After five long months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, King’s Academy finally reopened its doors to students last week ahead of the start of the new school year.
Despite it being one of the hottest days of the year, arriving students were welcomed to campus on the red carpet — a first-day-of-school tradition — surrounded at a safe distance by cheering faculty bearing posters, gift bags for parents and smiling eyes that no face mask could cover.
King’s welcomed 579 new and returning students to school for the 2020-2021 academic year, representing over 29 different countries from all over the world. Upper School students number 504 this year, with 71 percent of them boarders. The Middle School, meanwhile, welcomed 75 students — 35 7th graders and 40 8th graders. King’s teaching faculty number 99, and come from Jordan, the United States and various other countries.
In order to accommodate the international students completing their quarantine, the first four days of Upper School Orientation were conducted online. Each day was structured around a theme drawn from one of the five Guiding Principles: respect, responsibility, integrated life, global citizenship and love of learning.
“The online orientation was very helpful, especially for new students,” said Fanar Al Derzi ’21, a proctor and member of the Student Leadership Council (SLC). “I think they should do it like this every year, even when there’s no COVID-19.”
Middle School Orientation opened with an online parent gathering and information session held on Sunday. Students were welcomed back to campus on Monday for a two-day in-person Orientation, which incorporated workshops on necessary skills and habits like organization, responsibility and kindness.
With school meetings in the auditorium off the cards for the time being, Head of School Peter Nilsson addressed the entire school via Zoom on the first day of classes. Walking around the Academy Building as he spoke, with students and faculty seated in their classrooms for the first period of the day, Nilsson welcomed everyone back and noted how much they had been missed.
“There is something special about the fact that our first gathering upon the return of students to campus, happens not in the auditorium, but in classrooms,” began Nilsson. “Here in these places of learning, we reconvene again, and recommit together to our guiding principles.”
Acknowledging the vulnerability of going back to school during a pandemic, Nilsson said: “My message today about getting started amidst this pandemic is both one of confidence and one of caution and care. Jordan has done extraordinary work containing the virus, but we are also experiencing a surge of cases right now.”
“We cannot control if COVID-19 comes to campus, but we can control what happens if it does,” Nilsson explained. “This is up to all of us. You may be familiar with the term peer pressure. But there’s also a term called positive peer pressure. Positive peer pressure is when friends help friends make good decisions.”
“Wearing your mask is positive peer pressure. When your friends see you do it, they think that they should, too, and that influences them in positive ways. You have the opportunity to be a force for positive peer pressure, to be a leader and set the example for your friends.”
“Thank you for thinking consciously about masks, about distancing, and hygiene,” Nilsson concluded before leading everyone in a cross-campus “cheer” — clapping hands and stomping feet to demonstrate school spirit in a safer way.
While the treasured Madaba Games were not included in this year’s Orientation due to physical distancing requirements, the King’s Office of Student Life (OSL) found ways to unite the community across distance. In addition to the morning cross-campus cheer to mark the start of the new school year, at the close of classes, a community zaghruta celebrated a successful and safe first day.
“It’s weird seeing everyone in masks and social distancing, but it’s the new normal,” noted Al Derzi about the safety measures the school is implementing. “I’m actually really proud of King’s for enforcing these rules so strictly because they are doing it to protect our health, and our family and friends’ health.”