Seniors parade down West Paces Ferry on the first day of school, happy to be mask-free. Photo: Fred Assaf

As the Pace Academy community enters a second school year amid a global pandemic, the administration has made several changes to ensure the safety of all while also welcoming back several well-loved traditions. The return of senior tailgates, assembly and regular lunch are among the many traditions that students and faculty alike are happy to see return to the Pace campus. 

For the past 18 months, the administrative team has been working with a team of medical professionals to assess how Pace should tackle the pandemic and keep in-person school open. “I was so hopeful throughout the summer that we wouldn’t have to wear masks and we could do school as usual,” said Head of Upper School Michael Gannon. “Just because I didn’t like what they had to say, doesn’t mean I could ignore it.”

Pace’s ability to stay open for an extended period lies in the cooperation of the students. During the 2020-21 school year, the community’s willingness to stay masked and stay safe heavily contributed to its yearlong success. While students and faculty are returning to normal life and going out on weekends, the administration wants to remind the community to stay smart and take into account everyone’s desire to stay in school.

While masks are required for all students and faculty in the Upper School building, they may be removed when drinking water. Additionally, masks are not required when socializing outside. This rule extends from the Pace campus to Walsh Field and beyond. “Honestly, I’m fine with wearing a mask for eight hours of the day if it means that me and my classmates can enjoy going to football games and stuff like that,” said junior Owen Ross.

Pace prides itself on its community’s high vaccination rates. According to Head of School Fred Assaf, as of August 31, the Middle School leads with an 81% vaccination rate, followed by the Upper School with 73%. Of Pace’s hundreds of faculty members, a whopping 98% are fully vaccinated. These statistics greatly surpass Georgia’s 41%, giving the community hope for the year. Still, the administration hopes to see Pace’s numbers increase as the year progresses.

Mr. Assaf has announced that unvaccinated students will not be allowed to attend any overnight trips including grade retreats, athletic tournaments and Isdell Center for Global Leadership (ICGL) study tours. “It makes me feel much safer knowing that the person I would be sharing a hotel room with or sitting with on a plane is vaccinated,” said junior Emma Beth Neville.

Unlike last year, the administration has no intentions of canceling plans throughout the school year, even if that means students and faculty will have to remain masked. “One thing I have learned in the last 18 months is that the easiest thing to do is just cancel everything,” said Mr. Gannon. “What I’m trying to do is keep everything happening as safely as we possibly can.” 

As we kick off a brand-new school year, students have already had the opportunity to participate in several traditions that were canceled last year. Before school started, the Class of 2025 made the trek up to Camp Skyline to take part in the two-night freshman retreat, which took place on the Lower Fields last year. The senior class happily paraded down West Paces Ferry Rd. on the first day of school and the first football game back at Walsh Field took place on Sept. 3. “I have already had so much fun in the last month,” said senior Taylor Knowlton. “It’s making me really really excited for the rest of the school year.”

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