They don’t just learn in the classroom, but through play and social interaction. De la Torre added while there are ways to make online learning robust, it just doesn’t replace the in-person model.
With that in mind, Moorestown Friends School has chosen five-day-a-week, in-person instruction for fall, with classes Monday through Friday. Families also can choose a fully remote option.
“Schools everywhere are being faced with some really heavy decisions, between keeping students safe and maintaining strong programs for children; it’s an enormous responsibility,” de la Torre said.
As school staff considered a reopening plan, they knew they would need a layered approach to make the return safe. Students and faculty will be required to wear a face mask at all times. All students will be provided with a mask and staff are being offered the additional option of a face shield.
MFS will follow the state’s guidelines on social distancing. De la Torre said school staff have been analyzing their classrooms and are intentionally assigning subjects based on classroom size. Desks will be outfitted with plexiglass barriers to provide an additional layer of protection, and every classroom will have wipes and hand sanitizer.
The school is also repurposing some of its larger spaces to maintain 6 feet of distance between students. The dining hall and library will both be utilized for instruction, and students will either eat lunch in their classroom or outside.
Elementary students will follow a cohort model. In the Lower School, students will stay with their classroom teacher and all special-area teachers will come to the classroom rather than have students travel the hallways. Students will follow a staggered recess schedule to ensure students from different classes aren’t mixing outside.
Remote learners in elementary school will link online for “key moments” throughout the day, according to de la Torre. That may mean morning and afternoon circle time or significant social events such as a classroom birthday. But staff felt elementary learners would not benefit from watching a livestream for a full day. For that reason, there exists a team of remote-learning support instructors whose job it will be to work remotely with students one on one or in small groups.
At the Middle and Upper School, students will travel from room to room for instruction but on a much more limited basis than they have in the past. Previously, class periods ran for 42 minutes, but under the new schedule, classes will take place for 85-minute blocks.
Students will still take the same number of courses, with the blocks rotating throughout the weeks. De la Torre said longer blocks will not only reduce the amount of traffic in the hallways, but will also allow instructors to delve deeper into the material than before schools closed.
Middle- and high-school students who pursue the remote option will link to the classroom via webcam. Students will receive the same instruction in real time as their peers in the classroom. They will also have opportunities to link to worship and other activities. De la Torre said MFS is striving to make sure remote students still feel connected to the school.
MFS has also enhanced cleaning protocols. While the school may have only been cleaned at the end of the day before, now high-touch areas will be cleaned throughout the day. Doors and windows will remain open as much as possible, and staff are creating shaded environments outside to give staff opportunities for outdoor instruction.
MFS will survey families in mid-August and ask them to choose an instructional option. Families will have the option to switch between remote and in-person instruction throughout the school year. De la Torre said while students can be easily moved from in-person to remote, it’s more difficult to switch a student from remote to in-person, so the school will provide an opportunity every six weeks for families to switch their learning module.
“We want to empower families to make the best decision,” she added.
De la Torre said families have always been asked to put an enormous amount of trust in their children’s school as they drop their children off each day. Amid COVID-19, MFS staff feel that responsibility now more than ever. For that reason, their goal is to make families feel as safe as they can – whatever option they choose.
“We are in a collective moment in schools where we are facing difficult decisions that are going to impact families in different ways,” de la Torre said.