In this time of many unknowns, we now know that schools in Maryland will not open this school year. We want you to know for certain that St. John’s will be here for you and your child this fall. St John’s is preparing for every eventuality, and just as we moved from on-campus to distance learning with no interruptions, we are preparing now how we will return to campus so that there will be no disruptions to your child’s education.
At our April Board of Trustees’ meeting, the Board discussed the School’s readiness for next year. We have already put together the first phase of planning with a team of administrators that includes both Mr. Stevens and Ms. Bank to ensure a smooth transition in planning and for the campus’s opening next fall. As plans begin to form, faculty and staff, Trustees, and parents will be included in the process.
The process is starting with gathering the best information, and the School has already been working with AIMS, NAIS, and NAES to learn what is being advised by the people with the most knowledge. These organizations have been hosting webinars, some as small as two dozen heads of school and some with over thirteen hundred participants. Webinars are addressing the topics of health, plant and facilities, finances, curriculum, school traditions, and legal questions. Of course, we are also gathering our own information. The CDC and WHO have come out with guidelines for reopening a school building, and we are confident that more local agencies at the state and county level will have recommendations and requirements.
It is our hope and expectation that we will be able to open school in September on campus. We anticipate that there will be some changes to drop-off and pick-up, how all who come into school will be welcomed and health checked, how classrooms will be set up, and changes in other aspects of the day. If we have to go to distance learning at any time, we have learned a great deal this year, and we will continue to investigate, learn, and invest in improving what we have already found to be successful. What will not change is the quality of the faculty and staff, the excellence of the curriculum, and the soul and mission of St. John’s Episcopal School.
Several weeks ago, St. John’s Episcopal School began its preparation for the possibility that we would move to distance education for our students. Teachers were reviewing their curriculum to see how it could be translated into one supported by distance learning, materials were being gathered, and researched on how best distance learning worked with different ages and different areas of the curriculum.
Early in the morning of March 6, the Board of Trustees met to consider the implications of COVID-19 on the school and the school community. At that time, our teachers moved from research and gathering and planning to preparation for the for imminent transition. Six days later, March 13, the campus closed to students, and the faculty came together for a day of work to be able to begin “St. John’s at Home” on Monday March 16. St. John’s made the decision that we wanted to have the greatest continuity for our students in a time of disruption. While it was clear that learning at home was different than being at school, the teachers worked to make the experience to be familiar even if it was not the same. We are incredibly proud of our faculty as they did an amazing job quickly transferring their teaching talent and knowledge from the classroom to distance education. I am also incredibly proud of our students who, with the support of their parents/guardians, have proven themselves amazingly capable of handling the changes in the most positive of ways. Our community has shown its flexibility!
The faculty have seen their classes evolve as they learn more about distance education and as they learn about our children as distance learners. We talked about what was working and how things might be improved, but it is without exception that the faculty feel better and better about what they are doing. Lower School, preschool through fourth grade teachers will be sending daily schedules at least by the night before and many will have sketched out the week for parents. Teachers will let parents know how to turn in the work the students do. Lower School teachers will reach out to parents and students as well to make sure everything is working or find out where the challenges are.
Upper School teachers will be utilizing Google Calendar more thoroughly with more information about what they are doing, links to some of the websites they will use, and files of the materials they are handing out. They will continue to use the calendar to assign homework. Upper School students will continue to turn their work in by putting the file in the proper Google Drive folder for that class. Recordings of classes will be available for students who are absent or for review of the material for a limited time. We realize and truly appreciate that parents all have taken on a much more work and responsibility for their children’s education, from being with them for instruction to making sure that our Upper School student is at the Zoom class in time and properly prepared.
Our Mission remains at the foundation of our decisions and what we do: graduating students of academic excellence, sound in character with an enduring faith. We continue to work on
evolving our distance education, finding more ways to reach out to our students and our families. We continue to focus on character in all our classes. (Perhaps it is more the just luck that February’s Trait for Success is FLEXIBILITY!)
Our teachers in the Lower School and the schedule set up by the Upper School teachers have offered a schedule that should create stability for our students. It is important to set a routine that you can stick with and that will structure the day for the students. Making the schedule, from the beginning of the day to the nighttime routine will benefit everyone. This schedule should be day by day but also week by week, so the future is as predictable as possible. In addition, take the time to set up an appropriate space for the student to do work. It is important that work that the space is free from distractions and a space that is clearly for work.
The day should not be all work. Make sure that there is time for breaks between scheduled work, and make sure there is time for fun. It is especially good if the fun can include more people (distantly) than the student by him or herself because one of the issues we want to be aware of is loneliness, so fun with others (even parents) is a great idea. Make sure to keep lines of communication open with the child and with the school. Check in each morning, during the day, and at the end of day. What worked well, and what caused frustration? What did they do well, and what did they enjoy? Is there something they need some assistance with or something they want to brag about? To no one’s surprise, many children are feeling the stress around them. Avoiding 24/7 news, finding time to exercise (read that as physical play for all our students), being willing to talk about their feelings and fears, and being aware of their state of mind are all critical.
Head of School