learning through experience, with the possibility of including make-believe backpacking and camping trips, Sheratt said. LD students will study environmental science; first graders will study wetlands and their animals; second graders will study habitats; third graders will study Native Americans and maps; fifth graders will study astronomy.
The Dorr faculty has planned for the impacts of COVID-19 since February, Sherratt said. Because students at Dorr live and work closely, it would be difficult to maintain appropriate social distancing, he said. “We discussed a number of scenarios: having students come for the day, teaching online, commuting to the Bronx, or a combination,” Sherratt said. “When Dr. Kelly made the decision in April to cancel school, we were prepared.”
The uncertain demands of Dorr Faculty for the upcoming school year will impact the positions held by previous Dorr faculty members. “One Dorr Teacher will be joining us at the LD next year in a new capacity and another new person who was offered employment has now declined,” Kelly said. “We may see some of the Dorr teachers co-teaching or teaching in some of the Divisions.”
There are additional concerns about having the required faculty supervise the bunks and clean the campus if Dorr were to stay open, Kelly said. Keeping Dorr open would require the hiring of new employees that would have to live at Dorr full time, which might require an additional fee for Dorr. That would not only go against school practices, but it would be inappropriate due to the circumstances many families are withstanding, Kelly wrote.
Furthermore, health was the most prominent component of Kelly’s decision. “[Continuing with Dorr] is not a responsible choice to make when the primary goal for the year is for the school to remain physically open in the Bronx and Manhattan,” he said. For this reason, sending students and faculty to a program where hygiene practices are relaxed, placing their health at risk, would not be a feasible decision for the school, he said.
Although the decision has been made for the entire year on account of the difficulties that social distancing at Dorr pose, if the circumstances regarding COVID-19 change and it is safe to go back to Dorr, the decision can change too, Kelly said. “We know we have the ability—with minimal effort—to return to our original programming at Dorr,” he wrote in an email.
Programs such as the Upper Division Orientation (UDO) weekend, which is usually held at Dorr shortly before school starts, will relocate to the Bronx campus, Head of Upper Division (UD) Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. UDO is a weekend at Dorr to help new students acclimate to the school. The administration is still working with the Dorr faculty to determine what it will look like, she said. “It’s unclear what restrictions we’ll have in the Bronx campus, but we’re going to hope to capture some of the fun and the informality and the bonding.”
For UDO, students will not spend the night on the Bronx campus, Sherratt said. “The intent will be the same; however, given that we will not be at Dorr, the design will be somewhat different,” he said.
Without UDO, freshmen may lack an integral support system, Leah Rakhlin (11) said. Due to the large number of new students, the summer program was a great place to meet new friends away from technology and the stress of school, Rakhlin said.
Yana Gitelman (11) is disappointed because UDO has always been a highlight of her year, she said. “Since I was an underclassman I have been looking forward to all of the senior traditions like Disco Dorr,” she said.
Galahad Caer had been looking forward to Senior Dorr, a weekend at the end of the school year for seniors, but understands why it had to be canceled. “While the cancellation is a bummer, it is not the most important thing when people’s health is at risk,” he said.
The Dorr faculty is reimagining what the Middle Division (MD) Mentoring will look like, since it will be in the Bronx. The weekend in August typically involves groups of sixth grade students going to Dorr with their homerooms to get to know their peers, advisors, and mentors. Now, however, the Dorr faculty will still work with the advisee groups to develop a sense of belonging and community within their grade, but it will not be at Dorr, and the students will not spend the night on campus, Sherratt said.
MD Mentor Justin Gurvitch (10) hopes that the mentoring weekend is as rewarding as it usually is, since it helped him bond with his MD advisory, he said. “I think that you learn a lot about how to be patient and work things out with younger kids,” he said.
To replace the eight-day trip to Dorr for eighth graders, the Dorr staff will implement a program on the Bronx campus, though the details are still unclear, Sherratt said.. “Instead of being eight-days in length, it will have ten different groups meeting on a regular basis during the fall and winter,” he said. They will use Van Cortlandt Park for activities, though they will not go backpacking, he said.
Sherratt also said that they aim to set up a room on the Bronx campus to mirror the Rug Room at Dorr, one of the large meeting rooms.
The relocation of the Dorr orientations to the Bronx campus might be a relief for students for whom weekends at Dorr creates anxiety, Levenstein said. “We’re taking away the sleepover part, so if they’re nervous during the day, they can then go home and relax with their families.”
Lauren Landy (9), a new student this year, would have liked her own UDO to be on campus, she said. “The whole experience really stressed me out, especially being new in an environment where I didn’t know everybody,” she said.
The school’s summer school programs have been canceled too. Head of Summer School Caroline Bartels first contemplated shifting to an online setting, but decided that summer school is too intense for Zoom, she said. Moreover, students will still be able to meet all the graduation requirements without summer school, and is thus unnecessary, she said.
Corey Brooks (10) planned to take physics over the summer, but with the cancelation he now has to rethink his schedule, he said. “I wanted to take it to free up my schedule and pursue some computer science classes, and now I can’t do that,” he said.
While the cancelation is a disappointment to many, there may be some silver linings, Bartels said. “Maybe this will be the summer where we realize we might not need to have this kind of thing at all,” she said. “Maybe we’ll be looking at just doing fun enrichment courses that kids could take. It gives us a chance to really step back from programming to figure out if it’s the way it needs to be.”
While the suspension of both programming at Dorr and summer school are a loss, Levenstein is excited to see the ways that Dorr will enhance the experience on campus, she said. “I’m really excited to think about the creative ways to integrate everything they teach us into our Bronx campus life because our Dorr selves are our best selves, and now we get that all year round.”