Dear Upper School Students and Families:
Our community, rich in spirit, strengthened by our diversity and grounded in a deep sense of collective purpose, has a tremendous opportunity to rise with each other to allow great things to happen in the 2020-2021 school year. Even though our health and safety practices will make the Upper School experience feel different, we are committed to maintaining strong social connections as we create a vibrant learning community together.
Health and Safety
You have already received Rich Nourie’s July 24 email, which shared an extensive overview of the AFS School Reopening Plan. That plan gave you a detailed outline of what we will be doing to reduce as much risk as possible as we start the school year. That being said, I would like to share some of the specific health and safety measures we will be implementing in the Upper School.
First and foremost, we will soon be asking all students, families, faculty and staff to affirm their commitment to individual and community safety through the AFS 2020-21 Affirmation of Collective Purpose. The Affirmation will outline our community obligations, health monitoring procedures, and preventative and protective practices. More to come soon!
In addition to the health practices outlined in the reopening plan, we have specific practices that we will be implementing in the Upper School this year. Some of these practices include the following:
Students will not be assigned lockers this year and will be asked to carry all their necessary books and materials with them.
When not in class, students will be in study hall, seminar, or other supervised locations where distancing will be maintained. Students will not have the freedom to congregate in the traditional indoor spaces, such as the Student Commons or hallways. Outdoor spaces will offer students somewhat more freedom of movement.
Bio breaks and time in between classes will be staggered to reduce density in the hallways and restrooms.
Hallways will be marked to indicate one-way traffic throughout the Upper School.
Students will be asked to bring all necessary supplies (listed below) from home and will not be permitted to share with each other. Any student missing an item (no pencil, forgot a calculator, etc.) will need to get one from their teacher or the front office.
Senior privileges will not be permitted in the fall semester. We will reassess in the spring as health conditions change.
Large tents will be set up outside for use as outdoor classrooms and for lunches.
Lunches will be held outside as much as possible. Ninth and tenth grade students will be assigned specific areas for lunch, while eleventh and twelfth grade students will be given some freedom to sit outdoors on their own as long as they follow appropriate health and safety practices.
These practices will be reviewed in detail in the Upper School Family Handbook that will be released closer to the start of school, and we will spend time during the first week of school reviewing all policies and procedures.
Finally, all student forms should be uploaded to Magnus Health, which can be accessed through the AFS Portal by clicking on or copying and pasting this url https://abingtonfriends.myschoolapp.com/app#login into your browser. Please sign-in, navigate to the Magnus Health Link and upload these forms by August 28. Upon entering Magnus for the first time, an instructional video is available to help you through the process. You can find a list of required forms on our website and all forms are also available at the Magnus Health section of the Portal. You can find directions on this webpage if you need a reminder about how to log into the AFS Family Portal or are logging in for the first time.
The Academic Program
Whether we are engaged in hybrid learning, completely virtual, or fully present on campus, we will have a robust and challenging academic program this year. In terms of time, energy, and resources, we have committed to making the 2020-21 school year an exciting time of growth and possibility for every Upper School student.
First, just as a reminder, you can see all your Summer Reading here. Remember, we have the All-School Read The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. If you have been recommended for an Honors/AP class (and therefore, have a summer reading), you can and should purchase your summer reading. However, if you have requested non-honors history electives, you should wait to receive your course assignment list to make sure that you purchase the correct book.
In order for every student to be prepared for school, the academic departments have created an Upper School Unified Supply List. Along with the Upper School 2020-21 Book List, students will have everything they need to start the school year. We recognize that students will not be able to make all of their book purchases until they have received their assigned courses list. These lists will be shared with you as soon as possible.
All students will engage with their classmates and teachers through Canvas, our new learning management system. Replacing Google Classroom with Canvas will not only help students stay organized and create stronger connections with peers but also help teachers share dynamic content and assess student learning. Part of student orientation for the first week of school will include an AFS Tech Boot Camp that will prepare students for using Canvas and review all other technology tools needed for a successful school year. Whether you are on campus or attending school from home - in Pennsylvania or around the world - we are going to be able to support you and your learning.
Upper School Daily Schedule: On campus, hybrid and virtual modes
As have most schools in the country, the Upper School faculty and administration have been preparing three different modes for the academic program this year: all students on campus, hybrid, and virtual.
While we have developed a model that accommodates all students on campus, after thoughtful consideration we have decided that it is best to start the year in hybrid mode with half groups on campus on given days. As the largest and most complex division of the school, this will allow us the opportunity to introduce and establish daily routines and health and safety protocols in a simpler setting as well as preparing all students for both in person and off campus learning right from the start. Doing so will give us the best opportunity to set the foundation for a possible shift to all students on campus further into the school year.
Please review the Upper School Sample Weekly Schedule. In a nutshell, here are some of the major points:
The Upper School student body will be divided alphabetically between "Group A" and "Group B.”
Group A will attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday; Group B will attend on Thursday and Friday.
Wednesdays will be a virtual day for the entire Upper School during which we will engage in some of our larger community events (assemblies and Meetings for Worship) and when teachers will be able to connect with students individually.
A completely virtual E-Level (evening level) from 8:00-9:00 p.m. has been added during which several classes may be held in order to accommodate particular subjects and international students.
Students and families still have the option to stay completely virtual for the start of school. Wednesdays will be the primary time for homebound students to connect with teachers, but they will also be able to Zoom into their classes on the days to which they are assigned when appropriate.
Some students who are scheduled to be off-campus on given days may, for varying reasons, benefit from the ability to come to school to do their academic work in a supervised setting and have the benefits of campus resources. This option will be available to families for whom it would serve their child best.
To be clear, hybrid learning will engage students throughout the week - not just when they are on campus. Teachers are currently in the process of re-envisioning their traditional yearlong classes into robust semester-long classes designed for hybrid learning that will move students forward through our challenging curriculum. While students in Group A will be physically in classes making community connections, getting individual help from their teachers, having class discussions, etc., Group B students will be watching instructional content videos from their teachers, writing responses to prompts, and meeting virtually for group work. And then vice versa. Teachers will provide their classes with appropriate structure and motivation and will encourage student participation and self-directed growth. This learning model is challenging for all, but we feel confident it will be the best way for us to teach effectively at the start of this school year.
In terms of health and safety, this hybrid schedule greatly reduces exposure for everyone involved. With half of the students on campus, there will simply be fewer interactions, more space for people to spread out, and more faculty and staff on hand to manage passing times, bathroom breaks, lunch, etc. It also means there will be a five-day turnaround before a group is back on campus, which will allow for more efficient contact tracing and mitigation strategies should they become necessary.
Community Connection and Support
Finally, our ability to create community and connection is critical to our students’ success. After all, the AFS community is what makes this place so special. We have been physically away from each other for months, and so our school reentry will include opportunities for us to reconnect with friends and classmates and to develop new connections.
As always, our extraordinary Student Support Team will provide additional layers of academic, social, and emotional support as students and families develop strategies and resilience through the coming year’s challenges. Additionally, our faculty will receive training this August for healing-centered engagement and trauma-informed pedagogy. The social-emotional tools they will pass on to students - relationship building, self-regulation, structuring work, and executive functioning, to name a few - are not only “just good teaching,” but they will also help faculty to support students whose emotional challenges may be manifesting themselves in the classroom in unexpected ways. And these practices also boost learning and academic success!
Once we have started back to school, many of the ways in which we create friendships and community connections will continue, even though some may occur virtually for the time being. On our virtual Wednesdays, we will hold a weekly assembly, Meeting for Worship, and Advisory. During lunches we will hold clubs and affinity groups, and we may also host some advisory or grade level meetings as well.
As a part of the important racial justice work we must all engage in, we will be launching Conscious Communities this year as well. These affinity spaces will be an opportunity for students of color to unpack the effects of racialized trauma and for white students to discuss ways in which they can help to dismantle the longstanding effects of racial injustice in our country. Many of our 9th and 10th grade students have already experienced the power of these groups in the Middle School, and I personally am very energized to engage in this work in the Upper School, as well.
Athletics this fall will go forward, but in a reimagined form due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in our region that impacts not only our community but our Friends Schools League partners. As of now, the plan is for upper school interscholastic fall sports of boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and boys and girls cross-country to begin their seasons on August 24th with a modified preseason training schedule, the details of which Director of Athletics Jeff Bond will be sharing in an upcoming letter. These teams will continue training during the first weeks of classes, with the first potential interscholastic contests scheduled for the end of September at the earliest if conditions are deemed safe to proceed. Jeff's forthcoming letter will have many more of these and other details.
We know how important consistent physical activity and athletics are for young people right now, and AFS Athletics has been hard at work this summer designing a robust plan that will provide ample opportunities for on-campus physical activity for interested students. In addition to sport-specific training sessions, AFS Athletics will offer outdoor individual athletic opportunities like strength and conditioning and yoga classes and intramural and recreational game play.
Finally, our Center for Experiential Learning will continue to bring engaging programming for our Upper School students. The well-established cohort programs - MedEx, BizEx, and LawEx - will continue this year, though most of the work will be done virtually. We may also be adding additional cohort programming for the coming year - stay tuned! Community service opportunities will also be available for students and through a new app we are piloting this year, provide greater opportunities for engagement and reflection. Please be on the lookout for more information from Rosanne Mistretta, the Director of Experiential Learning soon after the start of school.
Important Information and Upcoming Events
We are so pleased to welcome thirty-nine new students and their families to the Upper School this fall. New families are encouraged to go to the New Families webpage, which is being updated with information often. As we look ahead, please mark the following dates on your calendar:
Tuesday, August 11, 6:30 p.m.—Upper School Follow-Up Zoom Meeting
Monday, August 31-September 4—First week of school (schedule to follow)
Thursday, September 24, 6 p.m.—Upper School Back-To-School Night Zoom Meetings
Monday, September 28—Yom Kippur - School Closed
Though this email is chocked full of information, there is still more to come. We will share with you more information throughout the month as soon as we are able. I look forward to seeing parents in the Upper School Follow-Up Zoom Meeting next Tuesday (Zoom invite to follow), and we will have additional opportunities to envision the year ahead. I know I speak for the full Upper School faculty and staff when I say we are so excited to see our students again. Please enjoy the month ahead and find moments to relax and recharge!