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Maintaining Community in Arts and Athletics

The global pandemic has forced Packer’s performing arts and athletic programs to consider questions that have never been posed to them: How do you maintain social distancing on the basketball court or on the stage?

You pivot.

“It’s certainly been a challenge,” said Arts Department Head Ali Boag, “but the unique hybrid-learning structure of this year’s classes means there’s been less prepping for live performances. Freedom from constant rehearsals has allowed us to catch up with the pedagogy and to look more deeply at issues of music history and theory, theater history, and so on.”

Director of Athletics Darrin Fallick has managed to turn his department’s challenges into positives, too. Upper School student athletes still attend after-school practices in all sports except swimming. While they are unable to compete against other schools, they are taking the opportunity to focus on fundamental skill development. Students are, of course, encouraged to practice at home, but Darrin said he’s more concerned with the social element. He wants to give students a place to connect with one another and disengage from Zoom and technology in general.

“It’s important to give active structure to our students. We want everyone to be able to participate, so there are no cuts or tryouts this year. If a student signs up, they are assigned to a level, team, and time slot, no matter their experience in the sport.”

Life imitates art imitates life: In “Scenes from a Quarantine,” a Middle School student plays a cat who wonders why her owner never leaves the house anymore.

Remote learning has also allowed for exploration of new forms of creative collaboration. The Arts Department, for example, has taken the opportunity to showcase individual students, producing solo dances and monologues and sharing them online in video format. The theater program has maintained its productions, even as the performances have to be shared over Zoom. Ali cited the success of the Middle School fall play—“Scenes from a Quaratine” written by playwright Lindsay Price specifically for online audiences—saying that such a performance would not have reached nearly as many people in a regular school year.

All of this is not to minimize the significant challenges that the arts and athletics have faced at Packer this year.

“Visual artists are least affected by this year’s circumstances, but lack of community is hard on all the arts,” said Ali. “Still, Zoom does allow students to receive more personal attention, and their work is as good as it’s ever been. Photographers, especially, have benefited this year because of the issues we’re facing in society. Protests, the pandemic, and the presidential election have allowed student photographers to practice documenting a wide range of historic events.”

Darrin acknowledged that one group has had it particularly hard in athletics. “It’s been especially difficult for our seniors. But they have, for the most part, managed to stay positive throughout all of this. They’re still practicing after school and working to improve, and several will be going on to play sports in college. That’s really all we can ask of our students right now — to make the most of a difficult situation.”

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