I am honored and thrilled to join the Mount Madonna School (MMS) community officially starting on July 1. I have seen that compassion, curiosity, creativity, a discerning mind and leadership are characteristics of Mount Madonna students. During these unusual times, the best investment in our society is educating our children; and MMS is in an unparalleled position to continue offering an innovative, in-person educational experience from dynamic and caring educators.
Since March, I have been working closely with current Head of School Supriya McDonald, the school directors, as well as the transition team to create a comprehensive school re-entry plan. MMS is committed to making any return for the 2020-2021 school year as safe as possible for students, faculty and staff. We are highly optimistic and planning to open the school in-person, five-days per week in September. Please plan on attending our summer Virtual Town Hall meeting on July 24 at 4:00 pm for up-to-date information. Here is the Zoom link (https://zoom.us/j/93055080200) for this meeting.
Given the current public health pandemic, we have been actively consulting with physicians, an infectious disease scientist and MMS alumnus, safety experts, and the Santa Cruz Health Services Agency to explore ways to adapt our school facilities, operations and learning in a way that prioritizes and protects the school community’s health. The research and science on COVID-19 continues to advance each day, and as a school, being informed, nimble, and well-trained is key to preparing for this upcoming school year. We are creating procedures and policies that reflect the science and follow best practices as outlined by NAIS, CAIS, and the State of California and the Santa Cruz County guidelines. We are still exploring options for offering after-school athletics, fall field trips, and learning journeys and will keep you updated as decisions are made.
We have created the following policies and procedures based on the best research and practices currently available.
Arrival and Departure – Each morning, staff will greet each student and perform a symptom screening, which includes no-contact temperature screening, as well as asking a series of health department questions for wellness. We kindly ask that parents remain in their car at drop off and pick up. Traditionally, drop off and pick up has been a time where parents can socialize with teachers, administrators, and other parents. The health and welfare of our community is a partnership, and we kindly request that if you have questions or concerns regarding your child that you call or email the office or your child’s teacher. If your child is feeling ill or displaying any symptoms of illness, please contact the office and have your child stay home and rest.
Transportation – In July, the school will send out a transportation service letter sharing our plans. To protect the health and welfare of the school community, we will reduce the number of available seats on each bus. The bus driver and students will wear cloth masks, and the windows will be open to increase air circulation. Buses will be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
Stable Cohorts – In school, students will remain in small, stable cohorts and will only interact in-person with other children from their cohort. In lower school, students and teachers will remain in the same indoor and/or outdoor classroom space. Specialty teachers will rotate to various classrooms, wearing masks and washing hands before and after entering classrooms. In middle and high school, students will have a designated homeroom and teachers will rotate to various classrooms. Math and science classes will serve as an exception, and for these classes, students will rotate. Please note that classrooms will be cleaned and disinfected between stable cohorts. Bathrooms for each will be assigned and cleaned regularly.
Cleaning and Disinfection – Mount Madonna is committed to the safety and welfare of our community, and as such, the school created a Health and Safety Task Force to research and train faculty and staff on best practices. In the spring, the school started ordering personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies approved for use against COVID-19 by the Environmental Protection Agency. The administration will work closely with the custodial staff to create a cleaning and disinfecting schedule for classrooms, bathrooms and frequently touched surfaces. Desks and tables will be cleaned and sanitized several times each day.
Promote Healthy Hygiene Practices – Students and staff will wear cloth masks and physically distance. In the classroom, educators will model, teach, and reinforce hand washing, as well as techniques to cover coughs and sneezes. All students and employees will wash their hands upon entering school, before and after playtimes/recess, before and after eating, between classes and bathroom use. Classrooms will be equipped with ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wipes. To promote healthy habits, the school will reinforce last year’s healthy hygiene campaign and continue to hang handwashing posters in all bathrooms.
Outdoor and Indoor Classrooms – As part of our school re-entry plan, we are re-imagining our school facilities. One of the greatest assets of MMS is the beautiful and spacious outdoor environment. The school is situated on more than 375 acres of redwood forest and chaparral, and this opens opportunities for outdoor experiential learning and engagement in a safer, outdoor environment. Over the summer our maintenance crews are working hard to develop even more outdoor classroom areas, adding shaded coverings, and are completing our new outdoor amphitheater next to the upper campus overlook. These outdoor classrooms and spaces will be utilized for daily learning, lunch, physical education, dancing, and singing (masked), while also allowing for even more physical distancing for a safer school experience. We are excited to offer performing arts classes in the outdoor amphitheater!
Complying with local regulations, we are adapting our indoor classrooms to maximize the space between students. Each person in an indoor classroom will be spaced at a minimum of 36-49 sq. ft. apart. We have already purchased additional plastic tables to allow for more distance between students. To increase air circulation and ventilation, windows and doors will remain open. Each students’ belongings will be separated and we will increase our school supplies to minimize sharing.
Home-Packed Snacks and Lunch – Students should pack a reusable water bottle as well as healthy and nutritious snacks and a lunch for school. Out of an abundance of caution, we anticipate that the school will not be serving snacks or lunch.
Personalized HyFlex Learning Model – As we continue planning in-person instruction in the fall, we also recognize the needs of our students and families who are able to attend in-person instruction and those who are not. We are researching and developing customizable, creative HyFlex learning models to support students’ academic, social, and emotional growth and to allow students to exercise more agency over their learning. Our HyFlex learning models will be flexible to accommodate the needs of our families and include elements of in-person instruction, as well as synchronous and asynchronous learning approaches. As in the classroom, teachers will employ multiple tools and strategies to design and deliver learning that fosters creative expression, intellectual inquiry, and emotional resilience. In July, the school will send a HyFlex Learning Model survey.
Currently, we are researching student learning management systems (LMS), which we hope to adopt this summer. An LMS allows educators to deliver content consistently, communicate assignments and expectations, provide feedback on student work, and track student progress.
Preparation for Pivoting – In the event that MMS is required to pivot to remote learning, we are building on our successes and the lessons learned during the 2019-20 school year. The Washington D.C. virtual trip and the fifth grade Fintastic Tale are just two examples amongst many opportunities for authentic and creative learning. During one of my visits to Mount Madonna, I was impressed by the level of expression and confidence, as well as the student’s sense of belonging. Belonging, delivering engaging and authentic content and activities, and student practice followed by constructive teacher feedback and assessment, are key to effective remote learning.
During our August faculty retreat, we will focus on enhancing the school’s inclusive and supportive learning environment, as well as develop tools and schedules for daily remote learning for all students. Remote learning will be both synchronous as well as asynchronous. The skills developed in these sessions will be transferable to the brick and mortar classroom as well. Goals for the faculty retreat are to develop expertise on strategies and tools to enhance student engagement, to create authentic and impactful learning opportunities, and to differentiate and assess learning.
Over the course of the summer, the school will continue to update you on our plans and progress on returning to school in September. I look forward to seeing you at the Town Hall Meeting on July 24, and greeting you in-person in September!
Wishing you well,
Ann Goewert, Ph.D.
Incoming Head of School