Rachelle Wafer, Student Engagement Manager at Laurel Springs, gives us a peek into her perspective on socialization from a distance.
Laughter. A peek into who “likes” whom. Blushing on webcam. Serious talk to support a student in Panama City, who has been home since February 23rd. Discussion about why a prom theme did not receive more votes. A shoutout to Skype sessions and to the student body president, whose school year reign will end without an annual in-person celebration. A riddle with a silly twist. More laughter.
As Student Engagement Manager at Laurel Springs, I know our student body is well-versed in online socialization. How would this change, I wondered, during a pandemic? It turns out…not much. The scene I conveyed above existed in an online Adobe Connect iClassroom with students from LSS, and it shifted rapidly and insightfully as over 50 students gathered on a Friday to virtually hang out together. This mood can be experienced every Friday, as our hangout group continues to grow.
Laurel Springs student athletes, performers, and international students who can’t always be online during the day, are now at home all day, every day, and they’re looking to connect. Thankfully, we were ready for them.
New Ways to Connect
“This year, I have grown as both a public speaker and as a leader,” said sophomore Student Ambassador, William Burger. The Student Ambassador program took a timely turn this school year, training over 30 Upper School students in the language of leadership—leading bravely and mindfully, and promoting inclusion. “I thoroughly enjoyed being given the opportunity to serve the Laurel Springs community,” William continued, “to encourage new students to become involved, and be a role model.”
In the coming weeks, Student Ambassadors will host a virtual Multimedia/Film Festival, Coffeehouse student performances, and are now brainstorming how to replace their in-person prom with an inviting pajama prom.
Laurel Springs Grade 11 Student Ambassador, Oliva Franse, suggested a “pop-up club” concept. “They would be drop-in clubs that you do not need to sign up for…but they’re not regular clubs because they would only have one to three meetings,” Oliva mused, “like pop-up online shops.” Olivia’s suggestion is an idea that definitely fills a current need for connection—a virtual space where students share a common passion, talent, or interest with no agenda except to connect and chat.
Experiences outside the virtual school community find Laurel Springs students growing up fast and learning the valuable lesson of letting go of what they cannot control. Senior and Student Ambassador, Sasha Wood, shared, “My grandfather is 89 years old, and I’ve been going to his window to speak to him, tell him I love him, and I miss getting my grandpa hug.” She has even decided on her future, based on the events none of us could have imagined. “Seeing people die from this has given me purpose to one day become a research scientist and possibly help discover cures for viruses like this,” Sasha reflected, “and to tell my children about the time the world stopped for Covid-19. For a brief moment, we were all sharing the same issue and trying to solve a world problem.”
Also evident currently within the LSS community is the positive outlook. Students are consistently looking on the bright side and looking at what can be done. There is not one moment of dwelling on what can’t be experienced this year—it’s replaced instead by innovative thinking that a student-centered environment promotes.
Olivia also shared, “I’ve loved being a Student Ambassador. That’s the entire reason I joined Student Government. I want to reach out to people as an ambassador and help them adjust to Laurel Springs. Because it is an adjustment, and as hard as teachers may try, they can’t help students as much as talking to a peer can. I cannot wait to be part of this program again next year, when hopefully we will have more things to do!”
Friendship at a distance—as many children and adolescents are now learning across the globe—is still friendship from the heart. That’s something Laurel Springs students have been knowing, sharing, giving, and experiencing for almost 30 years.