Making Friends Beyond the Breakout Room
Above Image: A group of freshmen play a socially distanced ping pong game at the Garden orientation in early September
Most incoming freshmen go to bed the night before their first day of high school worrying about what outfit they are going to wear, but this year’s ninth graders only had to pick out their favorite pair of sweatpants. The transition to any new school can be daunting, but the new Class of 2024 is being forced to figure out how to adapt to an entirely new community and make friends all over Zoom.
To make the beginning of this peculiar school year feel a bit more typical for the newcomers, the freshmen class got the opportunity to attend an in-person orientation in the garden and a get together at Brooklyn Bridge Park with peer supporters earlier this month. “I think it was definitely weird to start it all on Zoom, but the times that I have been able to physically go to Packer and actually meet people have been really good. It felt odd because we all were six feet apart, but it was nice to talk to people and make a few friends,” said Elijah Hurewitz-Ravitch (’24), who previously attended Berkeley Carroll.
In addition to orientation programming, students have gotten a chance to participate in online classes on campus while maintaining social distancing guidelines. “The biggest thing I think was just advocating for enough space and supervision for everybody to get on campus. They are all excited and also nervous about entering high school,” shared Ms. Gilfillan, Dean of the Class of 2024, when asked about how students could establish some kind of normality in this unique situation. “We just wanted to give as many of them as possible the opportunity to go into the building and see each other face to face. Initially, we just didn’t have space and had to start small. Thankfully, we are now at the point where if you want to come, you can come.”
Truman Margolies (’24), who had attended the Studio School on the Upper West Side before switching to Packer, took part in the on-campus Zooming and was pleasantly surprised by how it went. “I thought that most of the returning students would have just stuck to their friend groups, but for the most part, it has been pretty easy to connect with everybody, new and old, and make friends. It’s kind of funny how you can get to know people by sitting in a room staring at your computer with them for eight hours,” he joked.
Mia Levine (’24) shared a similar sentiment, “It was surreal because it had been over six months since I had sat in a classroom. It was so fun! I was in a room with three of my friends, and between classes, it was just a time to chat and hang out. I feel like I really got to know them, which was the best part of the whole thing. Just being in the building was so different than sitting on your computer. It was a nice change, and it made me look forward to going hybrid.”
Although on-campus visitation has been enjoyable for many, not everyone has been able to attend. However, that isn’t stopping teachers from taking matters into their own hands to help kids engage with their new peers. Gabe Paulin (’24) explained that his physics teacher, Ms. Iberraken, has been using breakout rooms to allow students to get to know each other, “She splits the class into breakout groups and encourages students to check in on each other so see how we are doing. It’s a really good way to help people get closer to each other.”
A few students have gone beyond the breakout rooms and created “pod remote groups” to get to bond. “I’m doing this thing with a bunch of kids in my grade who live in my neighborhood most days where we go to someone’s house for the day, and all do our zooms together. It’s great because we can talk during breaks and be social, which I think is the hardest part of doing school remotely. It’s only a few people, and most of them were already at Packer, but I have enjoyed it so far,” shared Elijah.
With that being said, the transition into the Packer community has not been easy for everyone socially. “I went to a small Jewish day school in Carroll Gardens. It was much smaller than Packer, there were 25 kids in my grade, and it was a super tight-knit community. Packer is definitely a big step up in terms of size,” shared Jonah Baum (’24). “One thing I have been telling myself in regards to making friends, and all is that I shouldn’t expect to get really close with anyone until we move to the hybrid model. If I’m wrong, then great! If I’m right, I can forgive myself.”
For some students, the switch to Packer is not only daunting because of a larger grade size, but also due to diversity. “To be honest, it was really scary because I thought there were going to be a lot of snobby people. The school I went to was more diverse, so to hear that the tuition compared to my middle school was so much more, I was kind of shocked. I think I was a bit nervous about the people because, in the past, I had really only gone to school with people I had known since diapers,” explained Sophia Zhen (’24).
On the bright side, Ms. Gilfillan is hoping that once hybrid learning kicks off, students will be able to branch out more, “I do think that as we go into the cohorts, there will be a bit more meshing with traveling and carpooling with kids that are in their respective groups which I think will help them connect more naturally.”
Needless to say that the beginning of the school year is not what the Class of 2024 had in mind, but they have been handling it great and can look forward to getting to know each other even more and in the flesh soon!