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Building Community Always

Suzanne Romero Dewey
Springtime in a vibrant and gutsy city nestled on the Hudson River not far from the Berkshires offers an array of beauty, variable weather, and an energizing force that makes the days a blur of activity. For a high school student at Emma Willard School, this time of year is typically fast and typically furious with end-of-year assessments looming, anticipated culminations beckoning, and growth and leadership opportunities inviting.

This year, when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in a matter of days, many things became different. There is no quad-sitting in red Adirondack chairs before heading to Robotics, no running to lunch to get your fill of pizza, no visit to the Troy courthouse with your US History class, and no eyeballing the other tennis team to assess the likelihood of scoring a W. Those moments fill memories and will sustain friendships for years to come. But no, the sense of place that the centuries-old school offers to all who gather is not physical this spring term. The physical dimension that binds most communities together is a memorable filament. But is there more than physicality to a community?

Virtually Emma, our digital creation, is deployed around the globe where our students are scattered with their families far away from Troy, NY. The physical foundation of the community has been replaced with the stronger connective tissue found in relationships. Examples of community, of connectedness, are evident and flourishing. Take, for example, KellyRose Fluty. As the new assistant director of student life, she works closely with students planning weekend events, facilitating Morning Reports, and a variety of other student-facing endeavors. If the pandemic did not push our community into a digital place, we wouldn’t know that KellyRose is a DJ in disguise, a Star Wars fan, or one of those rare individuals who only see the best in others, constantly working her positivity into every encounter. She brings Morning Reports to life on our Zoom platform. Whether it is a Kahoots trivia quiz or selecting the musical favorites that cheer us all, many even dancing on their home computer screens, KellyRose moves us to greater connection.

Teaching physics in a digital frame has brought out the actor in Science and History Instructor John Ball. His lab demonstrations bring levity to the teaching moment and somehow make mastering the basics of mass, force, and momentum a simplified knowledge acquisition. His on-screen performances extended to a humorous spring tour of campus to share with those far from Mount Ida, bringing the community closer with a new sense of nostalgia and appreciation for digital creativity.

Or consider many of the tour guides who made videos and did Zoom chats with prospective students working hard to provide an honest vision of the school they’ve come to love, whether on campus or tucked in their home towns. Another group, the Wellies, haven’t stopped talking about Wellness just because the READY Center is under lockdown. The Wellies still provide thoughtful considerations at assemblies and are in the midst of crafting a new website to disseminate information to partner with their podcast.

Many Emma families put their energy together to let the faculty and staff know they are well-appreciated and the faculty started the spring term with an inspirational set of messages to encourage students to stretch and grow. That inspiration thread can be seen daily at the entry into MyEmma (our portal) where individuals share a thought or a message. Matching the springtime weather, a recent post shared the joy of seeing flowers sprouting from fall bulbs and the patience required for those blossoms.

There are many ways each day to connect beyond the learning experience. Emma Moves provides various format options for physical activity including live classes, weekly challenges, and even a dance of the decade. EmmaDinning gets in the mix by providing weekly cooking lessons. Mind, Body, and Soul offers employee programming, counseling services for students, and just launched parent coffees to help parents with these new circumstances.

The residential faculty, when not inspiring us while clad in tutus and winning the dance video contest, are orchestrating hall teas, connecting individually with their students, and working in academic support and tech services making sure needs are addressed no matter where a student is located.

There is plenty to choose from—trivia contests, class and club meetings, parent webinars, faculty office hours, and many special events coming up like the Flame Ceremony, Signature and Emma Artist Showcase, and the like. That relational connection becomes more than filament. It is a strong tether linking the Emma community in many ways. It is different but there are silver linings in the difference. We won’t be here forever. Head of School Jenny Rao reminds us that this school has weathered calamity before, with world wars and an earlier pandemic in 1918, and come through stronger and just as determined. More heartening and true evidence of the notion of community is when Ms. Rao shares that she can think of no other community she’d choose to be a part of during a time like this. We are connected by our relationships. We are a community in all ways and always.
    • Math Instructor Laszlo Bardos sharing good will

    • Still laughing and connecting years after they left Emma Willard School.

    • KellyRose Fluty mastering her new sound set-up

    • John Ball demonstrating his understanding of pickleball

    • Just another important community member

285 Pawling Avenue, Troy, NY 12180 | P: 518.833.1300 F: 518.833.1815
Welcome to Emma Willard School, a private day and boarding high school for girls in Troy, NY, and a leader in girls' education for over 200 years. 

PLEASE NOTE: All visitors to campus must check in with Campus Safety, which can be found at the red flag entrance to Sage Hall (Pawling Ave. entrance).