Sienna is no stranger to taking chances: She joined Dive In Commonwealth sight unseen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After attending tiny schools all her life, she took the leap to a 600-person high school. And she doesn’t shy away from sitting with students she doesn’t know at lunch—after all, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
Part of the second-ever cohort of Dive In students, Sienna spent her first summer in a hybrid version of the program, coming to Commonwealth in the mornings and taking virtual classes from home in the afternoons. Now attending Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, she’s using some of the skills and confidence she cultivated at Dive In to push herself academically, socially, musically, and more, as her father, Charles, can attest.
Both Sienna and Charles recently sat down with Commonwealth English teacher and Dive In program director Sasha Eskelund to catch up and look back at Sienna’s Dive In experience.
First things first: how’s it going?!
Sienna: Great! I’m doing all kinds of new things. I’m taking piano at school, and I get to choose music I want to learn and my teacher’s helping me learn it. I chose a song called “Wind” from Naruto. I’m making really good progress on it.
It’s been hard for a lot of students to go back to full-time school after the past year and a half. How has it been for you?
Sienna: A little stressful, I guess. School was remote for a long time, but it’s nice to be back. They’re great, really laid-back classes [at Nobles] and mostly discussion based, so we’re talking about things. English is totally discussion based. And it’s not super stressful; there isn’t a ton of work right now.
Charles: What I’ll say about stress levels is that Sienna has been stressed but not for the reasons you’d think. Her confidence was so high [after Dive in] that she took on a larger workload than I would ever have imagined her taking on. She had so much confidence to try something new because of the preparation she had at Dive In. The courses and the test prep really built her confidence, not just in academics but in how she interacts with peers and makes friends. Had she not been exposed to that diverse group of kids and had to make new friends, I don’t know how she’d be handling it this year.
Sienna, you were interested in going to a big high school because you’d been at a small school all your life, and you wanted to try something different. How has that transition been?
Sienna: Honestly, it was a huge shock on the first day. There were just tons of people everywhere. I was scared at first because, even though I mentally prepared myself, I still had that feeling that everyone knew everyone else—it’s not true, but I felt that way, because you’re not seeing the same people all the time. There’s a kind of rotation so that you’re always meeting new people.
But I was telling my dad today that I’ve started sitting with random people at lunch just because! And I think I really got that from Dive In, knowing that I could make new friends with different kinds of people and people from all over the place…it’s just great.
That’s great to hear! So what’s your favorite class so far?
Sienna: I really like biology.
Are you using things you learned in your Intro to Biology Dive In class?
Sienna: Oh yeah: enzymes! We learned about enzymes over the summer, so when I saw them this year, I was like, “I know about that!”
What other classes do you like?
Sienna: Stagecraft is really cool. It’s woodworking but for theater sets, and we got to work on one of the shows this year. Oh, and Model UN! It’s not a class, but I’m doing that.
Charles: And she got that idea from Dive In.
Because you did COMMUN [Commonwealth’s student-run Model UN] during Dive In?
Sienna: I think so. It made me open to the experience [of doing Model UN], because I’d done it before; it was familiar. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about everything, but I knew the basics, and I was able to do it. I went to a conference on Zoom, and it was awesome!
Charles, it must be so wonderful for you to see Sienna thriving this way.
Charles: Oh, it is. And being in Dive In made that transition so much easier for her. Before, math was something she worried about, but now her confidence about what she can take on is so different. Prior to Dive In, summers were tennis camp and other things that were mostly just to keep her busy, but when she went to Commonwealth, it exposed her to another world of possibilities. I remember when she made her own [pinhole] camera in Photography, she had a real understanding of how the camera worked. Being exposed to so many different things, Sienna’s a different person now. She’s growing and getting older, and that’s a part of it, but I don’t want to think about what her trajectory would be like had she not had Dive In. It would have angled up, but it definitely wouldn’t be as high.
Sienna, what do you think you took away from Dive In?
Sienna: Being able to form bonds with teachers really helped me. Talking to teachers and the advisor program helped me open up to teachers and understand that I can talk to them and ask for help. I never really had that bond with teachers before, and it allowed me to change something in the way I relate to them. Now when I don’t understand something, I just ask.
That’s so important, and I hope everyone who comes to Dive In learns that. Are you still in touch with the others from your Dive In group?
Sienna: I am! Not as much as I’d like to be, but we still have our group chat from the summer, and we talk to each other pretty often.
That’s great. We miss you, too! Is there anything you want to add that I didn’t ask about?
Sienna: I think all I have to say is just a big thank you, because Dive In really changed things for me. At first I wasn’t sure about doing school and stuff over the summer! But it turned out to be just amazing. I’m so happy I did it.