Peer Leadership Amid Murky Waters
“What kind of fish are you feeling like today?” I ask the ten freshmen in my peer group. It’s a silly question, but it is meant to be. On my laptop screen, they blanch in response to the day’s check-in. Nevertheless, one by one, they unmute themselves and deliberate about the qualities of various fish before selecting the one that sums up their emotional state. At the end of the five-minute activity, our group is composed of salmon, pufferfish, tuna, and minnows.
They’re feeling small, I notice. Hunted. Tired. No sharks, rays, or piranhas today. That’s alright. Under the pressures of Physics, Modern World History, and everything that’s stirring up the world right now, I would never expect them to be okay all the time. When they came into the meeting, I made sure to greet them all by name. I made sure to smile. They don’t have to feel happy or powerful, but my job is to make sure they know they aren’t alone, either.
I spend the next forty-five minutes utterly failing at mafia, but each accusation is followed by a vehement declaration of innocence and a lot of laughing. Everyone looks happier than when they first joined the meeting. This time is meant to be a small reprieve. It’s only 45 minutes on a Friday afternoon, but I’d like to think it counts. In a way, the weekly meetings enable me to do what every leader should do: Make people happy while doing what they love.
When I was first selected to be a Peer Leader during the summer before junior year, I struggled to understand the significance behind the group. Sure, it would be nice to get to know the freshmen and to assuage their fears about the future over family-sized bags of Hint of Lime chips and Boom Chicka Pop, but I couldn’t imagine that my role would be making a difference in anyone’s life.
It wasn’t until shortly before senior year when I was paired with my co-leader, Kylie Taylor, and we were given a freshmen group of our own that I truly appreciated the responsibility I was given as their leader.
Although I can’t ease every worry, I can offer assurance and guidance and answer questions. I can make time for others when I’m needed. I can play mafia, remember names, and smile. I can be present. Being a Peer Leader, being any leader, doesn’t mean I’m going to change anyone’s life. I’m simply there to make their lives a little better.
So, to anyone who’s worried about Physics, History, or everything that’s stirring up the world right now, take a deep breath. FaceTime your closest friend. FaceTime all of your friends, all at once. Talk about anything that doesn’t matter at all. What kind of shoe fits your mood right now? (Loafers. They’re clunky, uncoordinated, and yet, they’re somehow making a comeback.) How much candy corn is too much? (There’s no such thing. Anyone who disagrees is simply wrong.) Which famous dictator would defeat the others in the Hunger Games? (Mao, of course. He would seize the means of production in the arena and let his opponents starve to death.)
You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems today. Start small. Focus on the easy things. The rest will come. Because right now, it is the small, inconsequential things that matter most. They are the things that will keep us sane. Remember to breathe. Remember to laugh. Even if you feel like a minnow today, there’s a whole school of fish around you to protect you from the sharks. You’re not alone. You’re doing great.
Ally Wilkinson '21
Zoom fatigue can feel real during online learning, especially with our C Day schedule, which sometimes requires hours of screen time. However, Aanya Kolli ‘24 said it best in her opening remarks during last week’s Cathedral: “Who are we at NCS? Not a classroom, not a building, and definitely not a set of Zoom sessions. NCS is a community full of supportive and inspiring people.” This has always been our mission as Vestry, and it will continue to be throughout this year, be it in a remote, hybrid, or in-person setting. Our community is too important to forget about or shift away from in times like these.
Sometimes Vestry can seem like the mysterious group of wizards behind the dark curtain. But, in fact, this is the opposite of our goal. So, how does Vestry work? Normally in the first semester, our group is made up of four sophomores, four juniors, and four seniors. By the second semester, four new freshmen join the team, bringing us to sixteen members. Seniors hold the roles of Cathedral Warden, Communications Warden, Music Warden, and Senior Warden. This year, I am proud to be Senior Warden. We start each semester by splitting up our large group into two teams led by the Senior and Junior Wardens, then divide the semester’s Chapels evenly. It tends to be more manageable working within an organized system with due dates and shared documents. The process of creating services varies from Chapel to Chapel. Sometimes we approach homilists we are eager to hear from and sometimes they reach out to us. And sometimes we have a pre-determined theme, like a holiday theme in December or a nature theme during Earth Week. In most basic terms, it’s a chicken or egg type scenario. This year none of the bulk of our planning process has changed even though we remain remote; however, we are reimagining the way we approach services in order to maintain a level of community connection even through our computer screens.
Unfortunately, due to this year’s schedule, we have fewer Chapels than we have ever had before, which limits the master calendar of hopes and dreams we have each year on Vestry. We have chosen to have more services with additional homilists so we can hear from more voices on a certain issue or topic. We will continue to highlight the talent of musicians in our community through special music performances but are willing to be flexible in adjusting service in order to highlight online music from outside artists.
As a Vestry, we have changed as well. Instead of our usual overnight retreat this summer, we opted for a remote model. We met once a week for three weeks in August including a session focused on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). Vestry took time in recognizing what mistakes we have made in our work in the past and reconciled that the only way forward is one that actively works to be more inclusive. We are thrilled about our Latino Student Union Chapel on October 21st and already have our first GSA sponsored Chapel to recognize “The Day of Silence” later this year. We have tried to actively approach members of our community instead of waiting to hear from them. In hopes to create more transparency around our work, we are creating more moments to survey students and create feedback forms (if you have not already, please fill out the form included at the bottom of this article; it’s a running form that is checked frequently throughout the year). Being in remote learning can sometimes feel like we are living in an individual silo without being heard. It is harder to hear feedback from students in this format, but I truly commit, Vestry will continue to seek out voices and opinions we might not hear from to the best of our ability. Chapels this year might lack some of the glitz and glam of Grace Chapel, but our mission has always been to connect students through stories and spirituality, and we will continue to do that.
For reference, our Vestry members are: Ally Wilkinson (Senior Warden), Zari Garfield (Communications Warden), Audrey Twyford (Cathedral Warden), Julia Poggi (Music Warden), Zoe Bucshon (Junior Warden), Angelina Vasquez (Junior Cathedral Warden), Arya Balian (Junior Music Warden), Abby Murphy (Junior Communications Warden), Kendall Brady, Abigail Leon, Audrey Scott, and Ceylin Erkan.
Chapel Feedback Form 2020-21
Arts Board During COVID-19
Isabel Hohenlohe '21
As NCS Arts Board President this year, my main goal is to keep everyone connected in this setting through arts, in whatever form that may take. Being in an online setting can feel very isolating, and I strongly believe that sharing and consuming art at this time can be a powerful tool to connect the Close and to find individual solace. This year especially, I want to keep traditions alive, even if they are in a different setting than normal. Being online also provides opportunities to try new activities and branch out in terms of the traditions arts board usually enacts.
Since many of us are missing hearing and watching our classmates perform, I am planning to have open mics streamed through Zoom this year so that we can keep the beloved tradition of open mics alive and encourage people to share their art with the community. In addition to holding virtual open mics, I teamed up with Discus members to showcase individual singers at NCS through “Tiny Desk Concerts.” Each video will showcase a different singer and allow them to sing songs that they love independently. Furthermore, when I began Arts Board, one of my immediate initiatives was to integrate and showcase visual arts just as much as performing arts, as I know NCS often tends to overlook visual arts opportunities more. Because of this, one of the main initiatives that the Arts Board will be working towards is a bi-monthly newsletter that showcases visual artists at NCS. This newsletter will be an opportunity to highlight the art that students have made during quarantine and online school and to encourage others to explore their creative sides. The newsletter will also remind everyone of upcoming art-related events, such as virtual theater productions and new visual arts opportunities. Open mics, “Tiny Desk Concerts,” and the arts newsletter are the main large-scale initiatives for this upcoming year that I am hoping to implement.
In addition to large-scale initiatives, being on Zoom allows for the creation of smaller-scale art projects or activities of a more relaxed nature. For example, I am planning to host doodling, coloring, and craft Zooms during some Friday office hours. I will play some music, and everyone on the Zoom can individually doodle or color whatever they desire. These Zooms are a time for those who want an artistic outlet and benefit from having a carved-out time to do these activities. I think that we often do not let ourselves have enough time to just unwind, and I believe that unwinding artistically can be a really powerful stress reliever and happiness booster. These Zooms are also times to connect with the school community in a time when it feels like connections with others are very much stifled.
Every school year, but especially during this school year, stress is high, and many people feel very overwhelmed by everything. I am hoping that the arts opportunities and activities that we facilitate can be a source of escape, enjoyment, and relaxation, instead of a source of stress, because I think everyone needs more of that now. I am always open to hearing anyone’s ideas or suggestions for how to make arts at NCS an enjoyable experience!
Nina Davy '21
Although it has always been my dream to be the NCS Athletics Board President, I had
never imagined it would be like this. For as long as I remember, I have been taking notes on
Spirit Day, on how it could be improved, and what I wanted to add - only for those plans to be
scratched. While I could sit here and sulk over the different circumstances, I instead plan to make this year memorable in the best way possible. As the coronavirus has kept us apart, I have taken measures to keep people connected through Zoom and social media.
For Spirit Week, I attempted to translate the interactive and competitive nature of the week to a virtual setting. During a typical Spirit Week, NCS Upper School students dress up for a different theme each day and whoever has the best costume wins. This year, without making it too similar to the traditional week, I instead assigned an activity to each day that would be easy
to do virtually and from the comfort of students’ homes. Additionally, in the spirit of friendly
competition, I chose to include the entire student body, rather than just the Upper School, this
year. I selected a purple and a gold winner for each activity, regardless of grade, and posted the
winners on the Athletics Board Instagram account, @thencs_nest. Although organizing these
activities was a challenge, it fostered a sense of community that we usually get from being together in person throughout Spirit Week. The spirit, energy, and creativity that the Lower and Middle Schools brought to the table made the week especially fun and lively for all divisions. Furthermore, the week could not have been as successful as it was without the leadership of the Upper School and the Athletics Board representatives.
The week concluded with a virtual “Purple/Gold Day.” We chose not to call this day “Spirit Day” to avoid comparison to our traditionally thrilling Spirit Day that is adored across all divisions. To resemble the sense of community that Spirit Day brings as closely as possible, I had the entire school meet on a Zoom in the morning where each student was encouraged to be
decked out in their respective team’s color. We spent time competing in friendly, cross-divisional competitions. I asked the participants to complete a variety of tasks in under one minute and to compete against a member of the opposing team in their grade. While planning
activities for the day, my biggest challenges as a leader were stirring up enough excitement within a community that stretches across so many age groups and promoting willingness to participate. The administrations in different divisions vetoed a lot of my ideas because of the difficulty of the activities. However, to my delight, most of the community was engaged throughout the day, if not by leading then participating, and if not participating then by being
entertained by Lower School students. Overall, I received a lot of positive feedback from the day. Although it was hard to lead the entire student body, working and getting familiar with the students in all divisions gave me immense joy.
Since planning Spirit Week is usually the most important job of the Athletics Board President, I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders. However, I plan to keep the community involved with athletics until we return to competitive sports. Each week, Coach Dent and the other sports coaches have been hosting clinics on campus, allowing students to return to their respective sports. To encourage students to sign up for the clinics in preparation for the seasons starting back up again in January, beginning with the Athletics Board representatives, students are going to vlog their days at sports on @thencs_nest. Additionally, I know that athletes who plan to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level are suffering without access to the weight room facility; so, I plan to reach out to Coach Berry and ask him to write down some strength and conditioning workouts that they can do with and without weights at home.
In the coming months, I also plan to work with the Athletics Board and the Athletics Department to schedule an official signing day, something which our school has consistently
failed to do. I think recognition of the student athletes at this extremely rigorous school is important not only to show respect to those athletes, but also to emphasize that balancing school with high level sports is not easy and deserves praise.
Matthew Thompson '21 and Seba Calliat '21
In recent years, St. Albans has taken several great strides in regards to diversity and inclusion efforts. With the appointment of a new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), the establishment of affinity groups, and many statements from the administration, we are on the right track in terms of creating a greater sense of community for minority students. Amidst a cacophony of clashing opinions, affinity groups have given students a safe space to express their culture, ideas, and views. More specifically, in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans this past year, the Black affinity group has been a crucial asset for Black students to vent their frustrations and share their concerns.
Prior to their creation, some argued that there wasn’t a need for affinity groups at St. Albans. After all, the Cultural Awareness Organization (CAO) already offered access to multicultural connections. Opposing sentiments also conveyed that dividing the community by ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation would tear it apart. From our standpoint, however, affinity groups have had the opposite effect.
Rather than a source of awareness, affinity groups have offered students a much needed space in which stories and dilemmas concerning shared identities can be openly expressed without fear of judgement. As an opportunity for individuals across grades to connect, which is particularly lacking during remote learning, the Black affinity group has served as a setting for underclassmen to ask upperclassmen for advice on unique challenges that African American students at St. Albans routinely face.
The heightened amount of discussions relating to racial injustices in America in conjunction with the introduction of affinity groups has led to the discovery of an interesting “phenomenon” at St. Albans: the school-wide “Black friend group” that has developed over the last few years. For whatever reason, this occurrence has been dubbed as taboo and has quietly been named an awkward or uncomfortable topic of conversation at our school. However, this article is a good opportunity to finally address the whirlwind of rumors and silent microaggressions that come with being a part of this conglomeration of African American students.
Firstly, it’s important to outline that just because someone is Black at St. Albans does not automatically make them a part of this friend group. In fact, the larger friend group as a whole is made up of much smaller, form-based peer groups that have been friends for many years. Last year, however, due to a recognition of our shared experiences at STA, a natural bond formed between a large group of Black students. This resulted in the eventual union of the aforementioned grade-based friend groups into a larger, school-wide friend group, something almost unheard of at St. Albans. This noticeable amalgamation of Black students speaks to STA’s unique necessity for affinity groups. Furthermore, the apparent sense of uneasiness and uncomfortability that is felt when a large group of Black students enters an area further highlights the necessity for affinity groups where Black students can meet to discuss the racist undertones and microaggressions present on campus. But why is it that almost all of the Black students who make up the friend group agree on the presence of this feeling of uneasiness coming from other students when entering a shared space? Is it due to a school-wide internalization of negative stereotypes regarding Black males or a feeling of tension when slang terms are used audibly and unapologetically?
The answer to questions like these concerning this topic exemplifies just the tip of the iceberg for why the introduction of affinity groups as safe spaces at St. Albans is so deeply meaningful to so many students. Additionally, one disclaimer is that other students should not be scared or pack their stuff up and leave; this does no good because it only serves to ignore the issues that plague the St. Albans community, such as this discomfort that some students demonstrate when Black boys gather in one place. Additionally, students should also be mindful about exhibiting forms of offensive behavior on the other end of the spectrum, such as flashing gang signs and changing their voice to sound more “Black”.