Normally, Proctor Academy in Andover, N.H., starts the school year with a five-day orientation in the White Mountains. The weather can be miserable, but the students come away a close-knit group. This year, they spent an overnight on the school’s 2,500-acre forested property instead. “It’s still fun, but it’s not the same kind of bonding experience,” said Karin Clough, the assistant head of school.
The school, with 365 students, has 21 dorms, and this year students cannot enter any dorm but their own. “They become little pods, like little families,” Ms. Clough said. But if a student does not like those dorm mates, there are few options to forge other close connections. They can’t have dinner at their adviser’s house. Or lounge at the student center, which this year has limited occupancy to 12 at a time. “It’s all those in-between spaces that I think kids are missing,” Ms. Clough said.
For Scarlet Bowman, 15, a sophomore, her first year at Proctor has been lonely and isolating. She decided last spring to leave her magnet school in Austin, Texas, because she was worried that it would remain virtual into the fall.
But she has struggled to find her niche in New England. “I expected the community to just be nicer, more welcoming, but because there’s a pandemic and your life is at risk going outside everyday, it’s a lot harder,” she said. Being stuck on campus without any option to leave is “suffocating,” she said.
The winter was cold, and made it even harder to connect with other students. When five students tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from the winter break, dozens had to quarantine, including Scarlet’s friends. Suddenly, the campus felt deserted and surreal. “It was horrible,” she said. “I just wanted to go home.”