As the Duke School Dragons volleyball team took to the court for the first time in over a year, excitement rippled through the crowd. A parent, sitting masked and three feet from me, said, “I never thought seeing the scoreboard light up and taking a seat near a fellow DS parent could bring such joy!” I thought about all that was wrapped up in this instance of the girls’ team practicing pre-game drills. This seemingly simple moment was the result—an example among many—of a community working bravely together, caring for one another, and creatively addressing the complex problem of conducting school in a pandemic.
Arriving on campus last summer, I met with faculty and staff on the art patio, where we discussed together the year ahead. Their courage, compassion, and candor resounded in these conversations. They made a commitment to serve our students in the face of innumerable unknowns, offering creative solutions to worrisome problems. They shared their concern for the well-being of their students, their colleagues, and the school’s families, providing ideas of ways to infuse hope and laughter into daily life. They brought honesty and deep inquiry to the quandaries we were facing.
The faculty and staff modeled Duke School’s core values to their fullest, and our school was alive with joy, curiosity, and engagement throughout the year. In this environment, our students persevered and thrived, their work marked by bold thinking and innovation. Under tents outside, our eighth graders shared projects focused on topics like gender equity in the entertainment industry, music production in the digital age, and hacking and cybersecurity. Culminations throughout the school pivoted to online modes, incorporating QR codes, videos, and live online sharing. Our students, faculty, and staff adapted, donning PPE and carefully following the guidance that allowed the school to remain open every day, all year long.
Duke School’s participation in a surveillance study designed to assess the feasibility of a non-invasive surveillance and detection method of COVID-19 offered a unique chance to live out our mission to prepare students to be upstanders in our community. After a guest expert provided students with an introduction to infectious diseases, eighth-graders conducted experiments to detect germs on surfaces and ways handwashing can eliminate them.
Then, student volunteers collected surface samples in classrooms and sent them to Duke University for analysis. The students were delighted to learn that information gained from this study might help influence other school’s decisions to open, as Duke School did.
When I first became acquainted with Duke School, families told me time and time again about the caring nature of our community—many referred to Duke School as their “second home!” While safety measures prevented visitors on campus last year, our families’ understanding, empathy, and school spirit connected and buoyed all in innumerable—and novel—ways. LIFE committee events, including a book group discussion on “The Color of Law” and a Zoom cooking class with guest chef Zwelibanzi Williams, kept spirits high. Maintaining flexibility with our school schedule, the PSO’s appreciation gift baskets and supportive notes to faculty and staff just skim the surface of the ways our community held one another up.
What our community accomplished together was remarkable. The common bond we formed in the most extraordinary circumstances fortifies us as we begin this year. It’s “game on,” and Duke School is ready to tackle the year ahead!