With Health and Safety Top Priorities, Shore's School Year Begins in Person
Over the course of three opening days, September 8-10, masked students arrived in stages for their first day back at Shore, excited to begin the 2020-2021 year on campus and in person after being away since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the summer, a Shore task force had carefully reviewed recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and other local and national authorities in making the decision to go back to school, and faculty and staff had worked and trained to make health and safety the top priorities for the reopening. “We believe an in-person education represents the best of Shore, and science supports our decision to return to school,” said Head of School Clair Ward. “Yet in the extraordinary times brought by the pandemic,” Ward continued, “we also recognize that our highest responsibility is doing all we can to protect the health and safety of our students, families, and employees. We will remain open for in-person learning on campus only as long as it is safe to do so.”
Shore’s commitment to safety began even before students and families arrived on campus for the first day of school: families must complete a comprehensive health self-screening for their child through a mobile app called MyMedBot each day before coming to Shore. Once at school, children wear masks the majority of the time, whether in the classroom or outside, and seating arrangements are carefully mapped to maintain social distancing. Throughout their school day, children remain with a single homeroom or “cohort,” a group of 10-16 students with dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces and little contact with other groups of students. Cohorts minimize the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak at school and facilitate quarantining and contact-tracing should a member of the cohort contract the virus. Signage and floor markings enable safer, one-way traffic flow in the school’s hallways, and extensive new cleaning protocols and windows and doors propped open to allow fresh air flow follow CDC and Massachusetts state guidelines for combating the spread of the virus.
Still, despite the new procedures that affect nearly every aspect of life for both children and adults at the school, “Shore still feels like Shore,” said Clair Ward. “When you ask someone what is special about Shore, they usually repeat some version of, ‘It’s the people.’ Watching the faculty and staff embrace the planning and training, generate safe solutions, and excitedly welcome the students back during the opening days made the ‘people factor’ even more noticeable.” Faculty and staff members spent the weeks before school reopened creating new signage, procedures, and daily schedules built for in-person safety. Over the opening days of school, teachers rolled out protocols for frequent hand-washing in ways that even the youngest students could understand; they introduced older students to tented outdoor learning areas that faculty and staff worked together to construct in order to provide students with as much fresh air as possible; and they explained how Shore hallmarks such as daily recess, regular art, music, and language classes, outdoor education, and the Upper School advisory system—though modified for safety’s sake—would remain part of the routine.
The children, for their part, seemed to take all the new policies and practices in stride, glad to see their friends and teachers in person again despite the “new normal” of mask-wearing and social distancing. “It is easy to get distracted or worried by the ways in which children’s experiences could be compromised by all the measures we’ve had to take to ensure the safety of our community, but seeing the children happy to be on campus makes all of the difference in the world. The joy we’re experiencing at being together back at school is palpable,” said Ward.
During the school’s flag-raising ceremony on September 10, Ward emphasized the importance of the Shore community in making the return to school safe and successful so far. “This year, all of us are going to have to work together to keep our community safe. The care we show towards each other is one of the most important things about our school, and that caring has never been more important than it is now.”
Ward also thanked Shore families for expressing confidence about the school’s decision to reopen. “Your support this week has meant the world to us. It seems every time I speak to one of you, you express your gratitude for bringing the children back safely.” As illustration, Ward shared words she had received in a note from a parent: “We are all dealing with the current reality and with the many ways it impacts us all. You are all also turning your attention, experience, talent, and focus toward building a Shore experience in this new reality. We cannot begin to think of all the struggles and challenges that you are all facing as we move forward. Thanks for all the things we don’t see. Thanks for all the things you will need to solve in the coming weeks that we don’t even know about yet. Thanks for all you do to keep us safe.”