June 25, 2020
Dear Saint Benedict Families,
Today the Diocese has officially announced that all Catholic Schools in the Diocese will be offering in-classroom instruction, 5 days a week, in conjunction with the Phase 3 Guidance, and there is currently no change in the school calendar. We are pleased to have a decision, and I am writing to share more specific information about what this means for Saint Benedict.
With the help of Debbie York, we have been working on our fall health plan. Our re-opening team is hard at work filling in all the necessary details. Our focus as a school right now - and through these critical planning efforts - is to ensure that we can operate our school on-site and at a distance (if specific situations deem necessary) effectively, efficiently, and safely for our community, while fulfilling our mission.
Saint Benedict is blessed with large classrooms, allowing us to accommodate 184 students with 6-foot physical distancing, and we have set our capacity this year at that level. That being said, like all schools in the Diocese, we will be notifying the state of our intent to vary from the phase guidance as it pertains to social distancing and that social distancing in our classrooms may vary between 3 ft and 6 ft. You should understand that this does not require state approval.
In line with Diocesan expectations, we will maximize physical distancing and achieve 6 feet whenever possible. On a practical level, classroom furnishings will be limited to essentials only. We have been instructed to remove things like soft seating and reading corners to maximize physical distance until such time as it is no longer required. While this means removing some of the features and items that make each classroom special, I know our teachers will find new and creative ways to make their classes welcoming.
Physical distancing is just one of a number of strategies to mitigate risk, and is the only strategy for which we are notifying the state that we will be varying.
Like many workplaces, those entering the school building during Phase 3 must undergo a health screening, and entry into the building will be limited. For adults, health screenings will include a temperature check and screening questions. For students, this will include a temperature check and, when local conditions warrant, health questions (we are investigating applications that will allow parents to easily answer screening questions). Whenever possible, these screenings will be done prior to entry into the building. To make the health screening process efficient, the standard method for arrival at school will be the carpool line, and the carpool line will open earlier. Morning Care will still be available, but prior sign-up will be mandatory. After the health screening, students will sanitize their hands and then go directly to the classroom in order to avoid congestion in the stairwells. The day will still begin with morning prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance over the PA system - preserving a school tradition in a new setting.
Adults will be required to wear face coverings when they are not able to maintain a 6 ft. distance or when in communal spaces such as hallways, restrooms, school Masses, etc. Similarly, for students, particularly older students, we will be encouraging the use of face coverings especially when students cannot maintain a 6 ft. distance or when in communal spaces (e.g. middle school students traveling between classes). As a parent of six children and an educator, I know that wearing a face covering all day is not practical, feasible, or conducive to a supportive learning environment. As always, we are partners with you, and we will be respectful of this partnership and be sure to establish clear and reasonable expectations. Age appropriate or medically necessary accommodations can be made.
During the school day, we will primarily keep students in grade cohorts. Elementary students will generally not travel to specials. Middle school students will have a schedule which increases the duration of each period and decreases the number of periods each day. Our goal is to reduce movement through the building and the number of room transitions. We are also working with teachers to provide additional time outdoors either in play or active learning, as appropriate.
Our cleaning contractor has undertaken additional training with their employees, to be sure they are complying with current best practices so that their cleaning is both safe and effective. There will be additional cleaning throughout the day and when students change classrooms.
In addition to the changes at school, we are preparing to support students who are not able to be at school in Phase 3 with distance learning. Parents who think their student will need to stay home during Phase 3, should reach out to Jeff Cronheim, Dean of Students, to begin the Student Accommodation Process. If the region should return to Phase 2, under current guidance, we should be able to continue having grades JK - 3 in the classroom, with grades 4 - 8 remote learning. If the region should return to Phase 1, we will be prepared for the whole school to be in remote learning.
This summer, our faculty is taking the lessons of the spring and learning best practices in distance education to craft a more comprehensive, teacher-supported distance learning experience . The way we engage, educate and serve our students and their families going forward will look different, but we will remain a classical school. As the faculty engages in this work throughout the summer, we will keep you updated on our progress.
Currently, we are working in smaller groups to define what distance learning will look like for our school. Already Elizabeth Hanson has completed a course through the University of Richmond on effective on-line learning and is bringing that knowledge of practice into our planning. Michelle Cisik has started “Designing, Building, and Teaching for Hybrid Learning,” offered through OneSchoolHouse, a leader in independent school online education. The rest of the Middle School faculty will be completing this same training in July. Over the next six-weeks, the lower school faculty will be taking advantage of the Virginia Association of Independent School’s Teachers Summer School array of training, many from national leaders in education.
This Spring, another important lesson that was reinforced for all educators and parents is that the social - emotional needs of our students cannot be underestimated and are a prerequisite to effective learning. Our students will need the support of their families and teachers to help to prepare for the new year, not just learning new procedures, but feeling safe and secure. The teachers will be finding new ways to reach out to our students over the summer to help them in the transition back to school, and in welcoming our new students.
Please know that at the end of the day, our mission remains the same. Our purpose is "to guide our students toward full communion in the Body of Christ. Faithful to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, we participate as an extension of the family and provide a welcoming Christ-centered community that nurtures our children in achieving their God-given potential. Through Classical academics and Catholic formation, we help our students approach learning with joy and virtue, integrating faith and reason, and cherishing the pursuit of wisdom and truth." And while the ways in which we fulfill our mission may change - we will stay focused on this higher calling and do what we each can to continue our mission for the lives God has entrusted to our care.
So, what is next?
You will continue hearing from me on a regular basis as we finalize details for next year. Additionally, next week we will be adding a new section to our website where you can find the most up to date information. We will also be scheduling several town halls to review our plans.
Please enjoy the rest of your summer. We look forward to welcoming our students into the school the week of August 24!
Yours in Christ,
Click Here for the June 25, 2020 letter from the Superintendent of Schools.
June 1, 2020
I am writing to you today as the school year comes to a close, to keep you updated about our planning for next year. First, we want you to know that we are working very hard to plan for any and all contingencies required for us to have in place so that our children and faculty can be back together in the classroom this fall.
Over a month ago we started working in earnest to prepare for potential challenges this fall might present for a school environment. Debbie York, our school nurse, is leading the effort to create a tiered medical and safety plan to establish and refine practices and procedures that are responsive to the level of infection and risk in the greater community (including determining
appropriate health screenings and protective equipment). Lauren Bykowski, the new Director of Extended Day, has been updating our extended day program policies, procedures, and curriculum to help ensure both the quality and consistency of the program, as well as the health and safety of our students and staff. In addition, the administrative team has attended numerous training sessions by experts in the various fields to bring current understandings both to our health and safety procedures, as well as to our teaching practices, content and planning.
Public and private schools, as well as colleges and universities, around the world are grappling with figuring out what the fall will look like. Our challenge, during this time of uncertainty and anxiety, is to make the best data-driven decisions to improve our program and safely educate our students while maximizing in-person learning, which we know is superior. Fortunately, at St. Benedict we are blessed to be a small-school environment that can pivot to whatever the situation demands to continue educating your children with top-notch teachers, content and a curriculum that is dedicated to keeping our children learning, moving and sharing.
Here is how we have been preparing, and will continue to prepare, for the return to campus:
- We have measured all spaces and classrooms in the entire school to ensure our ability to practice social distancing. Over the next month we will work with teachers to reconfigure learning space layouts as well.
- We will be implementing new personal hygiene practices on campus and providing training for all students, faculty, and staff (examples include requiring handwashing and desk/surface cleaning sessions throughout the school day, limiting the number of people in bathrooms, and increasing the cleaning frequency for high-traffic surfaces such as doorknobs, cubbies, lockers, etc.).
- We will be modifying how and where we eat lunch (students may eat in their classrooms or outdoors, weather permitting).
- We will be working over the summer to reconfigure the daily schedule to minimize the number of classroom transitions for students (for example, in grades JK-5 we may have our specials teachers visit the grade classroom, whenever possible, and in grades 6-8, we are looking at various alternatives to decrease the number of classroom transitions including having subject teachers move classrooms instead of students, to considering a block schedule). We are also investigating best practices for modifying how we move through the building and outside as a community. As much as possible, student movement through the building will be coordinated to maintain social distancing and maintain cohorts (grades).
- We will be installing physical partitions/shields in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained (reception desk, sinks in bathrooms) and implementing necessary visitor restrictions.
- We will create a satellite clinic to allow for the isolation of a child or faculty member who presents unique symptoms during the school day, and so we can also safely attend to other student medical needs.
- We will increase school-wide cleaning and disinfectant protocols during the school day, as well as in the evenings.
- We will decrease/eliminate the use of the school building by outside groups. For the foreseeable future, we will not be renting space to outside groups.
Currently, we look forward to starting school on August 25, and we are preparing to return to campus on the first day.
While some factors are out of our control, we will be prepared to provide your children with an outstanding classical, Catholic education in a safe environment. Unless government or diocesan officials restrict us from opening our campus, we will return to in-person teaching and learning, while making health and safety a priority.
We also understand that even when in-person teaching and learning is allowed, there may be some students who, by medical necessity or choice, may need to work from home, and we will work with those individual families accordingly. If we are mandated to temporarily close the campus at any point, we will shift to Distance Learning; however, it will be Distance Learning 2.0, which will include all of the research and feedback we have gained from students, parents, and faculty, as well as lessons learned by faculty this past spring.
As part of our effort to prepare and provide the highest quality teaching this fall, regardless of the setting, teachers will be participating in additional professional development this summer. We are committed to making sure that we are employing the best tools, formats and programs - in and out of the classroom - to ensure the top-notch education our children deserve and our families are investing in. Over the next few weeks we will be finalizing these opportunities, many of which include training with locally and nationally recognized experts.
Last but not least, there will be an important opportunity for our parents, students, and faculty to share feedback with us - gained through this recent experience of distance-learning - through a brief, all-school survey. Your input is extremely valuable to us and will help us continue to refine our plans for the upcoming school year. In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact me.
The entire faculty joins me in wishing your family a relaxing and healthy summer and we look forward to seeing you at our Summer Send Off on June 3rd!
Sean Cruess, Principal