2020-2021 School Year
This year, our community has been and continues to be asked to lean into our R.I.C.E. values in a truly unprecedented way. Our shared responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us, our insistent and compassionate interdependence, our rich creativity and our personal and collective empowerment to rise to the challenges we face have never been more obvious – or more called for - than they are right now. It seems especially fitting, then, that our school focus this year is Empowerment. All of us, our families, faculty and staff, need a deep sense of our own empowerment to face and overcome today’s circumstances in order to become - in the words of our 2020-2021 school theme – Future Ready. For our students, this means empowering both their learning and their mindset. It means fostering introspection and self-knowledge while encouraging profound listening to their own reality and the reality of the world which surrounds them. This year, our hope is to instill and enhance our students’ drive to think critically. Our goal is to empower them to put the skills they learn into positive action. Our belief is that this will make them uniquely Future Ready learners.
All of this we plan to do while dealing with the demands of COVID-19. We know it will not be easy. In fact, it will not even be possible without the shared commitment of every member of our community. To begin this work, we have established a Pandemic Response Task Force, drawing in the extraordinary talents and insights of diverse members of our Ancillae community to share their various valuable perspectives. Over the summer, our Task Force members have generously shared their time and talent with us, helping us to understand the best medical, legal, and practical response to this pandemic. As community members themselves, they have explored with us smart, sensitive ways to implement those responses, and they have done so with an eye toward melding both the health and happiness of our students and families into the unique culture that is Ancillae.
By necessity, our response to COVID-19 must be flexible. CDC recommendations, legal requirements, best practices and even the particular needs of our own Ancillae family can change at any time. That being said, we’ve concluded that our families are best served, not by a series of rules, but by a philosophy, a three-pillared approach intended to guide rather than dictate our decisions throughout this school year: that approach will be mission-driven, community-centered, and data-informed with student health as our compass. Our hope is that anchoring our ongoing decisions in these three intertwined principles will give us the pliability to bend with changing circumstances while offering our students the calming continuity they need and deserve, the steady assurance that, even in the midst of uncertainty, Ancillae is as it always has been.
The pillars of Ancillae’s educational foundation remain academic excellence, differentiated instruction, and collaboration in teaching and learning. Our focus is on educating the whole child. We recognize that that is best done on campus, learning and collaborating together, with teachers and other students. We know our students thrive with interpersonal connections, individualized attention, and experiential learning. Our goal, consistent with recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is to have our students physically on campus, full time beginning on September 1, 2020.
While we cannot promise a welcome back to campus this fall – our decisions can only go as far as government and health department measures allow – our Pandemic Response Task Force is assessing plans to resume traditional, but modified, on-campus learning this fall. Despite the pandemic, we expect to be in a position to offer the excellent academic resources and support your children have received in the past.
Our commitment to educating the whole child, however, goes well beyond their academic experience. We recognize that our students’ social, emotional, psychological and even spiritual needs have been impacted by this pandemic, and we know that those needs, too, are best served by bringing students back to campus. But compromises will need to be made. Campus life will be different when we return. We are considering such options as restructured classrooms and common spaces to limit student and group interaction, limited group gatherings in favor of small cohort interactions, in-classroom lunches and taking advantage of our beautiful outdoor campus as much as possible. Handwashing will certainly be a frequent part of the school day and Pennsylvania has ordered mandatory masks for students over the age of two. These are challenges, to be sure, but we believe they can be met and that they are certainly worth the effort if they make it possible for all of us to safely return to campus.
We, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, recognize the danger that too much emphasis on disease avoidance can, itself, create an unhealthy situation. This is where our mission-driven approach is perhaps most impactful. We uphold and support the whole child. Our teachers will model good health and safety protocols, but we will not reprimand students who occasionally forget to follow them. We will remind our students about the importance of hygiene, but not to the point of centering their day around it. We will encourage social spacing, but never make a child feel bad about his or her entirely human desire to want to be near friends. Our response to this pandemic cannot and will not be perfect, but we aspire for it to be perfectly compassionate.
Our first preference, of course, is that our students join us on campus for the 2020-2021 school year. Be assured, though, that our Pandemic Response Task Force is preparing for any eventuality, including a combination of remote and face-to-face instruction, and a possible resumption of remote learning if the virus flares up again in our area.
Our community-centered approach carries with it two distinct commitments. The first is a commitment to caring for the health and well-being of each of the members of our community, including the most vulnerable. We know that the risk of our students themselves contracting COVID-19 is relatively low. Our Pandemic Response Task Force is considering ways to protect, not just our students, but our students’ families, our faculty, our staff, and our administrators. There will be inconveniences that come with these new procedures, but they are necessary to protect our students, faculty, and staff. Remember that we are a community of more than 675 students and employees. While your child may not be at great risk of contracting the virus, other children and many adults on our campus and in our homes are compromised in ways that require us to consider the ‘common good’ of all when making changes or implementing restrictions.
A community-centered response to the pandemic also necessitates a commitment to open, honest communication, with parents, local health officials, alumni and other stakeholders. We understand that, in order for you to be confident that your child is safe and well-cared-for in these days of COVID-19, you need to be fully informed about what is happening in school. The same is true for us. Our Pandemic Response Task Force is considering various forms of health screening intended to reduce the risk of COVID-19 coming onto our campus. A community-centered response to the pandemic demands that each of us be honest about potential symptoms of and exposures to the disease so that we can best protect one another and the ones we love.
Data-informed, with student health as our compass
Any response to COVID-19 must be extremely data sensitive. Our Pandemic Response Task Force is constantly learning and examining new data to inform our decisions and responses. We are currently using the Pennsylvania Department of Education Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan Template to develop a detailed Health and Safety Plan. Key elements of this plan include:
- facilities cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and ventilation
- safety protocols including social distancing, restricting use of congregate settings, hygiene practices, limiting sharing of materials and interactions among students and staff, restricting non-essential visitors, and posting signage
- monitoring student and staff health, both in terms of at-home symptom screening and responding to in-school illness and return to school after illness or exposure
- professional development
Our Pandemic Response Task Force is in the process of pulling together specific recommendations to address each of these elements. When completed, this plan will be considered and approved by Ancillae’s Board before being posted on our website.
I know I speak for all of us – students and staff and faculty and families – when I say that we want nothing more than to spend the 2020-2021 school year on campus, learning and laughing and, finally, being together. At the same time, I am painfully aware that neither we nor anyone else can promise a COVID free environment. What we offer instead is our promise to hold your child’s best interests – his or her intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs – at the center of everything we do.
Amy Bozzi Lintner '82