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Middle School

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Dear Middle School Families,

I have often wondered what period during my lifetime would be most written about in the history books. I am no longer pondering that question. Now, I only wonder what those pages will say, and how our community will impact how future generations perceive this time. The main purpose of this communication is to update you on middle school programming as it relates to necessary changes due to the pandemic. I believe our real work this year will be collectively reorganizing our lives in order to stay healthy and be productive during a health crisis, all the while, actively working to dismantle systems that have long advantaged some of us, while disadvantaging or destroying others. I hope that while you and your children enjoy the benefits afforded to us as members of this independent school community, you’ll join me in having the conversations and taking the actions to achieve the changes we seek. As a community grounded in Quaker values, we seek to do nothing short of making the world a better place. 

I’m proud to say that the middle school, while we have a long way to go as a community, has been engaged in challenging conversations about racial and gender equity through curriculum and more recently over the past two years.  Our Conscious Community work was happening before this conversation gained the kind of local and national spotlight it’s long deserved. It is my privilege to guide the middle school through these times. 

You have already received Rich’s recent email, which outlined the AFS School Reopening Plan. Below are additions to Rich’s email that are middle school specific.

As you read the information below, please note that we will be fluid in our planning and refine details as needed. As additional questions or modifications to the plan arise, we will communicate them in the most timely manner possible.

We recognize that no two students or families have the same exact circumstances. We will do everything we can through these plans below to work with individual families to ensure their student has the best possible experience this year. Our goal is not just to get through this year, it is to provide a stellar academic and social experience for all of our students. This does not mean students and families won’t struggle this year. Your middle schooler(s) may express frustration and disappointment with some of our plans, or with your decision to keep them remote or to send them in to school. Rest assured, we are a resource to help you navigate those moments and you should feel free to reach out at any time. In the best of years, middle school is filled with a roller coaster of emotions. When the going gets rough, which it will at times, let’s be sure we’re all in this together and supporting one another.

Part of supporting one another will be affirming our 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. This will be shared with the community in the coming weeks!

Note: The Middle School Family Reopening Zoom Meeting is Monday, August 10 at 6:30 pm. (Information below.)

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82903845276?pwd=WW9NeDg1VjlQOEY1SXNhQ0VXM0QwZz09

Meeting ID: 829 0384 5276

Passcode: 5CdVur

Dial In: 929 205 6099

Passcode: 461956
 

HEALTH AND SAFETY ON CAMPUS

Daily Safety Practices:

  • All members of the community (students and faculty/staff) are expected to monitor their health and not come to school when they are ill.

  • Students will be expected to wear face masks at all times they are in the building or not physically distanced outside.

  • Students are required to wash their hands upon arrival at school, before and after recess, before and after lunch, and at the end of the day.  

  • Hallways will be marked to indicate one-way traffic.

  • We will minimize the sharing of supplies and be sure that any shared items are thoroughly cleaned between uses.

Outdoor Space: 
Whenever possible, we’ll spend parts of the day outside. We’re setting a goal of three or more hours a day outside when weather allows for it. Lunch will be outside whenever possible. When outside and distanced six or more feet apart, students will be allowed to remove their masks. The school has purchased a number of large tents and we’re fortunate to have an amazing property and surrounding area, including Abington Arts Center, which provides a wonderful environment for learning when the weather permits. I realize for students with allergies this may present new challenges. As I shared above, we’ll work with individual families to prepare for these types of issues. 

Arrival: The school day begins at 8 a.m. with an advisory. Whenever possible, this will be outside and each advisory will have a designated space. 

If weather does not permit the entire middle school being outside, grade levels will have access to tents on a rotating basis, and other students will enter the building and head immediately to their advisory room, which will be assigned and communicated the week prior to school beginning. We will have an enhanced adult presence at the middle school entrance and in the halls to ensure that students are maintaining social distance and our indoor safety routines.  

Transportation: For those using county or public transportation, please follow the routines dictated by your transportation provider. Once those plans have been shared with AFS, we’ll be sure to support them. If your child has typically been dropped off prior to 7:45 a.m. in the past, and you anticipate the need for an early drop off, please let Regina Lynch (rlynch@abingtonfriends.net) know.

Student Belongings: Students will carry most supplies and belongings with them throughout the day. We’re working to minimize the number of items any student must carry at any given time. We’ll preassign some textbooks and supplies in each classroom to individual students knowing, for example, that students can’t carry all of their art supplies all of the time. If we need students to share items, they’ll be thoroughly cleaned before and after each use. We will ask each family to supply their child with a sturdy 3” three ring binder, preferably one that zips fully shut. We will provide all other supplies to students, including a Chromebook that comes with a stylus and tablet functionality. This will allow students to write and draw in addition to typing and cut down on the need for additional supplies. 

The Hallway: An already planned middle school hallway renovation allowed us the opportunity to make modifications to open up additional space and flow in the middle school. We’ve removed all lockers from the upstairs hallway, and no middle school students will be assigned lockers. Hallways will be marked with directionals to start the year as we develop new routines. We’ll also mark six feet of space so students can appropriately space to fill a water bottle at the filling station. Again, there will be an enhanced adult presence in the hallway to remind students of our indoor safety protocols. 

Entering and exiting classrooms: As students enter a room, they will go to a designated seat in the room. Students will only move seats or switch spaces if directed by the teacher. Cleaning procedures will be in place so students can wipe down their work area prior to and at the conclusion of their class.

Middle School Handbook: Prior to school beginning, we will share a detailed middle school handbook that will include more specifics as they are developed. 

 

OUR MIDDLE SCHOOL PROGRAM

Whether a student is on campus or engaged in hybrid and fully remote learning (as defined below), our overall goal is always to engage our students in an outstanding academic experience. The current times demand that the structure of our middle school program be agile while the heart and soul of our program remain intact. 

We’re defining:

  • Hybrid learning as when classes are happening in person at school but a student or faculty member is unable to be on campus. 

  • Fully-remote learning as the experience when classes are not able to happen on campus. 

  • Synchronous learning is collective learning that occurs together at a specific time.

  • Asynchronous learning is learning that occurs within a given timeframe, but with students working somewhat independently in various locations. Asynchronous work can be collaborative (e.g., posting responses to a reading or topic that others can then respond to), or it can be totally individualized, (e.g., writing a paper or completing a reading assignment etc.).

Confidence in our faculty: We’re fortunate to have an exemplary faculty who have already engaged in myriad discussions this summer to think through the best program possible for students. It’s an overwhelming time to be a teacher and parent, and I want to commend our faculty publicly for the extensive time they’ve spent engaged over the summer and for their work to deliver an amazing program to your students.

Learning Management System

As a middle school, we will continue to use google classroom as the primary learning platform for assigning and collecting work. For students and families new to google classroom, please rest assured that we will spend time at the beginning of the year getting everyone “up to speed.” 

School Day and Schedule:

Our revised schedule is, first and foremost, meant to create flexibility within each grade level. It is a framework and default, rather than a necessity to follow strictly each day. We know that it is essential for middle school students to be engaged with and responsive to the content for us to deliver the deepest learning. So, while we’re publishing a sample schedule, please know that variations are likely to occur on a weekly basis. 

Our core academic classes remain, English and Social Studies (which at times may be combined and called humanities), Math, Science, and Foreign Language. We will continue to have Health, Physical Education, Visual and Performing Arts classes, although these classes will be modified significantly to ensure all of our safety guidelines are met.

If for any reason the entire middle school must shift into remote learning, our schedule will be modified as the sample schedule below demonstrates. With this schedule, academic classes will continue to meet three to four times per week at varying times during the day. Detailed remote schedules will be provided when they are ready. 

School at Home: For students who are off campus when campus is open, we’ll be using a combination of hybrid learning with other synchronous and asynchronous experiences. Knowing that it’s possible that we’ll all be off campus at some point this year, we are committed to ensuring that  students who are off campus maintain vital academic and social connections to campus academically and socially. We believe this will facilitate the smoothest transition and grade-level continuity should everyone be remote at some point. Students who are off campus will have a minimum of three check-ins with advisors or teachers each day. These may be one-on-one l meetings or a synchronous experience with all remote students at that grade level, or utilize a hybrid model, where students “Zoom” into a live class. One important note is that for students who are off campus, we’ll be working closely with these families to find the right combination of the aforementioned experiences within a day or week. For example, some students may want to be “Zoomed” into classes a lot, while for others the hybrid model may create frustration or envy of students who are on campus. We will be as responsive as possible to those individual needs, and advisors will work closely with students and families to ensure we’re striking the right balance. While campus is open, students who are at home will be following a similar schedule, with the significant difference of more asynchronous work during the day.

Please note that balancing on and off campus students is going to require a different kind of planning from our teachers. We’re thoughtfully preparing for this, and it’s sure to stretch the way we think about teaching in both those realms. Having said that, I ask you to be patient as we work through all of the very best ways to accomplish outstanding programs for everyone involved.

Socio-emotional and learning support: Our Student Support Team (SST) will continue their amazing work to meet the psychological and learning needs of our students. Kevin Ryan, our school counselor, along with Megan Asplundh our learning specialist, Michael Cassano, our Consulting School Psychologist and Renie Campbell, our Director of Student Support, will all work closely with middle school faculty and/or families to provide the support you and your students need this coming year. In instances where we can’t provide the necessary support, this team along with advisors, grade deans, Assistant Middle School Director Mark Smith and me will work to direct families to any support necessary. 

Our SST team has also planned several training sessions for faculty this August on trauma-informed pedagogy and healing-centered engagement. We know that after months of remote schooling and a summer with continued restrictions regarding physical proximity to others, we’re all still in the middle of a major shift in our daily lives. And, while some may be comfortable and used to it, and also really excited about the prospect of returning to campus, we know on-campus school will be different as well. This training and our SST team is sure to be instrumental in helping us provide the most effective transition back to on-campus learning for those who experience it, while also lifting up the needs of those who will continue to learn from home for part or all of this year. 

 

IMPORTANT INFORMATION AND UPCOMING EVENTS:

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:

Monday, August 10, 6:30 p.m.—Middle School Follow-Up Zoom Meeting

Monday, August 31-September 4—First week of school (schedule to follow)

Thursday, September 17—Middle School Back-To-School Night Zoom Meetings

 

Final Thoughts:

This is a tremendous amount of information and it remains abstract, as we can't fully envision what school will look like until we are all together again. As I shared in my video, this year will be about THRIVING in the middle school—not just surviving this school year. I write to you with great confidence that our community will support one another and that our students, families, faculty and staff and administrators will all be thoughtfully responsive to the changing conditions and needs of our community. At this moment in time, with all of the anxiety that exists, teaching and learning is more important than ever and I’m sincerely grateful to be on this journey with you.

 

Warm regards,

Matt

Review the Abington Friends School Reopening Plan
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