Students make the most of UDO despite changes due to Ida


Audrey Carbonell

The aftermath of Hurricane Ida delayed the highly anticipated return to the John Dorr Nature Laboratory (Dorr) during this year’s Upper Division Orientation (UDO) on Sept. 3rd. Dorr lost power during the storm, and Upper Division (UD) and Dorr faculty members did not feel that it was safe for students to go to a facility running only on generator power, Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said.

Instead, UDO took place at the UD campus in the Bronx. 128 students attended the event, including 92 returning students, Director of Dorr Nick DePreter said. The Dorr staff had to quickly find ways to recreate most of the planned activities, he said. “That’s one of the things about Dorr: you’ve got to be resourceful and adaptable, and be able to shift and change on the fly.”

Both students and faculty members were disappointed by the last-minute change in location.

“[Dorr is] a truly magical place,” Levenstein said. “I’ve always thought that Dorr represents us at our best.”

Although Rachel Kuhn (12) was looking forward to visiting Dorr, she felt lucky just to be able to participate at UDO in-person, she said. “Dorr is such a special place and a privilege to have.”

Rhyan Maru (9) does not feel the same connection to Dorr, he said. “I hadn’t gone to Dorr so I didn’t really know the experience,” he said. “I was looking forward to meeting new people, and since I got to do that at the Horace Mann campus in the Bronx, I think that was pretty good.”

In the end, there were some unanticipated benefits to the shift in location, Dean of the Class of 2021 Dr. Susan Groppi said. Because of last year’s virtual admissions process, new students could only visit the campus once last year. Hosting UDO at the Bronx campus allowed new students to familiarize themselves with the school, she said.

However, the hurricane had no effect on the decision to host a one-day program, Groppi said. The UD and Dorr faculty had to finalize a date for UDO back in spring, and at that point they did not feel comfortable committing to an overnight program, she said. Instead, UDO was originally planned to take place from 8:00 am to 9:30 pm at Dorr. The program was shortened to last from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm when it moved to the Bronx campus.

The shortened program seemed to leave the ninth grade at a disadvantage, Rhea Patel (12) said. “For incoming freshmen, especially those that are new to Horace Mann, having the three days to make friends, as opposed to just a few hours, could have been very helpful.”

After hosting UDO virtually in 2020, the UD and Dorr faculty were determined to host UDO in person this year, Groppi said. “The goal of UDO is to let the kids who are new to school meet people so they’re showing up on the first day of school with friendly faces, and

when you do it virtually, it’s not the same.”

To ensure everyone’s safety, students had to follow the same COVID protocols at UDO as they will follow once school starts, including a mandatory COVID test for those who had not already been to campus for preseason athletics, DePreter said.

The COVID protocols affected Clementine Bondor’s (11) experience less than she anticipated, she said. “[My group] came out of

that day really knowing each other and really having spent the whole day together, and I think that was incredible because it’s something that you wouldn’t anticipate normally with the masks and with the spacing.”

However, COVID protocols and the location change meant that seniors had to miss out on many UDO traditions. “I was really excited to do UDO as a senior because it’s just a completely different experience,” Patel said.

Although seniors were not able to recreate traditions such as the talent show, dance party, and barn privileges, they carried out the “classic” tradition of wearing onesies and led Dorr games such as “Signs,” Ethan Waggoner (12) said.

During UDO, all students participated in big group games, icebreakers, and a circuit of small initiatives, Levenstein said. These activities helped students make connections and taught the value of collaboration, she said.

Logan Singh (9) found that everyone was welcoming and helped him assimilate to the community, he said. “As each activity continued, personally I started to become more and more comfortable with everyone.”

The welcoming of UDO was in part due to the selection of returning students, who were chosen to attend the program based on their communication and community-building skills, DePreter said.

Bondor signed up because she wanted to meet new people, she said. “As a ‘lifer’ at Horace Mann, I feel that there are few people who know and love Horace Mann quite like I do, and I would love to be able to share some of the experience and the knowledge that I have.”

Waggoner, who joined the school in ninth grade, signed up due to his previous experiences with UDO, he said. “I got super close with all of these kids and that’s why I have come back every year, because I want to be that for other kids.”

While students missed out on Dorr during UDO this year, the Dorr faculty hopes to provide other opportunities for students to visit the campus, DePreter wrote in an email to UDO participants.