A transcript from the video above is located below:
Hello, Providence Academy families. I hope you are enjoying a beautiful summer. We certainly are here at PA. It’s a joy to have children in the halls and on the grounds for summer programs. And it’s great preparation for welcoming students back in the fall.
Last Monday I said that today I’d share some basics of our working plan for being together in school five days a week–and that naturally the working plan will continue to develop throughout the summer.
Our plan is to be open to all students Pre-K through 12th grade, five days a week. We have a lot of space for working out details of social distancing, and a lot of creativity. Bottom line: as I said last Monday, being in school together is essential. It was reassuring last Thursday to have the American Academy of Pediatrics say essentially the same thing: “the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The AAP points out that the very health of children is at stake—physical, mental, emotional. I would add spiritual health also.
So important is the new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, an association of 67,000 pediatricians, that I want to share more:
“SARS-CoV-2 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents than other common respiratory viruses, such as influenza, on which much of the current guidance regarding school closures is based. Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.”
So confident are we in the wisdom of being together here in the fall, and our ability to achieve it, that we will make the following promise: If a government mandate forbids us to open as we plan on September 2nd, and if you think a different school is preferable to what PA would offer in this unlikely scenario, we will offer a full refund of your tuition. This is important to say now that tuition payments are coming due in July. We have rehired our heroic faculty, and they in partnership with the staff are eager to serve your family again. They deserve confident support from all of us.
Let’s show you a bit of what school will look like this fall.
Here’s a typical lower school classroom. You will notice that student desks and chairs are farther apart than usual. Social distancing will play a key role in our strategy. All lower school class sections will meet daily in their own classrooms, as usual. The classrooms will change little, apart from our need to use most of the space for seating, whereas we typically have more flexibility in the use of space. Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, given their larger sizes, will likely continue to have more flexibility in space usage.
Middle and Upper School classes will meet as usual as well, but with some additional modifications. Class meetings of more than 22 students may be relocated to available larger spaces to accommodate numbers with social distancing. We may also use our SimulClassroom technology to create real-time on-site access to classes of more than 22, on a rotating basis. Our fundamental commitment to being on-site every day for every student necessitates flexibility and creativity, and we will deliver.
I mentioned SimulClassroom, which will be a part of our new environment. As I previewed in May, we are outfitting each classroom PreK through 12 with new video and audio webcasting technologies. In addition to our in-house use, the technologies will be employed this way: if and when children are sick, or if there are temporary COVID-19 vulnerabilities in a household, we want to give students the ability to attend live classroom sessions remotely. We will be working out policy specifics for student use of these technologies before school starts.
Let’s now give you a sense of what lunch may look like.
We plan to have lunch in the Great Room, as have a generation of PA students. This space is central to our lived experience, and is a point of solidarity among everyone in this community. And solidarity in a time of physical separation, as well as of disheartening societal divisions, will be especially important. Students will be socially distanced. We can accommodate up to 120 at a time on our lovely carpeted area, and will use space behind the columns and on the stage as well. We are working with Taher Food Service and Mr. Marshall Morris on plans for any adaptations in lunch service and offerings that may be needed. Our youngest children may find it convenient to have lunch served in classrooms; this is a modification under consideration.
Providence will be equipping classrooms and halls with hand sanitizer, and classrooms with treatments for desks and chairs. We are reviewing possibilities for altering Middle and Upper School passing times, establishing unidirectional traffic flow in hallways, staggering locker placements or access times, etc. There will be changes in how phy ed classes are conducted, due to social distancing. Our gym and outdoor spaces are, though, more than adequate for conducting physical ed in the changed environment. Similar can be said about fine and performing arts. Preparing for these procedural changes is part of the ongoing development of the working plan I mentioned—and all schools are in similar situations of ongoing planning in an environment of some uncertainty.
Interscholastic athletics are being vigorously prepared for, with many students and coaches doing summer activities. Of course, PA cannot act alone in deciding about fall sports. We are in constant and hopeful touch with the high school league and our conferences about what activities will look like in the fall. I invite everyone to join us in praying and hoping for best-case scenarios.
At this time, we do not anticipate requiring face coverings or shields in PA classrooms—no such directive has come from public health authorities. Our current sense is not to require but to recommend the use of these, especially for students or employees with particular vulnerabilities themselves or in their homes. Again, though, this position may need to develop given what may be learned from epidemiology and public health directives.
As I share these thoughts and plans with you, I realize how much patience is required of all of us. Did we ever expect to have to consider, at a micro level, every aspect of being together as a community? Yet the news from PA today is simply good news: we plan to be together with your family here, on site, every day.
Providence Academy is always about a partnership with parents. This is true now more than ever. This new year presents us all a unique opportunity make a big difference in our children’s lives. Thank you for your patience and partnership. Be assured I will be back with you as plans further develop toward that blessed moment when we are right here, together, where we belong.
Thank you. And God bless you.