Thoughts on Wearing a Mask This Year

Friday, September 4, 2020

Excerpt taken from an All School Opening Faculty Meeting Talk by Nancy Nebeker, Dean of Students


Good morning to everyone - especially to the newest among us.  We look forward to getting to know you in the coming days.  It is so good to be back - even in this virtual gathering.

I am 100% certain that I never “expected” to be asked to speak about building community while wearing a mask.  But 2020 has thrown the “expected” out the window and here I am sharing some thoughts about wearing a mask at school as we look to the start of this new school year.

Nancy and students
Ms. Nebeker welcoming a student on his first day of the 2020-21 school year. 

While the words I share really amount to a few personal reflections, they are grounded in the reading and study I have done as a member of Waterford’s Covid Response Task Force—which, believe it or not, started convening informally during the first week of our spring break last March.  

I’m not sure when exactly masks became a subject for debate and protest but I was personally relieved in mid-July when the CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield finally gave clarity around the efficacy of wearing a mask.  This is what he said:

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.” 

Waterford is the community I speak of today (knowing that all of us are part of the larger community in this valley and in our own neighborhoods). 

I worried and wondered about what I could say to you today until I realized that the challenge of wearing a mask will be handled in the same way  we have handled all the challenges we have faced over the years.  It will be handled together, with help from each other.

My experience in the last decade or so has shown me that when anyone of us needs help there is an immediate and full response.  

  • If one of us is ill or has an unexpected emergency there is an instant cadre of friends ready and willing to step up in ways that ease our worries.

  • If someone in our community has something to celebrate we cheer them on, toot their horn,  and let them know how much we appreciate their accomplishments.

  • And—when one of us faces a devastating loss—we are there to support them, attend a funeral, send flowers, write a heartfelt note, or just keep checking in to make sure they are cared for.

This is the Waterford I know.  This is the Waterford I love. This is indeed the Waterford Way.  We help each other.  We turn to each other.  We support each other.

So it will be—with wearing a mask, keeping our distance, and all the other health protocols we will be practicing.  Our relationships of trust and our deep connection to each other and this place—will help us find ways to remind and support each other to do all that this year calls us to do—including wearing a mask all day long.

Masking in Class
Students wearing masks as they embark on the Class IX bug project

After all of my many years as a parent and an employee, every day I still consider it a privilege to be associated with the Waterford community.  Wearing a mask this year will be a community building practice—we will wear our masks for each other—in order to stay safe and in order to stay open.

In that regard, our return to campus feels a bit like a grand experiment—Information is plentiful, opinions are rampant and facts and data are evolving, even as I speak.

Our battle against Covid-19 can best be boiled down to what is described as a matter of “collective health”, where wearing a mask is simply the right & smart thing to do. 

That, however, does not make it the easy or natural thing to do.  

I have been on campus much of this summer and I have found that mask wearing is something that gets easier and more natural with practice.  

Each of us needs to be kind but firm and clear with each other about wearing a mask and keeping distance. Brene Brown reminds us that “clear is kind”.  I believe her.  

  • Let us be kind and clear on these points.
  • Let us assume goodwill and mutual respect when we offer a cue or reminder to wear a mask properly or to keep our distance.
  • A tone that is positive and supportive around mask wearing.

All of us need a chance to grow and evolve in these uncharted waters.  And we need to help each other to do so.  In this, our core value of caring can be our north star.

To be back on campus is one thing, to stay back on campus is another.  And I believe if anyone can do this right—it is Waterford, it is us.

Simply put:  Wearing a mask, washing our hands and keeping physically distanced feels like the least we can do for each other.

In the end, masks really aren’t about politics or preference. And masks certainly aren’t about comfort or convenience. Masks are about staying safe, so we can stay open.

So you see, I really do wear my mask for you.  And I am deeply grateful that you wear your mask for me.  

Thanks so much for your time and welcome back to school.


Nancy Nebeker Nancy Nebeker, Dean of Students, is a graduate of Brigham Young University where she received her B.A. in Political Science. She then went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Communication with a focus on Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington D.C. Shortly after finishing her Master’s degree, Nancy moved to Bangkok, Thailand where she and her husband lived for over a decade. While there, Nancy began work at The Early Learning Centre, the leading preschool for expat children in Bangkok. Her work was centered in the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy for preschool children, using a creative, project based curriculum rich in art, music and drama. When Nancy returned to the states, she came to work in Waterford’s PreK-Fours program for a number of years. Nancy stepped away from Waterford for a time when her last two children were born. She then started course work for a second Master’s in Library and Media Education through an online program at Minnesota State University. Nancy returned to Waterford in the Middle and Upper School Library while working on her Master’s degree. Her work with students soon expanded to Senior Class Dean, Middle School Dean in 2012, and finally, Waterford’s Dean of Students in 2018. Nancy and her husband Michael are the parents of six children, four of whom are Waterford graduates. As a family, they have been deeply involved in humanitarian work, most recently working with refugee families resettled to Utah. She served as the faculty advisor for Waterford’s Upper School Community Service Council and has helped lead three Waterford humanitarian trips to Kolkata, India.