As we―Free Union’s staff, teachers, and COVID task force―work on plans for reopening school this coming fall, I find reassurance (maybe even optimism!) about our school’s unique position in these uncertain times. Our size, imagination, open campus, and nimbleness, combined with dedicated folks who want to figure it out is allowing us to plan a full, though modified, return to classes on campus, beginning on September 1st.
The school’s COVID-19 Task Force has been industriously exploring how to reopen the school in a way that will allow as much on-campus, in-person learning as possible with the lowest risk possible. We have been measuring and reevaluating our use of space, defining infrastructure changes and how to implement them, incorporating your suggestions and feedback from our latest survey, and reviewing guidelines and recommendations from the CDC, Commonwealth of Virginia, and health professionals to determine the best course and precautions for our school.
Perhaps the most important thing for you to know is that we are making every effort to take full advantage of our strengths in order to enable us to have as many learners as possible learning here at school 4-5 days per week. We expect that much of the teaching and learning will take place outdoors, in part because of the growing research pointing to all the ways that would reduce health risks, but also because we know from our progressive pedagogy that there is powerful learning potential in the natural world and we have an opportunity here to take even better educational advantage of our open, pastoral campus. Besides learning outside more, there will be precautionary changes, too, many of which should feel fairly routine now, like frequent hand washing and wearing masks. Also, though, classrooms will be reconfigured to ensure adequate social distance for students and teachers, more outdoor learning spaces are being assembled this summer to help us be outside more even when weather becomes manageably inclement, and indoor classroom windows and doors will be kept open as much as reasonable to ensure ventilation, another critical measure for minimizing disease transmission.
Research and projections do suggest there may be a resurgence of the coronavirus in the fall and/or winter, unfortunately. So, teachers are training and preparing also for more effective distance learning in order to ensure a healthy, productive balance between scholastic development and social-emotional welfare.
Here is an overview encapsulating some of the specifics we anticipate implementing for different scenarios this coming school year.
What Learning Will Probably Look Like
As much learning as possible will be in person at school, five days a week, every week that we can throughout the school year, made possible by:
Self-contained and, in some cases, mixed-age Learning Teams of nine young people and 1 teacher for K-5 groups, and smaller groupings for our early childhood friends…
spending as much of their learning time outside as possible given our infrastructure modifications and each day’s weather conditions, in pursuit of understanding, creation, discovery…
developing core academic skills and understanding often tied together within the meaningful context of interdisciplinary themes and projects that can be approached and apprehended from multiple angles, skills, and subjects,…
in concert with learners of other ages, so that
- siblings may discuss and pursue learning together when at home, and
- learners of different ages may stay connected to one another asynchronously through the projects they share and products they create around our campus
with recommended public health precautions, including
- daily self-screening
- new staggered arrival protocols to promote healthy arrivals
- facemasks and physical distancing when indoors
- disinfecting practices and procedures instituted throughout the school day, and deep cleanings every evening
- extra cleaning stations throughout campus for sanitizing and washing hands frequently
- a designated staff member to attend to health needs
The Interruptions or Changes We Will Have to Work Around
If or when anyone on a particular Learning Team tests positive for coronavirus while having been at school, their Learning Team will likely need to quarantine at home for two weeks. However, our goal will be to allow other unaffected/uninfected Learning Teams to continue coming to school every day.
We hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and well, and look forward to hearing from and seeing you all again in September. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please give us a shout.
Ronée (updated from Eric’s previous message to FUCS families)