SCHOOL CULTURE & CLIMATE
While DSHA offers rigorous, college-prep academics, DSHA is much more than its classes, teachers, and homework. While academic excellence is certainly an essential pillar of DSHA, DSHA is an overall experience that focuses on the whole person. It is an experience that prioritizes faith formation opportunities, mental and physical health and well-being, co-curricular involvement, expression in the fine arts, and teamwork on the court or field in athletics. Students get the most out of this unique all-girls education when they are able to connect and bond with their classmates within these shared experiences.
In order for students to experience sisterhood as it was meant to be, a “fun day” was created for each class in the spring during one of the virtual Wednesdays that were already built into the hybrid school schedule. These fun days were created as an opportunity for classes to come together as one Dasher class—with the Catholic, Salvatorian faith at the forefront— to get to know one another without textbooks and schoolwork in front of them. Each fun day started with prayer and included an intentional focus on fellowship with one another.
In a school year without COVID-19 restrictions, the whole school often gathers together in one room for pep rallies and assemblies, complete with cheering and laughter. “DSHA is an academically-rigorous school, but you can still have fun within that setting,” said Principal Dan Quesnell. “Somewhere within the separation and isolation, some students seemed to forget that.”
Due to COVID-19, the entire class of 2024 had never been in the same room. They had been separated into two groups: the red cohort and the gold cohort in the hybrid model during classes, and even when most students returned to the building, they ate lunch in homerooms, socializing with only a handful of their classmates. During the fun days, the red and gold cohorts were together, and the boundaries of homerooms no longer made a difference.
When the freshmen arrived on May 5 for their fun day, they prayed together and were then put into
small groups with other freshmen girls they may have never met before. Considering Dashers come from 110 middle schools in 70 zip codes, these small groups were vital to creating classmate connections. Students were tasked with a scavenger hunt around the school building, a building they had only been in for a few months due to COVID-19 restrictions, which excluded the ability to explore the building as they might have in a typical year. While this was a class favorite activity of the day, the outdoor kickball game was a highlight as well. There is no question why these were the freshmen’s favorite activities: it involved teamwork in a world where being together was missed.
“I learned the lesson of working together,” said Kennedy Holmes, DSHA ’24. “During the scavenger hunt, we all had different opinions in the beginning. As soon as we thought as a team, we started finding clues and became much more successful. Kickball also brought everyone together to work as a team.”
It is apparent that the girls enjoyed the fun day in the way the school had hoped: it allowed them to relax, pray, and have fun together doing activities they normally wouldn’t do around school, serving as a catalyst to become one body and one sisterhood in Christ.
“We were able to spend more time together doing fun things instead of taking notes in class. We were able to get to know the real likes and dislikes of people,” said Audrey Peterson, DSHA ’24. Bonding went beyond common classes or co-curriculars, because “when we step away from academics, it gives everyone a chance to be themselves,” Holmes pointed out. All it takes is stepping out of your comfort zone, and finding similarities in new faces.
Ava Kharitou, DSHA ’24, noticed a new energy the last couple of weeks of school after the class’ fun day. “It was noticeably easier to reach out to my classmates in the halls after spending the day with them,” she said. “Instead of viewing each other as solely classmates, I saw (my classmates) as friends.”
“When you take the time to get to know your sisters outside of school, we can come back feeling closer than we were before,” Genevieve Baynes, DSHA ’24, said.
In between helping with tasks, Brigitte Hyler Richerson, mother of Shaterra Richerson, DSHA ’22, watched as the girls played board games with one another on junior fun day April 21. She heard her introverted daughter laugh—loudly.
“She was playing a game with girls she doesn’t hang out with much,” Hyler Richerson said. “She was making friends. It felt really good to hear her cracking up. It touched me as a parent.”
Hyler Richerson is one of 40+ parents who felt compelled and excited to plan a fun day for her daughter’s class. Parents put in hours of work to make these days happen. Hyler Richerson said her daughter, along with the rest of the student body, were “resilient during hybrid and virtual learning” and the day gave them a chance to “decompress, just be kids, and have fun.”
It turned out Hyler Richerson created some community, too. She was able to meet and establish a bond with other mothers she may not have met otherwise — all who rose to the challenge of creating a unique day for their daughters. She described it as “a sisterhood amongst the moms.”
Sisterhood is important to Hyler Richerson, and it was imperative for her that the girls had “sister time” with each other during the fun day.
“All sisters are different, but they’re still sisters,” she said. “You may have a sister who has a different personality than you, or a sister you don’t connect with all that often, but they’re still your sister. The girls were able to see that, deepen their bond with one another, and reflect on what makes DSHA special, despite all the hard stuff this year.”
These fun days are not the end of DSHA seeking to foster relationships amongst its students. “This year we tried to make up for what was lost,” said Quesnell. “In the 2021-22 school year, we are going to continue to be intentional in sending the message that social connection is important and foster that in our students. The mental, social, and emotional health of our students impacts all other areas of their DSHA experience.”
The heart of the fun days was about coming together as a Catholic sisterhood, and working toward a community where each girl feels an authentic sense of belonging; where each girl feels known and appreciated by her classmates, comfortable to be herself, and to use her voice and unique gifts in her Dasher community.Freshman Fun Day May 5:
Sophomore Fun Day May 12:
- Prayer Service
- Scavenger Hunt
- Speed Friending
- Reflection Time
- Outdoor Activities
- Designing Tiles for
- Collective Mosaic
- Comedy Sportz
Junior Fun Day April 21:
- Reunited Bingo
- Scavenger Hunt
- Pep Rally
- Crafts for Service
- Sophomore Fling
Senior Fun Day April 28:
- Prayer Service
- Scavenger Hunt
- Urban Line Dancing
- Alumnae Panel