Each morning, as the light brightens over the school, and mists rise from the fields, a solitary figure strides into the traffic loop out in front of Bernon Hall. The line of cars that assembles every school day at the entrance has not yet begun. It is quiet, and still. Our figure is always earlier than the first cars, dressed for whatever challenges the weather report might offer. He is ready to keep the dozens of arriving cars moving safely and efficiently as parents drop off their sons for another day of school. That may seem like a simple task to some, but without his presence during this pivotal start to the day, there could easily be chaos.
For Philip Carey Alton, drop off time is ‘business as usual.’ Known to us all as ‘Spider’, a nickname he earned during his childhood when he experienced a noticeable growth spurt one summer at Camp Beckett in the Berkshires. As a video, wood shop, and theatre arts teacher, an advisor and residential faculty member, and Chair of The Arts Department, Spider is a busy man. He has also been the director of dozens of Fessenden plays and musicals.
In the morning, however, directing traffic is Spider’s focus, and safety is his concern. Ensuring that cars follow the expected procedures to keep boys out of harm’s way, and that parents are given clear directions to make that happen has become second nature for him. He has been a reliable presence each morning for many of his more than thirty years at Fessenden.
Of course, each morning is different and offers challenges that must be considered: the second grader with a magnificent replica of The Great Wall of China that has to be extricated from the car and carried into the building without the assistance of his parent can clog traffic flow, as can forgotten sports equipment and backpacks that have been left in the back seat, or the boy who has had a tough morning and needs some emotional support on his way into his classroom. As everyone who has experienced morning drop off knows – cars quickly fill the available Fessenden road space, and the line soon extends out onto Waltham Street and toward West Newton. Spider, along with other helpful administrators and school personnel, works diligently to keep the cars moving. Often assisted by the able members of the Bow Tie Club, a volunteer service group of Upper School students, doors are opened, students are greeted, and boys head off to their classrooms.
A frequent trial faced by Spider is weather. Through the rain and wind of fall and spring, to the icy cold and snow in winter, he is prepared for anything that Mother Nature throws his way. In rainstorms, you might think that The Gloucester Fisherman has landed in the Bernon Hall loop. Spider has the appropriate gear for every climate – furry ear flaps for the below zero days or his preferred garb, short sleeved shirts and Bermuda shorts for the warm days that start and end the school year. On special occasions, you will find him in costume – a pirate, a cowboy, a knight – promoting an upcoming play or event. Like the postman, Spider cannot be prevented from carrying out his appointed task.
The Fessenden experience is special, made up of many small contributions by people just like Spider. Though it would be easy to take them for granted, the dedication of people like Spider, who carry out these important, thankless duties each day, are essential pieces of the rich experience that is Fessenden.