Dear Lower School Families:
Greetings from all of us in Lower School and welcome to the 2020-2021 school year! We have missed you over the summer months and look forward to a joyful and engaging year together. We can’t wait to welcome children and families at the end of August.
We have been thoughtfully planning the upcoming school year to ensure a strong program for students who will be attending school in person and for those who will be attending remotely; this letter will provide important details about both. While redesigning the Lower School program has kept us fully engaged throughout the summer, as educators we are also excited about the new curricular opportunities this year’s structure makes possible, both online and in school. All Lower School families are invited to a Zoom meeting on August 6 at 6:30 p.m. to talk about our plans for the upcoming school year.
With this letter, I’m eager to share our plans and give a sense of the day to day experience of our students. To start, the school day will begin at 8 a.m. and conclude at 3 p.m. for all students. All Lower School students will be assigned to a class, whether they are attending school in person or remotely, and anyone who will be on campus will be required to complete the health checklist before coming to school. There will be breaks throughout the day for students who are attending school in person and remotely. A sample of schedules is included in this communication to help give you a sense of a school day. Responding to a couple of questions I’ve received from families, we’ve determined that it is not feasible to support a partial online option where students attend school 2 days and work online 3 days or some similar type of schedule. We will be able to provide planned optional on-campus experiences and connections for students attending remotely. There will be periodic scheduled days off for all students, whether in person or remote, to allow for teachers to meet and engage in curricular planning. Families will be notified in advance of designated days off. Our goal is to provide a strong and engaging curriculum, a sense of community and to support students academically, socially and emotionally. These are challenging times for all of us, and partnership with you is essential as all in our community are working toward a common goal of giving our best to care for and educate children.
After much research, we have decided to use Google Classroom and SeeSaw, educational platforms that will enable families to be clear about classes and lessons and will allow teachers to develop lessons and activities that can be shared online and in person. SeeSaw also allows for students and teachers to exchange feedback about classwork and share ideas individually and as a group. These learning platforms will be used in school and online, which will ease transition to all remote learning in the event the campus is closed for any period of time.
In the first two weeks of school we will spend time teaching the use of Google Classroom and Seesaw. To access these platforms, all students have been assigned an AFS email account. Families will be given their child’s login information, which will allow them to access their child’s Google Classroom and SeeSaw accounts. We will provide families with instruction in utilizing Google Classroom and SeeSaw the week of August 31 to help ease everyone’s transition into the new school year. Our goal is to make learning more streamlined and accessible for all students and families.
We have a range of materials we will be providing to all students. In planning for supplies and resources we have been mindful of ensuring that each child has their own materials where possible, and that students who will be learning from home will have the materials they need to participate as fully as possible in the curriculum. Each Lower School student will receive a new convertible Chromebook that has touch screen capability. Each student will also be provided with a "tool kit" that will include art supplies, math manipulatives, paper, pencils, erasers and more. We will be offering a range of books that can be accessed online, and we will be distributing hard copies of materials where they are needed. Additionally, we've invested in new books for math, spelling, handwriting and writing, which along with the more robust platform of interactive online activities, will significantly reduce the need for printing in school and at home.
We will be assessing academic progress for all students, while being mindful that each family will be balancing school, work and home. Each family’s situation is unique to them and a strong partnership between school and home will help us to support one another. We are pleased that consulting psychologist Dr. Michael Cassano will be joining us in the Lower School as part of our Student Support Team. He will be an important resource for our community.
In preparation for the start of school, 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. As we enter the new school year, whether online or in person, it will be vital that we work together for the collective purpose of supporting the well-being of all in our immediate and extended community.
As shared in Rich’s previous communication, we have redesigned Lower School using a model of small cohorts. A lead teacher and a part-time collaborating teacher will guide these classes. Most resource teachers will step into the role of classroom teacher this year, which enables us to have small classes, provide a strong curriculum for our students and will help protect students and adults in our community by minimizing movement through the school building. Resource classes will be integrated into the schedule by the teachers of each cohort. Art, music, science and various project-based learning experiences will remain a vital part of our program. The daily schedule, as shown in the sample, will include a range of classes and make use of our extensive outdoor space.
The health and safety of our community is incredibly important. As such we will be adhering to strict protocols to protect all in our community.
- Few visitors will be permitted on campus and anyone who will be on campus will be required to complete the health checklist via Ruvna before coming to school.
- Students may not arrive prior to 7:45 a.m.
- Students should arrive with two masks in the event one needs to be replaced during the course of the day.
- Upon arriving in the classroom, students will be required to wash their hands. Handwashing will occur multiple times throughout the day, both on a schedule and as deemed necessary by the teachers. Alcohol based hand sanitizer will also be widely available.
- Bathroom use will be assigned and supervised, with electrostatic cleaning occurring midday and evening each day. Bathrooms will be wiped throughout the day. Faculty and staff will monitor bathroom usage to prevent multiple students from going into their designated bathroom at one time.
- Student seating will be spaced to mitigate risk. Classrooms are designed for 6’ of distancing, although we know for our younger children distancing will not always be feasible, and we will be compensating with hygiene and some use of plexiglass.
- All in the school will be required to wear masks or approved cloth face coverings while in the building as directed by the State. There will be mask breaks throughout the day where students are outside and can more safely remove their face coverings.
- All students will be dropped off at either the front entrance to Lower School or the side entrance, which will enable us to stagger their entry into the building. Family members will not be able to accompany their child into the building. Entrances will be assigned and for classrooms with easily accessible external doors, students may enter the classroom directly.
- The circular hallway in Lower School will be directional so that people will move in the same direction as opposed to passing one another. In the straight hallway, only one group will travel at a time and individuals will have room to be spaced apart.
- Pick-up will be done via the carline for Grades K - 4 as has occurred in previous years. Grade levels will have designated spaces and students and faculty will wear masks at pick-up, as must families who leave their cars to pick up children. EC students will be picked up either from the Redbud Playground or from external classroom doors when possible. We are contemplating a staggered pick-up schedule to help space students and families out at the end of the day.
- Extended Day will be suspended until Winter Break at which point we will evaluate whether it can occur safely.
Online While School is Open:
Our faculty is incredibly talented and adept. Our experience with AFS Everywhere helped us to learn more about effective online teaching and to discover many new skills. For Lower School students, online learning will consist of streamed lessons, direct Zoom instruction and open time for students to work with teachers online while the campus is open, as shown in the sample schedules. We are also building in some online social opportunities such as snack and lunch periods. Each week, weather permitting, children participating in online learning will be invited to attend designated socially-distanced outdoor classes. Parents and guardians can decide what is right for their children in terms of participating in these classes. All who are on campus for any portion of the day will be required to complete the heath checklist prior to arrival.
- Online classes will be a combination of streamed lessons, direct Zoom instruction and available online teacher assistance. In the event that a high number of students in a grade level are attending remotely, those students may comprise a single class. If the number of remote students is smaller, then those students will be distributed among the grade’s classes.
- Schedules and lessons will be conveyed via Google Classroom.
- Classrooms will have enhanced technology to facilitate remote learning, including cameras and microphones.
- Students will be provided with a kit of materials to help facilitate their participation in online classes.
- Throughout each day there will be synchronous and asynchronous lessons and activities for students.
- In the first two weeks we will focus on helping students to acclimate to new technology and also developing community norms in terms of online participation.
- Students will be given feedback about their work, and work will be assessed as part of our online teaching and learning program.
AFS Everywhere All Students Online
In the event campus is closed, all students will move to online learning via the next generation of AFS Everywhere. AFS Everywhere will offer a range of synchronous and asynchronous lessons and activities as shown in the sample schedules. Schedules and content will continue to be conveyed via Google Classroom, along with the use of SeeSaw and other educational platforms.
Social Emotional Support for Students and Families
Our Student Support Team, which is composed of faculty, Paula Corbman, Ann Botel-Barnard, Mike Cassano and myself, will continue to meet regularly this year. Our role is to support students academically, socially and emotionally and to serve as a resource to families and faculty in helping children to thrive. In preparation for the school year, faculty are attending workshops on trauma-informed pedagogy and healing centered engagement to help us better support our students. The cumulative effect of systemic racial oppression and violence and the effect of living in the time of COVID-19 impact all of us. As we transition into the new school year, we recognize that students, families, faculty and staff will need of strong support systems. If you are in need of support at any point during the year, please reach out to me, your child’s teacher, Paula or Michael so that we can help. An important aspect of the beginning of the year for all students and families is the establishment of strong relationships that will serve as a foundation for all that we will be navigating together this year. Relationship building will be a central focus of the start of our school year together.
Important Information and Upcoming Events
We are delighted to be welcoming nearly fifty new students to the Lower School! We can’t wait to welcome you to your new school community. 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:
Thursday, August 6, 6:30 p.m.—Lower School Family Zoom Meeting about School Opening
Monday, August 31-September 4—First week of school
Monday, September 7—Labor Day - All School Closed
Tuesday, September 15, 6:30 p.m.—Lower School Back-To-School Night Zoom Meetings
Friday September 25—Faculty Planning Day - Lower School Closed
Monday, September 28—Yom Kippur - All School Closed
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.
On several occasions over the course of the summer, I have had the opportunity to connect with students via email and over Zoom as well as seeing children joyfully engaged at summer camp. These stand out as shining moments amidst the heat, humidity, questions, concerns and planning that have been omnipresent this summer. While there remain many uncertainties, what is true and certain is how much we love your children and how committed we are to caring for all in our community. Collectively, we are our community’s greatest strength.
I am marveling at how this letter feels both too long and not long enough! I look forward to the opportunity to talk with you tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. at our Lower School Family Zoom Meeting.
In Light and Love,