Sophomores meet in-person for first time during orientation, junior class trip cancelled due to nearby fires

Sophomores meet in-person for first time as a class


Selina Xu

Sophomores traveled to the Blackford campus on Thursday for their in-person orientation. The day consisted of various bonding activities in advisory groups.

by Sally Zhu and Isha Moorjani

The Class of 2024 traveled to the Blackford campus on Thursday for their orientation, marking the first in-person gathering of the entire sophomore class. While both the sophomore and junior events were planned for this year, the junior whitewater rafting trip was cancelled due to the Caldor Fire in El Dorado County. The seniors also had a trip planned this year, as they didn’t get to participate last year, which was also cancelled.

The sophomore orientation day consisted of a speech by Head of Upper School Butch Keller, the recitation and signing of the matriculation oath by the sophomores, food trucks for lunch and team building activities such as building a tent blindfolded, constructing a trebuchet to launch balls into hoops and others provided by Synergy facilitators. Advisories competed against each other, with the points tallied up at the end of the day to determine a winner, which ended up being the Datar advisory. 

“This is probably the most fun thing I’ve done in a long time,” Keller, who attended the sophomore bonding day, said. “Just being around 200 students and 25 faculty, it was a lot of fun to hear their spirit [and] know how much fun they’re getting ready to have.”

After over a year of remote learning, many students and teachers from the same advisory were able to meet as a group for the first time in-person and enjoy the day through these activities. Even though advisories had met virtually last year, sophomore Fiona Yan thought that was different from in-person meetings. 

“I really like seeing a lot of my friends, new and old. Also, the food trucks [were] really fun too,” sophomore Fiona Yan said. “Over Zoom, even though we had a lot of activities, it was still different. But now, everyone’s together, and it’s really fun.”

The annual junior whitewater rafting trip along the South Fork of the American River with OARS was planned for the same day, but the trip was cancelled due to Governor Gavin Newsom’s declaration of a State of Emergency for El Dorado County, where the river is located. Due to the Caldor Fire, which has already burned 6,500 acres, the school sent an email on Wednesday to all class of 2023 students and parents about the wildfire risk and cancellation of the rafting trip.

“There are just too many variables at play to expose our students and faculty to these possible risks,” Kevin Williamson, upper school Dean of Students, said in the email to the Class of 2023.

California wildfires have already burnt over 900,000 acres since the start of the year, an increase from the previous wildfire season. These California fires have caused the current air quality to decline, and blowing winds could potentially lead to evacuation from the American River area. Upper school chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine puts student safety over attending the trip, even though the trip would have provided a sense of regularity to start the school year. 

“Ultimately I think it was the right decision, despite my disappointment that I wanted to go spend the day in the river too, because having to evacuate from a wildfire compromises that priority of normalcy,” Irvine said. 

Additional reporting by Sydney Ling and Selina Xu.