Katrina Lovegren ’21 Front Page Editor
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercersburg Academy’s campus has closed for the remaining term of the 2019-2020 school year. But with Mercersburg Academy’s new “Virtual ‘Burg,” consisting of online classes, newsletters, and social media events, the community is still the same tight-knit family it has always been, no matter the physical distance.
The final decision to close campus involved a COVID-19 Task Force consisting of the Board of Regents, the Head’s Council (Katie Titus, Julia Maurer, Quentin McDowell and Maria Kimsey), and several other faculty members. The decision to delay student return from spring break and, ultimately, to close campus was decided by the Head’s Council, with support from the Board of Regents.
Head of School Katie Titus said the decision to close campus was “simple and clear.” Her main concern was the health of students and faculty. “As a boarding school, there was no way to reasonably bring our students back to campus and be able to ensure that we could keep people safe. And given the travel restrictions, many students would not be able to get back,” Titus said.
The decision was emotionally difficult, however. “The harder part was the heart decision, knowing that so many of our students and faculty were holding onto the hope that we would be able to return. Knowing the sadness the decision would cause was the hardest part,” Titus said.
Titus nevertheless believes that virtual learning is an incredible experience. She said, “It gives us the opportunity to think about how to strengthen our teaching because of it. I have heard from some students that they appreciate the creativity and breadth of the assignments that teachers are giving.”
One major question from the Mercersburg Academy community is, “What’s next?”
How will COVID-19 affect Mercersburg in the future, such as next fall? Titus says that this will require even more consideration: “The Heads’ Council is starting to plan for next year and continuing to pay close attention to this evolving situation. It is real that COVID-19 will not be gone after this wave is under control, and we need to be prepared for the possibility that the outbreak resumes at some point next year.”
What about the conclusion of the spring term? There is hope that the Class of 2020 will be able to return to campus in the summer for a Commencement ceremony, but they may still have a virtual commencement to recognize and celebrate them and their achievements on the originally scheduled date of May 22. The Head’s Council is also discussing ways in which to incorporate important school traditions virtually.
In addition, the Board of Regents has outlined a plan for tuition reimbursement to families, and school personnel will be available to either pack up or ship items in dorm rooms to students if necessary.
Despite the singularity of the circumstances, Titus continues to encourage the Mercersburg Academy community to remain positive despite the difficult situation: “There are so many things for which we can be grateful, and gratitude helps to provide perspective in the face of sadness. I do believe that when you are living through a challenge you cannot always see what the good is that will come from it, but good always comes – there are things we can control now that will contribute to that good and there are things that we cannot yet see that will come from this hardship.”
Even if there are no physical measures that Mercersburg can take to aid with COVID-19, remaining optimistic and offering support to those affected is extremely important. Titus also referenced the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, saying, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”