December 03, 2021

Beginning Again

Brandon Neblett

An Upper School student walks outside of the Upper School on the first day of school in September 2021.


The first day of school was a day of both relief and anticipation throughout the Upper School. After more than a year and a half of attending school in either a partially or entirely virtual manner, all of us in the Upper School community would return to “doing school” the way we knew and loved it—in person, on campus, five days a week. We had avoided any COVID-19-related surge requiring us to alter our plans for a return to school, and we were excited to see friends, colleagues, teachers, advisors, and mentors again after the interruptions of the previous 18 months. We were back!

Many seniors contributed to orientations for new Upper School students at the end of the previous week. Their overt enthusiasm and well-earned confidence in our return to school helped establish precisely the right tone for the following week. Their leadership continued throughout the next six days, and their example helped us shift seamlessly into a rhythm of classes, advisories, and community activities. If you had been with us, you would never have guessed that we had been apart as a community for a year and a half, that we were adjusting to a new schedule, or that six members of the Upper School administration and faculty were in their first days of school at GCS. In short, Upper School students and faculty made it look easy. Another significant transition, another big success. 


Several days later, we welcomed Upper School parents and guardians into the building for two familiar start-of-the-year activities that also returned with a flourish. Early in the evening, Damian Garcia and Jenn Auchmoody, co-directors of college counseling, led senior parents through Grade 12 College Night capturing the key “need-to-knows” about the next two months in the college admissions process. Immediately following that, Matt Walsh, head of school, and I gathered with parents and guardians from all Upper School grades in the gym to open Back to School Night. Following a miniature version of their student’s schedule, parents and guardians attended advisory, visited classrooms, met teachers, and reconnected with the Upper School building. I loved catching up with several parents and guardians I knew and meeting parents and guardians of new students. Still, the best part of the evening for me was simply being present—absorbing the opportunity to be “in the mix” again with the adults whose ongoing commitment to GCS makes everything we do possible. 


On September 17, the entire Upper School went off campus for our annual Expedition Day, a long-standing tradition that accentuates the importance of experiential education at GCS. Freshmen spent the day on a field trip in downtown Baltimore exploring exhibits at the Walters Art Museum and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture and enjoying lunch around Harborplace. Sophomores were just a few miles away, paddling canoes and cleaning litter from the Patapsco River and its surroundings in the famous “canoe ’n scoop.” Juniors spent the day at the McKeldin area of Patapsco Valley State Park, completing a scavenger hunt through the woods. At the same time, seniors tackled a ropes course and team-building activities at the Claggett Center near Frederick. I was fortunate to return with ninth-graders ahead of schedule, so I was treated to the smiles and energy of each successive group of students and teachers as they strode into the building, sharing stories and laughing about their adventures. Even the juniors, caught in an unexpected downpour at Patapsco Valley State Park, were in high spirits.


As I look ahead, I know that we must continue to accept the uncertainty that this pandemic has forced upon us, especially with the rise of new variants. Doing so may mean unanticipated shifts for us in the 2021–2022 school year. Yet, every step in the beginning weeks of the new school year demonstrates the strength of our community, the potency of relationships in it, and the excitement created for our students. Whatever uncertainty we face, these will see us through. Dragons will prevail!

View More News