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Grier School endures ‘roller coaster’ amid virus

Sixteen students remain on school’s campus

Courtesy photo / Grier School students partake in Easter egg dyeing at the school. A dozen or so students remain at the school’s Tyrone campus, and keep busy by practicing musical instruments, participating in yoga classes and exercising the school’s horses to keep them in shape. The school’s academic year ended Friday, and plans are in motion to hold a virtual ceremony for the 67 seniors graduating this year.

Grier School officials and students ended the academic year Friday, and plans are underway to give the 67 seniors a digital sendoff imbued with its 167-years of tradition and an invitation to return next Memorial Day weekend for an in-person salute.

While specifics are being kept as a surprise for the students and families, Gina Borst, head of school, said officials and faculty have been holding classes remotely and keeping students who remained on campus safe, fed, educated and entertained.

Of the 300 students, 44 are day students who travel from throughout the region while the majority come from across the United States and more than a dozen countries.

When it was announced that schools would remain closed through the end of the school year, 84 students remained on campus, but that number dwindled to 16 recently as the school worked to arrange charter and government-sponsored flights home.

“It’s been a roller coaster. Flights would be scheduled and then canceled and rescheduled only to be canceled again. Students have had four and five flights canceled. It’s been a harrowing experience none of us could have planned for,” Borst said. The number of students steadily declined as the pandemic continued and the last students are expected to be home by June 10.

On May 29, Senior Yixuan “Lavender” Wang is expected to board a flight back to Wuhan, China. “Fortunately, none of my family nor my friends got infected by the virus, but I do know some of my friends’ relatives had been sickened by it. … At the end of January, when the government first announced COVID-19 as a serious issue and it can be contagious, I definitely felt worried and anxious about my family. … I called my parents every day to ensure they are safe and to cheer them up during that time,” she said in an email.

Her anxiety has changed to relief as the area has loosened restrictions. She has been inspired by frontline medical workers and volunteers who made deliveries.

“While the city was in complete lockdown, no one could go out to even purchase supplies, so many people volunteer to transport daily essentials to each neighborhood, and my mom was one of them,” she said.

Lavender is disappointed she missed the junior/senior prom and the activities on graduation weekend, especially the traditional candlelighting ceremony.

Senior Lindsay Shaw has served as a “little sister” in previous candlelighting ceremonies, according to her mother, Julie.

“During the ceremony, a senior sings to the little sister and then the little sister sings back to them,” Lindsay explained in a recent phone interview.

“It’s my favorite part. It represents the senior passing down to the little sister all the traditions of Grier. It’s about our unity and is very symbolic and pretty,” Lindsay said.

It’s also hard on parents, said Julie Shaw, as she and her husband, Kevin Shaw, have been very involved at Grier for about five years. Lindsay started riding with the Grier equestrian team when she was in eighth grade and is nationally recognized for her equestrian skills.

“It is so incredibly hard for her and for us,” Julie said, emotion cracking her voice as the tears came.

“I miss all my classmates and underclassmen,” Lindsay said. “We connect over social media, but it’s hard. Most of my friends live across the world, and I live in Delaware — no one lives in Delaware.”

Once restrictions are lifted, Lindsay said she hopes to get together with classmates who live within a day’s driving distance.

“One of my friends is from Mexico, and they have invited me to go there when all this is over,” she said.

Borst praised her staff for keeping classes running, horses exercised and the remaining students healthy.

“We have really shut ourselves off to the outside world,” Borst said. “We haven’t even had anyone get a cold.”

The school has been very fortunate, also, because none of the students’ families became sickened or died during the pandemic.

Once students return to their home countries, they have to isolate for two to four weeks.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see the students in isolation and trying to stay up to date on their education. They’re home but not with their families yet as they go through a quarantine,” she said.

Plans for next school year remain uncertain, Borst said. Students usually return in mid-August.

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