Reopening Updates

Return to Campus Update from Scott Young

Dear Park Community,

I want to begin by thanking all our families whose patience and partnership through recent weeks and months has made it possible for us to work deliberately and thoughtfully on Park’s reopening plan. We are thrilled to welcome students to campus in September, knowing that even if the Park experience looks and feels different this year, Park is still Park. In many ways, Park has never been stronger – resilience builds strength.

As you know, our planning for reopening is grounded in guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Center for Disease Control, and The Massachusetts Department of Public Health in partnership with our four guiding priorities:

  • Preserving the health and safety of our whole community

  • Supporting community connectivity

  • Affirming our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism

  • Delivering Park’s mission through our excellent and innovative academic program

Each of these four priorities is essential, and yet we recognize that we can only accomplish the second and fourth of these if we can secure the first and the third. I am grateful for the dedicated efforts of members of the Park team who have brought us to a place where I am pleased to say we can safely reopen campus and welcome students back into classrooms. 

This summer, we have invested in building improvements to protect safety on campus. Significant focus has been placed on our heating and cooling systems. We have upgraded HVAC filters and contracted with a mechanical contractor to optimize and monitor our heating and cooling systems around the clock. We have also expanded our cleaning team to ensure high-touch areas are cleaned multiple times per day.

With many new systems, pathways, and protocols in place to protect safety on campus, we know that we can also prioritize community connectivity: our students learn best in the company of their teachers and peers, and we so look forward to being together. 

OUR PLAN: REOPENING WITH A HYBRID PROGRAM

When the summer began, we focused our efforts on making a full return to campus for all students. As the summer unfolded, and we defined what is required to prioritize the health and safety of our community, we have come to understand that a full return at the start of the year is not possible. 

As you will see in this communication and as you have heard in previous communications, Park’s cluster system, partnered with mask wearing, physical distancing, and proper hygiene, is the foundation of our health and safety system, and it places real constraints on how we use space and time, and how we build our schedule. Based on our research, judgment, and the inherent constraints that preserve health and safety, we have decided to reopen The Park School with a hybrid schedule.

Anticipating all the possible paths this reopening could take, Park faculty have worked hard through the spring and summer to develop the remote teaching experience, both through the learning and reflection of the spring, and through the deep and extensive training teachers at all grade levels have done over the summer. The remote components of our hybrid model will be built on a largely synchronous teaching schedule, and we are committed to fully maintaining our robust program, whether on campus or remote.

PreK – Grade 5 Plan: Four Days on Campus/All Remote Wednesdays

Community safety depends on our successful commitment to maintaining the integrity of our grade level clusters. While we can confidently contain our PreK through Grade 5 students within their clusters and superclusters without meaningful loss to the program, we believe the challenge of operating in a fully masked, socially distanced way for five consecutive school days is too much for younger students to manage. Teaching remotely on Wednesdays also allows the School to thoroughly clean the facilities, purposefully evaluate the state of health and safety in the School and surrounding community, and give students and teachers a break from the restraints that are inherent while operating in the COVID context.

On Wednesdays, students and teachers will follow a synchronous schedule focused on core curricular content areas and providing space for social-emotional learning and connection. In other words, students will be actively guided by teachers and fully participating with peers throughout the remote Wednesday with the freedom to work without worrying about masks and physical distancing--a break we believe is essential to our students’ well-being.

Grades 6 – 8: Two Days on Campus/Three Days off Campus

While PreK through Grade 5 classes are built on a tight homeroom model that naturally supports the integrity of our cluster system, the schedules followed by students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 do not. In determining what schedule we can support for Grades 6 through 8, we are doing as much as we can on campus while prioritizing health and safety and cluster integrity. The Upper Division experience focused on specific content areas relies on movement around campus and cross-cluster teaching. Unlike the tight knit structure of the Lower Division, the Upper Division requires students to be taught by multiple teachers across the full array of disciplines. 

In the hybrid model, half the students in each grade, Grade 6 – Grade 8, will learn on campus two days a week — either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday — and remotely the other three days. Because only half the students in each grade will be on campus at a time, those students who are on campus will have the ability to move around the building more safely and teachers will be exposed to fewer students on a per day basis. Additionally, critical programs such as World Language, advisory, Growth Education, and student clubs and other activities, which require teacher and student mixing, can happen remotely in the hybrid model.

Students will be assigned an AB schedule (on campus Monday, Tuesday) or a CD schedule (on campus Thursday, Friday). Students and teachers will follow the same synchronous schedule when they are off campus that they would have followed on campus. 

All Remote Wednesdays

With all students and teachers PreK–8 remote on Wednesdays, our Facilities Team will be able to thoroughly clean the building, while Park leadership reviews community health data and evaluates safety measures on campus. In addition, the Wednesday remote schedule will allow teachers and students to keep their remote teaching and learning tool kits sharp, preparing them for the possible need to return to an all-remote program in the future.

Why Two Different Hybrid Models?

We understand that schools are making different choices in their return to school plans — some fully on campus, some fully remote, and others in a hybrid format — and each school must do what best supports its own program, circumstances, and community priorities. Our program, our size, our circumstances, and our judgement have led us to this model, which best serves our multiple priorities.

Our reasoning is built on thoughtful consideration of the way learning happens at every grade level, and the challenges this presents to cluster integrity. Cluster integrity at Park is defined by maintaining the highest level of isolation possible by limiting crossover of students and teachers. Some crossover of teachers is required to support academic program; however, keeping students as isolated as possible is critical. We can teach PreK through Grade 5 on campus four days a week while maintaining cluster integrity. The programmatic needs of Grades 6 - Grade 8 fully on campus threaten the integrity of the clusters system, and therefore, threaten health and safety for our students and faculty. Hybrid is our best and safest approach.

Additional details on the cluster system and how it works at various grade levels can be found HERE.

Hybrid Program Benefits PreK–Grade 5

By coming together on campus four days a week, these students can participate in every aspect of the Park program. Their primary classroom teacher will lead humanities and math in the classroom. Each cluster will have an assistant teacher and a PE teacher specifically focused on their supercluster. Science, music, and art will all take place within their clusters as well, with teachers joining the class remotely, and a special library plan is in the works to support extra reading, discovery, and exploration. This structure will allow students to experience the energy and camaraderie of learning with peers in a classroom rather than alone on a screen even if sometimes that teacher is teaching remotely.

In addition to PE with their peers, students will have recess together, and multiple opportunities for socially distanced mask breaks through the day. Coupled with the All-Remote Wednesday plan, which will provide PreK - Grade 5 students with a welcome break from the restrictions of physical distancing and masks, we believe this schedule strikes an effective, age-appropriate balance between in-person and remote learning. 

Additional details about PreK - Grade 5 schedules can be found HERE.

Hybrid Program Benefits Grades 6 – 8

The move to the hybrid plan for Grades 6 – Grade 8, though designed to protect cluster integrity, yields other benefits as well, allowing Park to sustain the expansive learning opportunities in which our older students thrive and grow beyond their core academic subjects. Critical pieces of our academic program and our whole-child approach cannot happen on campus without mixing students and teachers across clusters and superclusters. They include:

  • World Language study, an essential academic program that is also the foundation of our transformative international travel program in Grade 8. 

  • Advisory, the program that ensures that Upper Division students are most effectively supported by a singular adult who is aware of every aspect of their advisees’ experience. 

  • Growth Education, a cornerstone of the Upper Division experience which provides important guidance on topics such as bullying, healthy relationships, boundaries, conflict resolution, and sexuality, as well as a safe place to reflect upon stories in the news and shared experiences surrounding questions of empathy, anti-racism, and identity.

  • Clubs, providing opportunities for students to explore student-directed work and develop as leaders. 

The hybrid schedule creates the room we need to create cross-cluster and cross-supercluster gatherings in virtual classrooms that will support these essential programs. 

Our experience in the spring showed that by Grade 6, students are old enough to manage their time and responsibilities well in distance learning. In this environment some things are better in person and some things are better remotely. We have to remember that kids are going to be in masks, physically distanced, always facing forward, so it is our belief that sixth, seventh, and eighth graders will appreciate the break from physical distancing and masks while remote, while also being glad for the chance to see friends in person.

Additional details about Grade 6 – 8 schedules can be found HERE.

How will hybrid remote teaching and learning differ in the fall from remote learning in the spring?
We learned a tremendous amount about teaching and learning in a remote setting last spring, and as this community experienced, we collected feedback from students, parents, and faculty that informed our delivery of online teaching. In the spring, we took a blended approach balancing synchronous and asynchronous techniques. For the fall hybrid period, instruction will be structured and focused on synchronous instruction to provide consistency between the on- and off-campus experience of our students. As you read in my previous letter, this summer our faculty dedicated 14 hours of learning to reflecting upon the spring and developing new distance learning skills and knowledge. We are prepared to deliver great instruction and content in the fall.

Will this structure continue all year?
While we cannot predict how the coronavirus will continue to impact our community, this schedule gives us flexibility to move from a hybrid model to remote and even possibly a fully in-person model while maintaining as much continuity and rigor in the academic program as possible. We will be actively monitoring the progression of the disease at the state, county, and town levels as well as within our Park community, and we will make changes as we see appropriate and in service to our multiple guiding priorities. We intend to remain in the hybrid model through the month of September and the first days of October, and we will communicate at the end of September about how our plan is supporting our students, our faculty and staff, our program, and our community and if we will be making changes.

Next Steps

Now that clusters and schedules are set, our work is focused on finalizing teacher assignments and sections. We are also focused on our work to finalize policies and procedures which we will be communicating before the start of school. At the end of this week, we will share the opening week schedule in Friday Notes, and on Thursday and Friday, Kimberly, Ken, and I will be hosting morning coffees to address your questions and share additional details where possible. At this time, we are also finalizing planning for Academic Support, ASP, athletics, transportation, and other programs. We will communicate about these critical programs as soon as possible.

We recognize this is a difficult time and that people are in different places on how we return to school. I am appreciative of the work by our faculty and administration in developing a plan that we believe provides a safe and healthy school position to support the learning, growth, and development of each child. I look forward to welcoming all of our students back to campus and to working with you in the months to come.

 

Warmly,

Scott 

 

Preparing Your Child for Returning to School

We believe our students learn best in community with others, and that interaction with teachers and peers is essential to their well-being. And, just as students have missed the company of friends, families recognize that remote learning places added demands on households who may be juggling the needs of children of multiple ages, members of their extended family, and their own professional work. All our efforts to make returning to Park as safe as possible are shaped with our students’ health and well-being in mind as we follow the advice of medical experts and health authorities.

We are planning a staggered start during the week of September 7 to help students both new to Park and returning understand the practices we will follow. We encourage families to work with their children prior to the opening of school to help them become familiar and comfortable with these practices, including:

  • How to wear a mask properly. Consider having children practice wearing masks for longer periods of time as the opening of school approaches. Remind them not to share masks and to be sure to bring them home daily for washing.

  • Encourage and model the necessary personal hygiene practices: hand washing, covering mouth while coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching their face and eyes.

  • Talk to them about the importance of social distancing (what does “six feet apart” look like?). What might this look like when they are greeting friends and teachers or playing together on the playground?

  • Invite their questions about school opening plans. We hope to reassure them that the school community is working hard to help them and care for them.

  • As you would in any school year, begin to guide your children toward earlier bedtimes and a school day-timed start to their morning routines.