Dear DA families,
We made it!
It seems strange to mark the end of our first two weeks of school with a statement like that, but these are weeks worth celebrating. After months of hoping, dreaming and planning for the return of our students and teachers, it happened. It was hard. At times it was hectic. Most of all, it was happy. The smiles of our students and teachers might have been hidden, but nothing could mask the pure joy we witnessed during these weeks. After months of uncertainty, the return to routine and relationship-building that characterize a return to school felt comforting and almost normal.
While we will continue to test and refine our learning environments and protocols, we will remain in DA Hybrid mode after Labor Day. In-depth conversation with our consulting team of pediatricians and epidemiologists earlier this week reaffirmed that we need to stay the course with strict health and safety protocols — practicing and perfecting the three simplest and most powerful protectors against transmission: masks, hand hygiene and distance. Current data indicate that community transmission remains a threat. Our on-campus protocols will allow us to mitigate but not completely eradicate risk. We have devoted tremendous time, energy and financial resources to protecting our community. We need you and all our families to reinforce and augment our on-campus efforts with strict adherence to our Community Health Compact.
As we communicated two weeks ago, we have confirmed one positive case in our community. While we have now passed beyond the 14-day window without any apparent transmissions, we must assume there will be other cases during the school year. We will take swift and appropriate actions (quarantines of individuals or cohorts or adjustments to our on-campus models) to prioritize the safety of our students and employees and we will remain vigilant as we monitor the following indicators:
A. Recommendations and requirements from local, state and federal health agencies.
B. Feedback from our own experiences on campus, data from other schools that have reopened in North Carolina and beyond, and any new and significant research findings about COVID-19 transmission, protection, risks and treatments.
C. Community transmission data from Durham and Orange counties and North Carolina, including:
We realize that this constant state of readiness requires considerable flexibility from our families and faculty. We pledge to communicate concerns or changes as proactively and transparently as possible.
Next week, we will navigate a new set of challenges as we welcome 100% of our Preschool and Lower School students to a cohorted and de-densified campus. We ask for your patience as we adjust to this next phase of our plan.
What we’ve learned so far
Masks are easy, social distancing is harder and hand-washing takes time. It’s just not in childrens’ nature, no matter what their age, to stay six feet away from each other after six months apart. We are reminding them, no matter where they are, to keep their “DA distance,” with the understanding that there are times that six feet is not possible. In those situations, we have altered or rerouted indoor and outdoor navigation to make those moments as brief as possible.
We are also learning that on-campus operations and hybrid teaching are massively difficult tasks. We see the cognitive and emotional load our teachers are carrying as they keep masks over young noses, remind children to keep their distance, learn new technological platforms, design and execute lessons simultaneously for students at home and in classrooms, minister to fearful and/or frustrated families, and carry the weight of worry about their own health and the well-being of their families. We are grateful for your patience as we apply the lessons of our summer of learning, see what works best and iterate our approach in response to the needs of our students. Later this month, we will formally gather feedback from you, our students and our faculty. Those data will shape our approach to the coming months.
We’re in this together — for the long haul.
From June forward, we have been striving to design and create sustainable, equitable, excellent learning experiences that prioritize the physical, emotional and social health and wellness of our students. Outside circumstances will change, but our Guiding Principles — along with your patient support and feedback and the tireless work of our faculty and staff — will help us navigate all kinds of terrain.
If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then we have taken a giant step forward in the last two weeks. We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished, realistic about the challenges ahead, and grateful for the smart, caring, courageous community that makes this all possible.
Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone!