Up to the Challenge: Sustaining Community in a Time of Isolation

Imagine you are an eighth-grader at TLS, and it is August 2020 and time to come back to school. You are a little nervous about Chemistry with Mr. Hurst (the explosions!) and Dr. Bonzo’s English class (the essays!), but you can’t wait to see your friends and teachers after a long time away. And then it all looks different than what you expected because COVID restrictions are in place: students are relegated to specific cohorts (called crews); there is no crossing of zones even at recess; lunch is delivered so no social mixing then either. No advisor groups; no 8th-grade breakfasts; no after school activities, clubs, or sports. Big-time bummer.

Enter the COLT CUP CHALLENGE.

WHAT? After fall break, the TLS Middle School launched the Colt Cup Challenge. Reminiscent of the house cup system in British schools and Harry Potter, the Challenge entailed the following elements:

  • There were miscellaneous competitions during six weeks of activities. (e.g. A costume competition by each crew on Halloween, a seed growing competition, some elements of service around the school grounds) 
  • Each Friday for the six weeks ended with crew-based competitions. 
  • Each grade was assigned a rotating day each week they could stay (within their crews) after school to participate in competitions. Participation was purely voluntary.  
  • In each of the activities, students accrued points for their teams based on their successes.
  • All of the above was conducted in accordance with TLS’s broader COVID protocols. 
  • Students received a t-shirt with a color assigned to their crew that they could wear on Colt Cup Challenge days.

WHY? Mr. Tim Alford, Head of the Middle School explains it best when he says, “Adults want kids to come to school to learn, grow skills and perspectives, knowledge areas, etc…Kids want to come to school to see their friends.”

“The crews we put together out of necessity for following COVID guidelines ended up being a really good thing, but at first they felt like a one-room schoolhouse and a little isolating for the students. We wondered we could make that experience one that is rich and fun. TLS has always had a very tight community, so when everyone is confined to a one-room schoolhouse, how do you sustain the broader sense of the whole?”

“The Colt Cup Challenge brought individual groups (crews) together but also catalyzed a sense of excitement and joy across the division by building activities that were fun and silly–quintessential middle school stuff– ironic, sarcastic, competitive, and fun.”

HOW? “TLS teachers know what these kids need and love so well. When we put four middle school faculty in the room together and charged them with creating something fun, something to keep the students active, build some unity, and give them something to look forward to, Mr. Conley, Mrs. Telech, Mrs. Stefanick, and Mr. Johnson hit it out of the ballpark. And the rest of the middle school faculty, as always, showed up and jumped right in there to make sure it was a success. They are always up to the challenge.” 

Building a community takes years. Sustaining community once you already have it takes creativity, understanding, and a strong desire to make a difference.

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