The Gunston School has announced it will move forward in September with a Phased Reopening of its campus. In consultation with the Queen Anne’s Department of Health, Gunston’s Health Advisory Team and School Nurse/Health Coordinator, Gunston’s senior leadership team has spent the past three months devising a plan that balances the clear educational and psychological benefits of reopening its campus with the maximization of health, safety, and welfare of the community.
Phase 1 will begin with inviting new 9th grade students to campus for a modified Orientation. Tenth through 12th grade students will begin the academic year via distance learning, with the goal of having further class groups re-enter the campus in phases starting in late September.
Phase 2 prioritizes 12th grade students as the second group to return, given their seniority and college guidance needs. Exact dates will remain fluid, however in a best-case scenario, all students will be reintegrated by the end of the first quarter. Gunston will finalize the relevant benchmarks for determining when to greenlight further phases of re-entry over the next few weeks.
With regard to Gunston’s athletic season, the school is in close communication with the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference (ESIAC) to formulate a plan that may permit limited conference competition starting in late September. Should ESIAC decide to suspend the season, Gunston will offer a robust intramural program.
“By starting with 25% of the student body on campus, as well as smaller numbers of faculty, the school has the opportunity to integrate a complex set of new health, screening, and safety policies with lower campus density,” explained Head of School, John Lewis. “New 9th grade students possess the greatest need for direct connection with their teachers and classmates, and they are easier to cohort, given their schedules.”
This approach also allows Gunston to maximize the use of indoor and outdoor teaching space, as well as the opportunity to resolve any glitches related to concurrent teaching (where classes have students both inside the classroom and students connected online), lowers the initial student density on school transportation, and minimized a campus outbreak, should it occur.
“Most importantly, our Phased Reopening gives us opportunities to effectively adjust policies and procedures as they are implemented. Indeed, it is our belief that a cautious, phased reopening raises the chances of Gunston remaining open over the longer term,” said Lewis.
With regard to distance learning, Gunston has prepared all summer for this possibility, and expects to offer a best-in-class experience for those students participating. Every Wednesday since graduation, faculty and staff have spent the summer exploring and mastering various new technologies and the creative possibilities they offer. When not experimenting with how to integrate software, faculty attended weekly virtual professional development with educational experts.
Gunston is switching to a 4+1 block schedule with a mid-week Wednesday of distance learning for all students. In addition to providing for a midweek deep cleaning (recommended by the QAC Health Department), this “+1” day allows the delivery of key elements of their mission—clubs, tutorials, advisory, and other individual meetings—that are constrained in a restricted, physically-distanced environment. It also gives students much needed screen breaks.
“Having evaluated the landscape, we are simply unwilling to make sweeping, months-long determinations about the structure of our school year, (e.g. distance learning until January, or guaranteed 100% on-campus attendance on September 1st),” said Lewis. “Of course, should the Health Department or the Governor mandate that we need to move to 100% distance learning, we must do so.”
“The decision has been made using the best-available science and after a thorough evaluation of our capacity to maximize learning and minimize risk. Given what we know, “throwing the doors open” is clearly a recipe for chaos; at the same time, starting the year with 100% distance learning does not align with what we know about mitigating COVID-19 and the negative psychosocial impacts of campus closures. We are also prepared to accommodate those students who wish to attend 100% remotely in the fall,” added Lewis.
“Over the next few days and weeks, we will be releasing communications with granular details on scheduling, health and safety policies, calendar events, transportation, and other important Q&A’s,” said Gunston School Nurse & Health Coordinator Fairuz Manion.
The Gunston School is an independent, nonprofit, nonsectarian, coeducational, college preparatory high school located in Centreville, Maryland. Learn more at gunston.org.