The Second Year’s a Charm–So Far

Reflections from a Tenth-Grade Parent

The tenth-grade year is easier.

No longer new to this unfamiliar universe called Deerfield, tenth graders are free from the busy pressures of the junior year and the tearful farewells as a senior. The typical tenth grader still has an entire nine months to savor the boarding school life and just “be” at Deerfield.

And that’s a good thing for parents too. We’ve come a long way from the uncertainty of the ninth grade year.

Consider the accomplishments. The shock of dropping one’s child off and leaving them is over.

In the ninth-grade year, families come filled with excitement and hopeful anticipation. Likely, we don’t know anyone. And despite the best guidelines offered from those in the know, we really don’t know what to expect.

One thing is certain: It was a lot harder to say good-bye that first time.

When we arrived on the first day of school, before we finished unpacking the car, the Deans whisked the ninth-grade class away on a bonding trip to Camp Beckett. The morning quickly dissolved into afternoon, with the buzz from connecting with Green Keys, meeting advisors, the luncheon and meeting new people. Before I knew it, he was boarding the bus and his father and I were waving good-bye.

Left to “set up” the dorm, the task gave me some anxiety.  He was in “New Dorm,” which was so enormous. As I put stuff in drawers, I was worried he wouldn’t know where to find stuff. So I labeled the drawers with Post-its–“shirts in here,” “socks,” “fleeces,” “extra soap,” “snacks,”– just in case.

There was no way to gauge how much I’d miss my son that day, until I returned to my quiet apartment. I knew he was embarking on a great adventure, but it was still a shock.

This year, on my son’s move in day, I watched as he and two of his classmates configured the best use of the dorm space at John Williams, or as the Deerfield folk call it “J-Dubbs,” the schools’ oldest dormitory. With a space half the size of last year’s, he settled in easily. Saying good-bye seemed routine now.

After all, I was going to see him in less than two months at Fall Family Weekend

Last year, during Family Weekend, even a map couldn’t help me navigate the campus grounds. Everything felt so vast and unfamiliar, to be expected of course. It’s a 330-acre sprawling campus of hills, valleys and a beautiful river all nestled in a historic village.

Trying to find the different buildings to meet my son’s teachers was like being on a treasure hunt.

My son’s English class met in the Arms building, which is next to the Main School Building. The language classes meet in Kendall, which is tucked adjacent to the Arms building. And both buildings are brick and look alike to me.

But I found the prize: a teacher swamped, spilling over with appointments and a cluster of parents patiently waiting their turn.

Meanwhile, the Koch Center is a massive edifice, hard to miss. On this day, there are dozens of parents everywhere, with the click-clack of their boots heard down the winding corridors.

Some corridors have spacious windows with vistas of the fields, which are really nice to take a minute to soak in–wait where was I going?

“Excuse me, do you know which way is room 207?” I say to another parent walking by.

“207?” she replies, looking around. Then not entirely sure herself, pointed back in the direction I came from and said, “I think it’s that way?”

“Ok, thanks,” I answer.

In that building, my son has two classes. This year, I only got lost looking for the Chemistry room.

However, I am more confident walking the grounds. Albany Road is a welcoming thoroughfare. I love peeping in the Hess Center and checking out the galleries. When I come to visit for an athletic match, I feel a great sense of camaraderie, especially when I see other parents. Even if I don’t know them, I know we share a great bond. It does feel like home, even for me, when I visit Deerfield.

As a parent, the tenth-grade year is a good time to consider the benefits of your child traveling abroad with the school.

It’s a personal choice, but again the tenth-grade year is free from the frenzy of the college advising period, the myriad of standardized tests and the daunting college selection and application process, which looms on the distant horizon.

Hmm, I’ll think about that later.

For now, I like savoring the moments with my son at Deerfield, enjoying the weekend athletic competitions, and discovering something new each time I visit.

Next time I come, I want to check out the river, but maybe in the spring. I still want to stroll farther down Main Street. It’s still a charming adventure.


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