by Benjamin Jackson
Head of School, North Yarmouth Academy
Yarmouth, Maine, March 25, 2021: The US Department of Education, local education boards, along with the entire nation are embroiled in the debate on how to safely return our children to in-person learning. Since the pandemic hit last March, schools have utilized a variety of educational models including fully remote learning, hybrid learning, or full-time, in-person learning. At North Yarmouth Academy, we made a commitment to full-time, in-person for the fall of 2020.
There are universal considerations every school must take into account when determining their model. The guiding principle needs to be the health and safety of the faculty/staff, students, and school community members. Schools have additional responsibilities to do their part to mitigate spread in the greater community.
If one thing has been proven during the pandemic, it is that masks work. Masks combined with social distancing, screening of students, liberal use of hand sanitizer, and responsible decision-making by community members mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19. It is important to note the spread of the virus in schools has significantly lagged behind other key public health indicators in the greater community.
In making decisions about reopening it is important to balance the health and safety risks associated with COVID, with keeping our kids engaged in school and the activities they are passionate about. Few have sacrificed more over the last twelve months than our young people. Much is still to be learned about the long-term academic and social impacts of the pandemic on our children. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that a lack of in-person learning, limited social interaction, and restrictions on activities has had a deleterious impact on the overall health and well-being of our kids. This realization drove our school’s commitment to maximizing in-person instruction.
In many respects, NYA was uniquely positioned to return to in-person instruction this fall. We have average class sections of 14-16 students and are able to spread our students out over a large campus. We were able to meet all public health and safety guidelines while accommodating all of our students on campus. Significant investments were also required. This included many of the same expenses faced by all schools in acquiring PPE and additional cleaning supplies. The school also hired several additional faculty members to maintain small section sizes and additional cleaning staff for increased rounds of cleaning and disinfecting of spaces. Tables traditionally used in classrooms were replaced with new desks to permit additional distancing. A major upgrade was made to the Academy’s technology infrastructure. This was, in part, to provide effective remote options for at-risk or temporarily quarantined students.
Overall, our teachers have had to view the way they deliver education differently. This has not come without stress, but they responded extremely well, with new innovations that will continue to serve our students post-pandemic.
By balancing the real health considerations with the significant reward of returning to in-person instruction, students successfully returned to the classroom. Like all schools, we remain vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. We have had to manage positive cases, close contacts, quarantines, and temporary shifts to remote learning for some of our students. Despite the many challenges, the goal of keeping our students engaged and in the classroom has remained consistent.
Educators across the country have done amazing work, whatever educational model they have been following. As all schools eye a return to full-time, in-person learning, they need to continue to look at their model differently. It is important to know there’s no one solution that fits all, and each community must make a decision that works best for them. Schools and districts need to evaluate where they are investing resources and how they are adapting to meet the needs of all of their students.
As we have learned more about the virus and how it is spread, public health officials can also make adjustments to policies on contact tracing. The CDC recently revised guidelines on distancing in schools and I am confident that additional practical decisions will further support schools with plans for reopening.
We have learned a great deal over the last 12 months. With the proper planning and public health guidance, I am confident all schools should be positioned to return students to the classroom full-time.
North Yarmouth Academy is an independent, college preparatory, coeducational school for toddlers to post graduate students with an enrollment of over 375 students. Since 1814, NYA has fostered integrity, character, and intellect in its students. For more information, please contact NYA at 207-847-5423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.