Hey, folks—it’s been a minute! But never fear, The New Century School is ready to welcome you back to school, and Immersed is here to tell you how! (We’ll spare you the litany of pandemic grievances so we can get right to the good stuff!)
We all know that things will look a little different on September 1, 2020—in fact, Head of School Shara Khon Duncan describes it as “a school year like never before.” This post is your guide to how TNCS will safely open, what the physical campus will look like and how instruction has evolved.
But first, a word from Sra. Duncan on education in general. Amidst all the upheaval we’ve weathered and in spite of what may yet come, she sees the silver lining and offers an incredibly uplifting perspective:
Over the last weeks, I’ve shared with teachers some tools they can use to step back and reflect on how they’re teaching so that they don’t do it the same way they always have. This is an opportunity for us in some ways—an opportunity for all teachers everywhere to look at their teaching and see it differently and make improvements. I think it’s a great time for educators. It will force us to look at how we’re delivering our instruction. We can’t keep doing things the same old way.
Although TNCS remained open in various capacities (as a childcare site for essential personnel and for limited summer camp) since the pandemic shutdown last March, gearing up for the imminent school year has brought a host of new challenges, and TNCS admin, staff, and faculty have been hard at work all summer to meet those challenges with creative, innovative solutions.
As stated on the new Reopening page on the TNCS website: “As we work through the complex questions surrounding potential scenarios for reopening, we are relying on guidance and recommendations from recognized experts and authorities in the field of public health. Our mission, philosophy, and core values also help guide us in our preparations.”
TNCS families were also asked to participate in a community Compact. As Sra. Duncan wrote recently in a letter to TNCS families, “TNCS has remained committed to keeping true to who we are as a school and community while focusing on mitigating the risks that will help keep our community safe. . . we are confident that if we, as a community, work together and support each other, we will be able to provide our students with a safe, engaging, and enriching experience.”
TNCS Wellness Team
A taskforce called the “TNCS Wellness Team” was established in the spring and comprises an epidemiologist and other clinicians. This team of medical professionals ensures that TNCS has the most up-to-date information available from local health departments and the MSDE Office of Child Care to execute safe reopening.
Keeping the TNCS community safe involves a variety of measures that range from enhanced cleaning to adopting new on-campus practices and protocols to offering a hybrid approach to education. During the week leading up to reopening, teachers and staff returned to TNCS (both in person and virtually) not only for annual professional development but also for intensive training on the new policies and protocols.
Health and safety policies are enhanced and enforced in order to protect the TNCS community. Cleaning practices at TNCS follow the CDC COVID-19 Environmental Cleaning Disinfection protocol established during the operation of the EPCC and summer camps.
- The buildings are closed to parents and nonessential staff.
- Movement of students and teaching staff is restricted to predefined indoor zones.
- Social distancing will be practiced as much as possible; no interaction between classes will take place including at lunchtime and recess.
- Outdoor space will be used to its fullest potential.
- Classrooms are well ventilated using our HVAC systems in conjunction with open windows and fans.
- Classroom spaces in all divisions and in both buildings have undergone adaptations and reconfigurations as shown.
- All students are encouraged to wear masks provided by their families (TNCS Wellness Team recommends reminding your child at drop-off to put their mask on).
- Students ages 2–4 years will be asked to remove them if they are handling the masks too much.
- Older students (ages 5+) are expected to wear masks while in the building.
- All adults wear masks when inside the building or if they are outside in close proximity to others.
Drop Off & Pick Up
- Families should allow extra time for drop off and pick up.
- Both drivers and walkers must drop off and pick up outside, in dedicated cohort zones, as outlined in procedures sent via Blackbaud as well as in this presentation.
- Drivers must remain inside their vehicles at all times.
Temperature Checks & Health Screening
- On arrival, staff and student temperatures will be taken and must be below 100.4ºF to attend school; screening questions will also be asked before staff and students can enter the building.
- Children and staff will be sent home if they exhibit signs of respiratory infection, fever, acute onset of cough, sore throat, or new shortness of breath.
Implementing these measures will mitigate the risks that are within TNCS’s control. So that’s what the physical aspects of the 2020–2021 school year will look like, at least to start, but what about the education itself?
Adapting to Changes
This year, TNCS will have two Kindergarten classes, two 1st/2nd-grade classes, a 3rd/4th-grade class, a 5th-grade class, and a middle school class (6th–8th grades). The pandemic brought changes not just to class configurations but also to staffing, and TNCS is pleased to welcome some new faces (stay tuned for more on that).
Agility during this school year will be vital. The best laid plans for remaining on campus will depend on the circumstances of the city, state, and world, recommendations from health and government entities, and what is best for the overall health and safety of the TNCS community. “I know parents are nervous; we’re nervous too,” said Sra. Duncan. “But that means we care about getting this as as right as possible, and we try to think of different angles. We’re constantly questioning, making sure we’re thinking of all the pieces.” She explains that it’s a bit of a trial-and-error process, and that adjustments may have to be made as we go. “We haven’t done this before, and we just don’t know what it’s going to look like yet.”
One of the most difficult things that parents need to prepare for is establishing a backup plan for childcare in the event that the physical campus cannot stay open. Another aspect that Sra. Duncan stresses is the importance of multi-directional communication: “Students are going to have to be self-advocates. They’re going to have to speak up in class. Parents will need to communicate directly with teachers; it’s really important that they do that. We will also still have the weekly communication through Blackbaud.”
Perhaps most important of all? TNCS students will be the beneficiaries of all the planning, thought, and hard work that has gone into making the 2020–2021 count.
Adopting the Hybrid Model
With the overarching goal of continuing to deliver a high-quality and rigorous academic curriculum, TNCS faculty and admin have made smart modifications to educational programming. These curricular adjustments were made alongside a dual focus on the social and emotional well being of all students, staff, and families.
The hybrid model of instruction ensures that students receive instruction while continuing to be a part of their classroom and school community. Families elected to send their student to campus full time, participate virtually full time, or alternate on-campus and virtual weeks.
“The teachers have been working hard all week,” said Sra. Duncan. “We’ve been doing our virtual meetings, we’ve gone through protocols, and we’ve looked at how we can deliver lessons more effectively across the various ways that students are going to be taking classes.” She says they also focused on how to make classes feel engaging and to make sure students at home do not feel isolated. “We want on-campus and virtual classes to feel like one class.”
Independence is another key area. “We want students to learn how to take charge of their education, which is really important. We want to foster a sense of student agency and having some more choice in their learning because that will help with their motivation, especially in an environment where they’re virtual.”
“We’ve got to reach kids and break things down in a new way,” said Sra. Duncan. “When you teach new things, it gives you a chance to break down and figure out how you’re going to deliver that instruction. It helps you to have a new perspective on things, which I think is good.” She explains that faculty and admin analyzed curricula over the summer to make sure everything that is most important for each subject is getting covered. “We’re revamping so we can help TNCS students reach all the benchmarks for each grade and know that they are getting exactly what they need.”
Should transitioning to an all-virtual model become necessary, technology cannot be a barrier that inhibits students’ ability to learn. So, TNCS has optimized programs so that a smooth transition is possible. “We identified the foundational technology skills that students need to know in order to function in a digital environment, and the teachers will spend time on those skills in the beginning of the school year. Whether students are fully virtual from the start or the ones in school have to move to fully virtual, they’ll know how to do the things they need to do,” explained Sra. Duncan. “All of these things will take some time, but we’ll get it done. We’ll make it through!”
She also wants parents to understand that it’s okay to let your student work to figure things out. “I know that’s hard, but it’s something they have to learn and that they learn by doing. We don’t want them on the point of breakdown, but at the same time it’s okay for them to struggle a bit. It’s a balance of knowing when to step in and when not to.”
Here again, communication with the teacher is important. “We’re trying to make sure that directions are very clear and that they truly help students navigate in the digital environment. It’s okay if they don’t get it the first time. They’ll learn by doing. Of course, we don’t expect preschoolers to do this; that’s a different story. But we want our K through 8s to have that independence.”
Here We Go!
“We’ll get through this,” said Sra. Duncan. “We just have to keep working together and just be prepared as much as we can. It’s like trying to pack for a trip but you don’t know where you’re going. Do we pack for the cold or the rain or the beach? We don’t know, so we have to pack for everything all at once, so we’re prepared.”