GREENWICH — Tuesday was Holly Marvin’s 14th first day of school at Sacred Heart Greenwich. But this one was completely different.
About six months has passed since the school went remote last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The intervening time was filled with uncertainty. Would the students return to class? What would school look like come fall?
“It’s been the most emotional start to a school year,” Marvin, a Spanish teacher at Sacred Heart, said as she stood near an entrance to the school where a line of cars was dropping off eager Lower School students. “This is the longest the kids have gone without seeing each other. This is the grandest opening we’ve had, and it’s the most exciting and emotional return to school we’ve had.”
Around Marvin, and at other entrances to the school, Upper School students danced and cheered with pom-poms — and requisite masks — as they welcomed their classmates back after a long time away.
Sacred Heart was one of several Greenwich private schools with students returning to class on Tuesday morning, with the Brunswick School, Greenwich Country Day School and Greenwich Academy also opening. Students from each school were returning to classes in a vastly different context than they left last spring, with social distancing precautions and mandatory mask-wearing in place now.
“We have outdoor tents, we have outdoor sinks, we have lots of space specially for our little ones to be outside,” said Sacred Heart Head of School Margaret Frazier, who took over in Greenwich earlier this year.
According to Frazier, just a small number of the school’s 625 students have opted for remote learning. The vast majority will be learning in person, a goal of the school’s since the start of the pandemic last spring.
“This year has been different I think in the level of anticipation,” Frazier said. “To be honest, we’ve been preparing since April. Our goal was always within the government guidelines to try to be back.”
In front of Nancy Salisbury Hall, a short distance from where Frazier stood, was Karen Panarella, dean of Sacred Heart’s Upper School. With the pandemic, there was undoubtedly an added element of stress this year, Panarella said. But it was also more exciting.
“It’s exciting with a few more exclamation points,” Panarella said.
The energy conveyed by the students around Panarella confirmed her words. Nearby, seniors Ursula Vollmer and Hadley Noonan, both 17, sang Taylor Swift songs and danced with classmates and the school’s mascot, chanting “welcome back” and “happy first day” to arriving students.
More than anything, the students expressed gratitude at returning for their senior years.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Noonan said.
“The anticipation has been building from March to now,” Vollmer added.