Uncommon Community: How Commonwealth Stays Connected (Even When Stuck Inside!)

In these days of social distancing, Commonwealth School students are finding ways to keep their community—and spirits—strong. 

Usually, the week before spring break is marked by a thrum of excitement at Commonwealth School, students buzzing with excitement at the prospect of studying abroad, spending time with friends, and completing long-awaited senior projects. This year felt more somber, with the coronavirus outbreak eclipsing virtually every aspect of “normal” life. 

But as the world comes to grips with COVID-19, so too are Commonwealth students. 

They were quick to adapt to the necessity of social distancing, proactively circulating links to everything from their latest Soundcloud recordings to online "board” games to favorite family recipes to marble racing. 

In short, this is how the Commonwealth community stays connected in the time of COVID-19....

Health and Wellness

Prioritizing physical and mental health is paramount these days. Coordinating your workouts and wellness activities with people you know can be a wonderful way to stay connected as well as active.

  • Meditation: In-person meditation has become a staple at Commonwealth. These days, it feels more important than ever. “For those of you looking to continue your mindfulness practice, or start one up, check out iBme,” suggests Kathy Tarnoff, Commonwealth’s Director of Athletics and Wellness. “We have had many students attend their New Year's Retreats and know that they have been a big success.” Simple online group hangouts provide a space for people to meditate together, with or without a guide. 

  • Exercise: Some of our most active students shared their own workout routines, with exercises conducive to being inside like squats, toe touches, and crunches. Tom Greany ’22 shared his rowing core workout “to combat feelings symptomatic of a pandemic” and encouraged virtual competitions (most sit ups and longest plank!), while “the school's very unofficial calisthenics advocate” Ryan Phan ’22 reminded us all that “working out provides a deeper understanding of the way our own bodies work and helps us reach a certain level of discipline and perseverance.” 

  • Outdoor activities: A reminder that going outside for walks, hikes, and other outdoor activities is still okay! Just remember to maintain social distancing measures. Commonwealth's Dean of Students Josh Eagle recommends starting a Couch to 5k training program on your own or with friends, syncing up using running apps like these.

Mixed Media

If there was ever a time to binge-watch your favorite TV show, this is it. Best of all, there are plenty of ways to watch and listen with friends.

  • Watch together: Commonwealth students and faculty all pitched in when Alan Plotz ’21 sent around a Google Form to collect recommendations for engaging media fodder to help pass the time (including both what to watch and where to watch it!). Suggestions ranged from Heathers to Parasite, Bojack Horseman to Brooklyn 99. Students offered their book recommendations too, which is good because it’s the perfect time to...

  • Read together: Start a book group and have your discussions online. (Led by Kathryn O'Rourke ’20, Commonwealth students decided to read The Spoils of Poynton, by Henry James.) You might even take turns reading the book aloud, a favorite pastime at Commonwealth’s Hancock weekends. 

  • Listen together: Students suggested syncing up your music with JQBX (JU·KE·BOX), tuning into one of the free concerts celebrity musicians have been live streaming, or using radio.garden to explore radio stations from around the world. You can also listen to freshman Jo Doyle’s new EP, "Árchō"!

Art and Craft

From sharing short stories to taking in a museum, you can cultivate community as well as culture (online!).

  • “Visit” museums: English teacher Mara Dale alerted everyone to virtual tours of the Guggenheim, the Louvre, and many others.

  • Create something meaningful: Student editors Alec Bode Mathur ’20 and Markus Tran ’21 of Commonwealth’s art magazine, Helicon, launched a special feature on joy in these fraught times, calling on Commonwealth students and teachers alike to submit works in real time.

  • Tell a story: One of the first emails to hit our inboxes also came from Alec Bode Mathur ’20, who launched a pass around story. Students jumped in using a different font for each person, so later contributors can see the evolution.

  • Cook creatively: English teacher Mara Dale started a collection of recipes, The Mermaid Pantry-Recipe Cookbook: Good Food for Hard Times.  

  • Craft as a collective: Get creative with the materials you have on hand—paper, fabric, even old knick-knacks. You might even pick a shared theme, like a song, word, or color. Set a deadline and share your progress along the way.

  • Make a community quilt: Everyone creates and decorates their own square(s), to be assembled at a later date. Just pick the number and size of squares ahead of time.

  • Pen a letter: Bring back the lost art of letter writing. Mail your friends hand-written notes, like pen pals.

  • Test your public speaking skills: Challenge yourself to give a speech “in front of” your friends online. One member of the Commonwealth community suggested recording, reading, and memorizing speeches from suffragists to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage.

Games and Online Communities

Online games have been bringing people together for years. Now it's their time to shine.

  • Roll the (digital) dice: “Board games” aren’t relegated to tables anymore. You can use Roll20, Boardgame Arena, Jackbox Games, and more to foster some friendly competition. Many have video and/or audio chat functions too. 

  • Tune into marble racing: It may just be marbles gunning for the finish line, but Commonwealth freshman Romen Der Manuelian ’23 swears this pastime is addicting! Qualifying rounds are streamed every Saturday at 4:00 p.m. EST, with the official race at 4:00 p.m. Sunday EST.

  • Get gaming: League of Legends and Minecraft as particularly good options for teams.

  • Come up with a head-scratcher: Make your own word searches, brainteasers/riddles, and sudoku puzzles for your friends to see who you stump. Better yet, submit them to the Commonwealth School Newspaper.

  • Pin it: Share a Pinterest board for art, memes, or other interests to keep away boredom and spread joy.

  • Do the math: Yes, we do math for fun. And you can work on fun math problems together over FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc. With the American Mathematics Competitions suspended indefinitely, Commonwealth teacher and Math Team advisor Alan Letarte offered to share old USA Mathematical Olympiad problems students can work on together. 

Politics and Community Service

Whether you’re passionate about a particular issue or simply fascinated by the shifting political landscape, there are plenty of ways to indulge your inner policy wonk—and make your voice heard. 

  • Contact your representatives: Alan Plotz ’21 reminded the community that several bills are on the table that could have drastic effects on Massachusetts residents during and after the pandemic, such as HD. 4935: An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID19 Emergency. Massachusetts residents can find their state representatives and senators here.

  • Attend virtual town halls: Even students too young to vote can watch history being made at virtual town halls and other political events. Go with a friend and rehash the experience afterward.

  • Continue the conversations: With primaries continuing more or less as planned in many states, one Commonwealth ninth grader launched an anonymous survey for submitting predictions for the results.

  • Rally support: Consider calling on your community to collect donations for local nonprofits. You can have supplies shipped directly to food pantries, shelters, or other community resources near you. For example, in lieu of their in-person supermarket drive to support Our Place, a daycare for homeless children in Cambridge, student leaders Alan Plotz ’21, Aunnesha Bhowmick ’20, and Amelia Michael ’20 worked with the organization to create an Amazon wish list they can share of items Our Place needs to support the children and families they serve. Carly Renshaw, Associate Director of Development, helped mobilize the greater Commonwealth community as well.

  • Make something useful: Dina Pfeffer ’22 called on her Commonwealth peers to spend their time sewing reusable cloth masks for healthcare workers and patients through Days for Girls. “If you know how to sew and have cotton fabric on hand, this is an excellent quarantine activity that will give you something to do with your hands and provide hospitals with an urgently needed resource,” Dina notes. Emi Neauwalder '21 has also been active on this front, engaging with her local community and neighbors in Boston to support nearby medical staff. 

  • Volunteer (digitally): Librarian and Registrar Emma Torres Johnson clued students and staff into some unique ways of giving back, like helping to transcribe printed and handwritten material at the Smithsonian. “Anyone can sign up and the transcriptions help to make the Smithsonian's incredibly eclectic collection more searchable to researchers. I've worked on diaries of arctic explorers and female artists and practiced my French on the letters of an art dealer and on an 18th century artillery manuscript.”

Our Commonwealth community has responded to COVID-19 with compassion, composure, and creativity—as it always does in times of struggle. 

And we're ready to navigate this uncharted territory together. Next comes Virtual Commonwealth, with its new challenges and satisfactions, launching April 1.