Closing out a year of change: Upper school completes remote learning
June 2, 2021
After a year of online school, social distancing and the loss of social interaction, the upper school’s spring semester ended its last academic day last Friday on May 28. Though the year was filled with uncertainty and challenges, we finally find ourselves stepping into summer break—with the assurance of vaccinations and the promise of returning to campus in the fall.
With just the last few exams on the horizon, we congratulate the upper school community on braving through the year and wish the graduated senior class well on their journeys beyond high school.
When we left school last March, the orchard had just begun to bloom. A year later, as the buds began maturing into summer fruit, we look forward to the fall semester, when the fruit hangs ripe and smiling faces fill the campus once more.
Upper school prepares for distribution day and upcoming school year
After Santa Clara County entered the yellow tier on May 18, the upper school also moved forward with loosening campus protocols during the last few weeks of the spring semester and outlined plans for the upcoming school year.
“As we think about a year that will hopefully look very different than the one in our rearview mirror, I am excited for new student leaders to emerge and over 200 smiling faces full of anticipation arriving on campus as the Class of 2025 joins the upper school,” Head of Upper School Butch Keller said in an email sent out to parents and students yesterday.
Keller announced the change in Distribution Day to tomorrow, June 3, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the front loading zone. Students who have yet to pick up their yearbooks may do so then.
Students can also drop off any MBS books for sale or contact Matt Oritz. Second semester report cards and unofficial transcripts will be released on Monday, June 7, at 5 p.m., and students will no longer have access to report cards, gradebooks or unofficial transcripts starting Thursday, June 10.
For the fall semester, sophomore and junior class trips will occur on Thursday, Aug. 19, and the upper school matriculation will occur on Friday, August 20 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“We’re pretty sure we’re going to be mostly back to normal and we’ll definitely be in person,” said upper school nurse Jennifer Olson, who has been organizing COVID-19 testing for faculty and athletes. “Vaccination rates are high and COVID cases are very low, [so] I think we’re just waiting for a little bit more guidance.”
Many teachers have returned on campus to teach either in a hybrid format or for in-person days. Upper school chemistry teacher Mala Raghavan, who conducted four in-person labs on campus in the last month, noted a considerable difference in teaching in person versus on Zoom.
“You cannot even compare the experience of doing online labs to in-person labs,” Raghavan. “For me, as a teacher, I really look forward to the interaction [with students]. I make connections in the classrooms, and labs are a huge part of it. It does not even compare closely to doing something online, so it was really fun to be able to do things in the lab and watch the kids interact and work.”
The library also opened restricted seating on May 20. Individual students may only sit in the study area for 80 minutes at a time, long enough for one Zoom class. The tables in the main studying area allow for two students per table, with the available spaces at either end of the table denoted by pink tape. The rest of the study areas in the library—the library classroom, the sofas and the window seats—are not open.
Although the library has now opened up, other reading alternatives have continued to be offered during the pandemic. The library has hosted curbside library services throughout the year in which students could request books from the library via an online form and pick up or drop off books for return during distribution days.
All physical books except for textbooks were allowed to be checked out in this manner. A book return box was also placed in front of the libraries of all campuses for a contactless return. Students are also encouraged to check out digital material from Sora, an e-book and audiobook platform.
Upper school athletic director Dan Molin also announced the commencement of upper school athletics for summer workouts and fall athletic dates, summer and fall coach information and how students can attain required P.E. credits. According to an email Molin sent out to the upper school, more details regarding fall athletics will be supplied over the summer.
“The slow transition [to in-person school] that’s coming from the end of this year to the start of next year really helps,” Anja Ree (9) said. “I feel like if we spent an entire summer at home and then suddenly just came back in full force next year, that’d be kind of hard, so easing into it was really nice.”
Additional reporting by Arely Sun, Sabrina Zhu and Sally Zhu.
First finals of school year to be delivered virtually, students prepare for final seven AP exams
Upper school students are gearing up to take finals from home this week and their last Advanced Placement (AP) exams next week, marking the first finals of the school year and the end of an extended AP testing season.
Freshmen are taking their first finals at the upper school due to the cancellation of first semester finals.
“I’m actually feeling really confident,” said Iris Fu (9), who was pleased by the finals schedule since it spaced out her four final exams. “I’ve been studying for two weeks now, so I feel like I have the material down.”
AP testing at the upper school began on May 5 and spans over a month. The upper school opted for mostly digital exams, with seven exams delivered in-person in May. To protect exam integrity, this year’s digital exams did not allow students to return to previous questions. Seven digital exams remain on the AP testing calendar from June 9 to 10.
Junior Simren Kochhar recalls feeling frustrated over not being able to check over her work on her AP Computer Science exam, despite finishing the multiple-choice with 15 minutes left. She is now preparing for her AP Chemistry exam on June 10, a later-than-usual exam date that she has mixed feelings about.
“It makes summer shorter, which isn’t that good,” Simren said. “But at the same time, I get more time to study because I haven’t started yet, so that’s nice.”
Junior Kailash Ranganathan, who took the AP Japanese Exam in-person on May 5, credits Director of Standardized Testing and Scheduling Troy Thiele for making his in-person testing experience “very smooth.”
“Mr. Thiele organized the exam very well. When we entered, everything was already set up for us. We each had our own workstations with a laptop and headset provided by the school,” Kailash said. “There were only eight of us taking the exam, and we were all spaced out in the [auxiliary] gym.”
Sophomore Austina Xu took her AP Spanish exam in person on May 11 and her AP European History exam virtually on May 19.
“This year in general has just been so taxing and trying,” Austina said. “Hopefully, people look at these test scores and take that into consideration. There’s really nothing you could do about it at this point.”
Additional reporting by Sally Zhu.
Class of 2021 finishes high school career with baccalaureate and graduation
The class of 2021 walked across the stage at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga to receive their diplomas in front of a socially distanced audience on Saturday, May 22. The first event at the site in 14 months, each student was limited to two guests according to COVID-19 protocol.
The day before graduation, seniors attended the baccalaureate ceremony on Davis Field, featuring nominated speakers Michael Eng (12) and upper school economics teacher Dean Lizardo. Violinist Sophia Horng (12) and vocal group Cantilena performed at the event, followed by a statement from Honor Council chair Shray Alag (12) and council member Arely Sun (11). Both the baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies were live streamed.
Graduation lasted from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m, beginning with opening remarks from assistant Head of School Jennifer Gargano followed by a procession to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” by Sir Edward William Elgar. Parents brought cameras and cell phones, recording and waving as the students passed by.
Seniors wore graduation gowns and caps, which they decorated with logos of their respective colleges. After walking across the stage, they sat with their parents, according to a seating chart assigned by the school in a random lottery process.
Head of Upper School Butch Keller then introduced Daniel Wang (12) and Claire Luo (12), marking the first time in school history that two valedictorians spoke at graduation. In his speech, Daniel touched upon the friendships and deep bonds formed between members of the class and noted the losses they faced due to the pandemic. Claire thanked the class for their “love, laughter, and life” and discussed embracing the uncertainty of the future.
“I think the graduation ceremony was super cool because it was probably one of the last times our class will be all together physically,” Claire said. “And we’ll kind of be separating, which is very bittersweet, [but] I’m also looking ahead and excited to see what my classmates end up doing because I think it’s just such a wonderful group of people.”
Members of the senior orchestra and the Senior Graduation Chorus performed Joseph Haydn’s “Adagio” from String Quartet in F. Minor, Number 47, and “Always Something Sings” by Dan Forrest respectively.
Keynote speaker and alumna Dr. Roberta Wolfson (‘05) then addressed the audience. A lecturer at the Stanford Program in Writing and Rhetoric, Dr. Wolfson encouraged seniors to assume personal agency in shaping their identities. Between speeches, Mountain Winery staff wiped down the microphones and podium to prevent contamination.
Following came a speech from Head of School Brian Yager, in which he spoke of the doubling of longevity over the past century and medical achievements that are often taken for granted.
“Educational institutions have played a major role in the developments that enabled our species’ recent increase in life expectancy,” Yager said. “Research opened the door to technical and societal changes, and the soft practices at schools, associated with collective norms and behaviors, have paved the way for our understanding and adoption of practices that further our longevity.”
Nearing the end of the ceremony, seniors lined up alphabetically as senior class dean and upper school history and social science teacher Carol Green called them to receive their diplomas from Yager. After returning to their seats, a cheer rose up from the crowd as the class of 2021 moved their tassels to the left and waved their caps in the air, signifying the end of their high school journey.
“Graduation wasn’t as dramatic as in regular years, when you get to sit with your friends and throw your caps up in the air, but it was still really wonderfully ceremonial as an end to our high school career, and I was really glad that we got to do that this year,” Michelle Si (12) said.
Additional reporting by Isha Moorjani.