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The Return of Recess

“Math Team will be meeting today in 3A,” said Linda ’22 last Wednesday, popping up from a small crowd of seniors sitting under the basketball hoop. She didn’t know it at the time, but this simple reminder happened to be the first student announcement delivered to the first fully in-person recess since March 2020.

Other announcements followed, students standing up amongst their peers to introduce game nights and other club meetings, faculty calling for Hancock helpers and offering other handy reminders. These little interactions might seem trivial, even mundane—yet a current of joy ran through them all. 

Recess, Commonwealth’s daily all-school meeting, is a keystone, a constant, and a simple pleasure. Every day, around 10:00 a.m., recess gives us a chance to connect (and refuel with tasty snacks!). We use recess to celebrate milestones together, like birthdays and Poetry Out Loud competition wins. We share helpful updates and reminders, from club meeting locales to voter registration deadlines. We process national news and remember important anniversaries. And we hold each other accountable for our shared responsibilities, like keeping our building neat and orderly, being on time for soccer practice, or respecting and supporting friends and teachers who wear masks for a variety of reasons. 

For two and half years, this ritual happened over the now-ubiquitous Zoom. During lockdown recess was, of course, fully online, with everyone tuning in from home. People still read poems and shared jokes, sometimes with at least as much written “chat” action as spoken words. Then, during the months of hybrid schooling, with half of our students learning in person and half virtually each day, we continued “gathering” on Zoom, with in-person students sprinkled in small groups throughout the school’s classrooms. Thanks to pandemic-era audiovisual systems in each classroom, that remained our approach even when hybrid learning ended and classes largely went “back to normal” (“normal” being a comically relative term, then and now). By the spring of 2022, even larger in-person events—including graduation, finally back in our traditional venue of First Church in Boston—could happen in person, but recess remained dispersed and virtual. 

Now, the 2022–2023 academic year has begun, with optional masking and cautious optimism. Simply returning to school would’ve been enough—a flurry of raised hands sparking ideas off of each other in classrooms, bumping into friends in the hallway, hearing the notes of a piano echo through the building, hurrying off to play auditions and fencing practice. 

Where once Head of School Jennifer Borman had to ask from her office chair into the Zoom ether, "Seniors in 4A, what's your announcement?" now she gets to call everyone by name. And they get to answer from across the room.

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