The end of the 2019-20 school year left many students and faculty at St. Martin’s Episcopal School wondering how the following year would look in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the St. Martin’s administration created new procedures and guidelines over the summer to prevent the spread of the virus among the community in the 2020-21 school year.
The administration, including Associate Head of Upper School for Academic Affairs Tiffany DuSaules, began working on a new academic school year plan last spring. The administration also collaborated with the National Association of Independent Schools to follow guidelines regarding school openings.
Three plans were made, including a fully virtual, a hybrid, and a fully on-campus school year. The plan enacted for the first quarter was the hybrid learning model, where Middle and Upper School students alternate days on campus. However, beginning in the second quarter, the school will transition to a fully on-campus schedule.
After planning out the three different approaches, the administration faced challenges that would affect the use of classrooms.
“One of the biggest challenges that we felt that we had to overcome was, ‘How do we fit the same number of students that we have always had into our classrooms and make sure that the desks were spread apart so that they could meet both the St. Martin’s requirements and also follow CDC guidelines?’” DuSaules said.
The administration allowed for six feet of space between desks in classrooms. Bigger classes were accommodated in the Upper School’s Stuart Kemp Peyton Center or the Martin Family Library. Students use disinfecting wipes to wipe down tables and desks throughout the day and eat lunches in their advisories to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Once we were finished working on all three approaches, we started working on some of the nuances,” DuSaules said. “We knew pretty early on that we had hoped to do what we could to help families who thought they should still have their children at home.”
Students have the option to attend classes completely virtually. Such a student is Senior Deryn Patin, who enjoys the safety and convenience of attending online.
“I like how I don't have to worry about someone not wearing their mask,” Patin said. “I also like that I don’t have to commute everyday.”
Patin also appreciates having a personal workspace which allows for more comfortability and flexibility when studying.
“I have more time, which allows me to study more, and I don’t have that … school social environment distracting me,” Patin said.
However, virtual learning students also encounter problems. Some students face connectivity issues, and others have difficulty adjusting to participating in class.
“I’ve found that some teachers don’t really pay attention to their online students, which I think would be a major struggle,” Patin said.
Faculty teaching from home also face challenges, including Upper School Math Teacher Julie Laskay.
“One of the things that I really hate is having to see students wearing masks because as a teacher, I process more input than output when I’m teaching,” Laskay said. “I'm constantly looking around the room to see if students are paying attention or when they are confused, and when I can’t see their faces, it’s really hard for me to process that information.”
Teachers have turned to a variety of educational platforms to educate students such as the school’s website, WhippleHill, Google Classroom, Pear Deck, YouTube, Khan Academy, Zoom, and Google Meet.
DuSaules said the administration’s preparation was what allowed the school to reopen safely in the fall.
“We all put a lot of time into these plans over the summer, and we all got very little sleep,” DuSaules said. “In all honest truth, I walk the halls and feel proud of all the work we did over the summer to make sure that we opened school back as safely as possible.”