Above: Rocky Hill Country Day School on the first day of the 2020-21 school year.
With no sign of the coronavirus going away any time soon, schools across the state and the nation have been asking themselves the same question about reopening: How do we do this safely?
The EG public schools will reopen Sept. 14, with a staggered approach for all students into October, by which time it is hoped K-5 students will go in-person five days a week and 6-12 students will continue to do a hybrid approach (read more about that HERE). The public schools are following the state Dept. of Education calendar; like the public schools, private schools have to follow Dept. of Health guidelines but they have had more freedom to decide when to open. We checked in with three private schools in the 02818 area – Our Lady of Mercy School (OLM), Rocky Hill Country Day School, and Barbara M. Tufts Cooperative Preschool – to see how they are handling COVID-19.
From Aug. 31 to Sept. 4, OLM conducted small, in-person orientations; it opened to full in-person Tuesday.
“We have taken extensive measures to protect the health of our students and teachers in the building,” Patrick McNabb, the principal of OLM, said.
To enter school each day, both the students and staff will have to complete a symptoms checklist, and will have their temperatures checked. As for the school day itself, OLM has revised the arrival and dismissal procedures and rearranged the classrooms to facilitate social distancing. To keep constant air flow, each classroom contains a HEPA air purifier along with natural ventilation. However, classes can also use a designated outdoor area on campus to learn or eat lunch. Students will also have access to their own Chromebook and will have non-contact toilets and sinks in the bathrooms.
“Our parish leadership, maintenance staff, teachers, and families have all worked tremendously hard to help us prepare for re-opening, and we are excited to welcome our students back to campus,” McNabb said. “We are so looking forward to seeing our students back in our school- healthy, happy, and learning.”
Rocky Hill Country Day School welcomed students back to campus Sept. 1, with a full, in-person plan for Pre-K through 8th grade students and a hybrid plan for high school students. Freshman and sophomores come to school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while juniors and seniors come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On days where students don’t come to school, they are engaging in distance learning. Martha Cunningham, the chief operating officer of Rocky Hill, explained why a hybrid plan was the best option for Rocky Hill:
“Our student population size [of 300] gives us a lot of flexibility and we are able to leverage all 84 acres [of our campus]… We are really trying to use the environment around us,” she said.
The school has been utilizing their large campus to conduct outdoor classes under distanced tents on days when the weather permits. Each class consists of a small stable group of up to 15 students. Additionally, Rocky Hill’s environment consists of a waterfront and salt marsh, allowing students in science classes to study their outdoor surroundings. For Rocky Hill, this is not a big change at all; “thinking outside” is a core aspect of their belief system.
The Co-op Preschool has also embraced this “thinking outside” mindset when planning their reopening for Sept. 14. While incorporating outdoor learning as often as possible, the Coop plans to keep their class structure and curriculum the same. With parents not being able to come in and volunteer anymore, the Coop has scaled their program down, only running 2 classes a day and having small stable groups of kids in each class. Each class will have a designated bathroom, and all the tables, toys, manipulatives, and playground equipment will be routinely cleaned. Kids will also be screened for symptoms before entering and will be directed to an isolation room if feeling sick. Despite these changes, the Coop is still trying to maintain the “same nurturing environment” for the kids.
“We are doing the best we can under the circumstances,” Lisa Wesson, the director of the Coop, said. “We are just so happy to open back up and be there for the children.”
Here’s to hoping for a healthy, happy, and safe school year for all students!
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