Eighth grade attends Dorr on campus

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Liliana Greyf, Mia Calzolaio, and Jillian Lee

Instead of packing bags and boarding buses for the traditional eight-day eighth grade trip to the John Dorr Nature Laboratory, this year’s Class of 2025 is doing Beauty and Order right from Alumni Field. 

Each week, one advisory group of around ten students is excused from their regular classes to participate in eighth grade Dorr on campus, Dean of the Class of 2025 Michelle Amilicia said. The Dorr faculty have created a three day schedule for each group, during which they will spend time on school campus participating in various bonding activities. The schedule has also been adapted to fit an online Zoom curriculum for at-home learning.

Although there are challenges to changing the format, the eighth grade Dorr trip is too important to scrap completely, Amilicia said. “It’s a coming of age, a chance for eighth graders to experience this journey and to learn things about themselves and their peers,” she said. “This has always been a special part of the eighth grade experience.”

Students will participate in games and problem-solving projects, Director of Dorr Glenn Sherratt said. While it is not possible to physically be at Dorr for eight days, it is still possible to bring the spirit of the trip to the school campus and to homes, he said.

The school has provided Dorr one classroom in Pforzheimer and a tent by the Lower Division to conduct activities. “We’ll also do some gardening and head over to Van Cortlandt Park to compost,” Sherratt said.

Surya Mattoo’s (8) favorite part of the program was the three mile walk in Van Cortlandt Park, he said. “We had lunch on this beautiful area that overlooked the rest of the park,” he said.

Naina Mehrotra (8) enjoyed many of the team-building activities designed by Dorr staff, she said. During her favorite activity, the group had to somehow get all nine students in her advisory to jump in an already moving jump rope, all at the same time, she said. 

If a week of school is conducted online, the advisory that was supposed to meet on campus will simply join another one on Zoom, Sherratt said. Although the activities will look different, the staff are still trying to ensure that students learn and have fun. “Faculty at Dorr has really worked hard since last March creating these online programs and making them very creative.” From Thanksgiving to January, during the school’s time online, eighth grade Dorr will momentarily be stopped, and the program will restart once school is back in session.

The program was originally designed to last for five days: advisees were going to participate in a day hike on Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and climb up the Cooperative Adventure Tower (CAT), Sherrat said. “The original program is designed to emphasize the cooperative aspects of living and learning and building a community among the students, and part of that happens by spending time with one another in a more intense way,” Sherratt said. “By living closely and working together, cooking meals, washing dishes, going backpacking and camping, you get drawn together and have a common experience.”

This is no longer feasible, as they cannot cross state lines, and it is best for groups to stay on the school’s campus, Sheratt said.

 

Before each program begins, Sherratt welcomes students by asking students to participate in a “validation circle” in which they state what they are thankful for. “Especially now, we’re all weighed down by everything that’s happened,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice to take a pause and say, ‘what’s good is really good.’”

One of the activities requires students to hold discussions in order to solve a puzzle made up of pieces of tied rope. When in person, students stand around pieces of rope that are tied together and crumpled on the ground; they then have to decide which piece of rope must be picked up in order to untangle the mass. 

Jiwan Kim (8) said this activity taught her advisory how to collaborate and come to a common consensus, especially because they often talk over one another when they’re together.

Online, because students cannot be together in a physical space looking at a real pile of ropes, Sherratt projects a photograph of tied rope onto the Zoom screen and asks students to discuss until an answer is reached.

Rena Salsberg’s (8) advisory completed the program online. She said if her group had the chance to participate in eighth grade Dorr in person, they would have been able to bond in a more hands-on way. Nevertheless, she felt that she was able to learn more about her fellow advisees during the breakout room activities.

Unlike past years, students will return to their homes each night during this Dorr experience, Amilicia said. “They used to be really removing themselves from technology to just focus what’s going on around them,” she said. “That’s too difficult to accomplish because they’re still here. It’s gonna be harder for them to separate themselves.”

After hearing her sister describe Dorr as one of the most exciting moments of her life, Kim was initially disappointed to hear that the trip would not take place at Dorr. After completing the three-day program, however, she felt that it was a good substitute, given the circumstances.

Mehrotra was excited to be on Dorr campus and do activities like the CAT, but she still had fun during this modified experience. “I think [the Dorr staff] handled the change pretty well,” she said. “All the team building activities definitely brought my advisory closer.”

Mattoo has experienced the most important parts of the eighth grade Dorr trip, he said. Activities like the compass navigation challenge are still incorporated into the trip’s curriculum, even though the group is not physically on the Dorr campus. “I learned more about the people in my advisory, and I formed a stronger connection with them,” Mattoo said.