By Sarah Leonard (Co-Head of Layout and Design, ‘23)
The new school year has brought many joys and challenges, as we move from isolated learning at home to being immersed again in school and social situations. Though school isn’t completely back to normal, it’s certainly a step up from Zoom classes, and we’ve been able to welcome new community members, both staff and students. Nora Swift, Friends’ Central’s new Biology I and II Adv. teacher and assistant cross country coach, is one of those new additions to the Upper School. After living and teaching in Washington D.C. for seven years, she has moved to Philadelphia to begin anew after the pandemic.
When asked about her transition from remote to in-person learning, Nora described it as “both challenging and absolutely wonderful.” As for remote learning, she lamented the fact that it resulted in such a detachment from others: “I taught virtually all last year and felt so disconnected from my school community, especially my students. My school didn't have a policy about having videos on [over Zoom], so I went the whole year not knowing what some of my students looked like!” However, these hurdles have also helped her to adapt and fixate on the most important aspects of teaching, such as “creating interesting, relevant, and engaging lessons” which her students have certainly appreciated. From going on “food-chain-building” walks to doing hands-on learning in the lab area, these lessons are refreshing after spending the better part of a year and a half on Zoom. Nora also expresses her appreciation for the approachability of people on campus, as well as the safety measures: “I'm also extremely grateful for the FCS community. I have felt incredibly safe returning in person here in a way that I would not at my previous school (as well as welcomed and cared for!). [It] seems counterintuitive, but I feel a lot safer about exposure now that I am living it!” Virtual schooling was hard on us all, and it can sometimes be hard for students to remember that teachers dealt with similar stress as a result of it, so it was relieving to hear that the FCS community has helped Nora in her adjustment.
Nora described the influence her mother had on her choice of study: “I grew up hearing wacky stories from my mother, who also studied biology, from when she worked in the collections at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and they always intrigued me—she and her friends made their work sound like magic.” This fascination grew later in life and was nurtured by others who found the study of life intriguing: “I had an amazing AP Biology teacher in high school. That, plus spending so much time in the outdoors on various adventures, drove me to study biology in college, where I realized that while ecosystems and macrobiology are cool and wonderful, my real passion is for molecular and microbiology: those tiny things you can't see but are wildly complex [are what] make all systems function.” As a teacher, she is able to further those interests, as the biology curriculums span many topics and inspire an interest in the sciences for a new generation. This period in history is also important for anyone interested in the health and safety of the people and ecosystems inhabiting our planet, and the effects of climate change on biodiversity and habitats is something that we have been focusing on in Biology I Adv. class. She wanted to clarify, “I think the main thing is that while there is so much work to do [to combat climate change], I don't want the message to be one of defeat. For climate change in particular there are so many amazing people working towards finding and implementing solutions, and while that work can feel too slow, it's still happening.” This is an incredibly important reminder for many of us, especially from someone so learned in the topic, and much of the news about climate change is so negative. It helps to remind ourselves that there is progress being made, and that our contributions can help as well.
Along with her new teaching role, she says exploring a new city has also been entertaining: “As someone who loves being outside and in the wilderness, I'm a little entertained at myself that I moved to a BIGGER city. It's such a different place than DC and I am loving that. In particular, I've been spending a lot of time on my bike along the river trails and exploring that way—I would highly recommend it! I also have a number of friends from various times in my life that live in the same neighborhood as I do, so that has made my transition really easy, and it's so fun to live mere blocks from folx I haven't seen in a number of years!” Regarding her life outside of school, she commented, “My favorite things to do to unwind and relax are cooking and pottery. A friend of mine and I have joked on and off about starting a catering or food-truck side business, but that would make me not love it anymore because it would turn into another source of stress. I have gotten really creative in the kitchen and LOVE cooking for other people!” Like many of us who are tired of staying at home for so long, Nora communicates her wish to travel in the future: “I really really want to visit East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya particularly) soon! That would be a big trip so we'll see when that happens!” Nora’s positive worldview and ambitious vision for the future is one that we should all consider adapting as our own!