"Milling About Time" Means On-Campus Togetherness for Middle and Upper Schoolers

"I love being able to greet each student as they come to school! I love that "Milling About" time means that our teenagers get unstructured time to play and be together. I love that our parent helpers come to campus every day ready to support us in making this happen. I love that teachers are finding truly unique ways to support every student no matter their situation. I love that our dorm students hiked Silver Falls last weekend." –Head of Upper School Asha Appel

"This week has been big, big energy and excitement and some big changes to adjust to. But overall, it is just so exciting to have so many kids and teachers together in the community again. It doesn't really feel like Middle School until our hallways are full of students' laughter."– Head of Middle School Ann Sulzer

The OES campus was lively this week as Middle and Upper Schoolers returned to regular, on-campus school, nearly 13 months after the pandemic sent them home for remote learning.

"Having most of our students back on campus has been wonderful and energizing for everyone—kids and adults," Head of Upper School Asha Appel said. "I'm so impressed by our students, who have approached being back at school with real intentionality—they are working hard to adhere to the Community Agreements and adjust whenever they are reminded to do so. They know that staying safe means staying in school!"

While school isn't quite the “normal” experienced prior to March 2020—everyone on campus must wear a mask at all times unless they are eating or drinking outside—the joy of learning in person is already taking hold. 

"The best part of this week is the sudden realization that Zoom teaching is beginning to fade from my memory," said Upper School Religion Teacher The Rev. Vijendran Sathyaraj. "It was amusing to see that students have got into the habit of looking at their laptops even when the teacher is in front of them. The magic of gathering in the same space and communicating directly with voice and sight is thrilling!"

Faculty, students, and staff are taking advantage of the beautiful and mild Pacific Northwest weather. Teachers are holding some classes outdoors, students eat lunch outside, and much of the social interaction that goes on happens outside, as well.

"The beautiful weather has been a gift: many teachers are holding class outside in our tents, and during lunch, kids are playing games and having physically distanced picnics," Appel said. "Learning to be in community with others, recognizing how you contribute and help shape the world around you, honing skills of self-awareness and resilience—these are the things students have missed out on by being away from each other."

For students who are new, this is the first time they have been on campus for regular school. The connections being made are not unnoticed by faculty.

"Having the energy on campus is invigorating," Assistant Head of Middle School Laura Todis said. "In some ways, it's like the start of the year, as students experience our campus in new ways and settle into new routines. The days are full and many students are participating in athletics after school, with some stepping into sports for the first time. It's exciting!"

Middle School Science Teacher Ethan Vedder noted: "The students are socializing a lot, and in flexible and spontaneous ways, both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. We're social creatures, and we need to be ourselves and connect with others before we can try to focus on learning."

Middle School Science Teacher Tara Verenna said: "They need each other to learn from. Social development is so important and their peers are a powerful component of that education. Also, it is so much more invigorating to teach and learn from them when they are with you in the class. You can capture those teachable moments and run with them."

Upper School Science & Math Teacher Bettina Gregg '92 added that "the energy in the classroom has been really positive, with kids participating in discussions far more than they would on Zoom. In science, in particular, we have been able to do lots of hands-on work, which students have really enjoyed. So far, we have learned how to use a microscope, done an in-depth exploration of the signs of spring (flower structure, accumulation of plant biomass), and we are planning a DNA extraction from our very own cheek cells on Friday. It has been so much fun to be in the lab, to explore together, and to see people outside of their Zoom rectangles!”