Maria Akaras ’24
Mercersburg Academy is dealing with the struggle that all institutions are currently facing: how to handle COVID-19 restrictions. Chris Howes, assistant head of school for student life and culture, said, “In terms of creating these policies, we are constantly reviewing and updating our policies based on our health checks and all other data we gather on a weekly basis.” While students are grateful for the school’s efforts in making the 2021-22 school year as normal as possible, there are mixed feelings in regard to how the school is doing this.
Maria Rihn ‘24 said, “I’ve tried my best to keep up with all of the restrictions and guidelines around COVID, but it feels like they’re changing at all times.” Maddie Schermerhorn ‘22 agreed, saying, “I’m glad they are loosening, but learning all of them is just not my priority right now.”
The constantly changing rules are a point of excitement for students, as it means the academy is getting closer to normality, but they are also a point of confusion and anxiety. Mel Cort ‘23 said, “I feel like I have a general idea of what the COVID restrictions are, but compared to last year they feel more like suggestions than restrictions. It all feels kind of vague, and like any rule can be broken if you say it’s for a sport or student counsel or something.” Cort raises a difficult question: can students be trusted to follow all of the rules, and are the loosened restrictions really worth the risk?
Howes said, “I always trust our community members. . . It would sadden me if we could not trust each other.” Caroline Simpson ‘22 said, “Most people would follow the new restrictions as they aren’t too restricting, [but] there will be a few people who will break these rules as with any other rule.” Adjusting to fluctuations in infection is one of the most difficult parts of returning to normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Howes said, “The academy will continue to test regularly, and now that we are mostly vaccinated, the risk is far less than if we were not vaccinated.”
Unfortunately, this does not completely mitigate the risk of COVID. Cort said, “It’s nearly impossible to detect if you’ve brought something back from a weekend, considering how COVID incubates and how other sicknesses like the campus cold have been spreading.” This, though, is a risk that the academy is willing to take in order to improve the experience of students.
It is extremely beneficial to students’ mental health to be able to have visitors to campus and to return home for weekends. Schermerhorn says “I am really excited to finish out my last year here as close to normal as possible.” She shares the sentiment of many students when she says, “I know that loosening COVID restrictions comes with risk, and I know nothing is this simple, but I am feeling like things are getting back to normal, and I am so excited.”