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'Trying to find some joy where we can.' Greensboro Day School celebrates 50th anniversary amid pandemic.
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'Trying to find some joy where we can.' Greensboro Day School celebrates 50th anniversary amid pandemic.


GREENSBORO — The Greenboro Day School students' tie-dyed shirts might have said 1970s, but the face coverings were unmistakably 2020.

As they celebrated the school's 50th anniversary on Monday, masked students lounged outside in the grass, keeping six feet apart from one another while they snacked on cupcakes and frozen treats. Some students dressed in '70s attire to honor the decade the private, independent K-12 school was formed. 

To start the day, kids and faculty sang happy birthday to the school, and in the evening, a virtual Zoom panel brought together some celebrated alumni and educators from the school's first 25 years.

With most area schools starting off the school year remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greensboro Day School saw enrollment jump by 184  students — the largest number of new students in a single year since 1972, Head of School Tracie Catlett said. 

They were drawn by in-person classes, Catlett said. 

“We all know the social and emotional impact we can have when we’re in isolation,” Catlett said. “As much as possible, we have welcomed as many students as we can.”

Fifty years ago, GDS became the first independent school in Greensboro, with 95 students meeting at at Temple Emanuel on North Greene Street. Three months later, the school moved to its permanent, 65-acre location on Lawndale Drive, where today, 780 students from age 2 through 12th grade attend. The school has more than 2,800 alumni worldwide, according to GDS.

The unusual and unprecedented times brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic were mixed with “a lot of excitement around the 50th” on Monday, Catlett said. 

Celebrating social-distance style — outside and masked unless able to keep proper distance — Catlett said there were “a lot of great birthday vibes” on campus Monday. But it was also bittersweet celebration. 

“We can’t celebrate the way we want,” Catlett said. “We’re going to have a 50th birthday bash later when there’s no pandemic, but we’re just trying to be careful and find some joy where we can now.”

Those who don’t feel comfortable attending in-person instruction but who wanted to remain a part of GDS were given the option to attend GDS’ 50th year virtually. About 85% opted for in-person learning, but 15% of the school’s 780 students are taking the virtual path. 

Either way, it’s been an adjustment for teachers and students. 

Academic Dean Peter Williams, who oversees the curriculum for all grades and teaches upper school Latin, said he’s been impressed with the way students and teachers have adapted. 

“I think what we’ve asked them to do is not something that comes naturally to children,” Williams said. “Or adults, for that matter.”  

Teachers are tasked with teaching their in-class and online students simultaneously, using new Swivl technology, which involves students logging on via Zoom to participate in class. A camera on an iPad, which sits inside a device on a tripod, follows the teacher around the room, ensuring kids at home are seeing what kids in school are seeing.

Having to balance the school day and COVID-19 guidelines — daily temperature checks and wellness screenings — can be tiring and stressful, but Williams said he feels like the students and faculty are now a “much tighter team.” The unique circumstances forced everyone to “get creative,” including taking classes outside for instruction when the weather allows. 

As students snacked outside during the 50th celebration, most sat in their Crazy Creek camping chairs. The purchase of the lightweight and foldable chairs was funded through a donation to the school by Legette Interiors. The chairs, which can be carried over a student’s shoulder, make transitioning from indoor to outdoor class easy. 

Courtney Sutton, a GDS senior, wasn’t only celebrating her school’s 50th anniversary Monday. She was also celebrating her 17th birthday.

Sutton and her classmates have been able to maintain social distance while learning in the classroom, which is "a lot easier" than online instruction, she said. 

Though the school year has been different, she said, "It's definitely nice to be back in school and with the community, being able to see my friends every day."


Contact Jamie Biggs at 336-373-4476 and follow @JamieBiggsNR on Twitter.

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