A Message from the Head of School: A View from My Home Office
Dear NDA Family,
Today is July 29th. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported 4,280,135 total cases, and 147,672 total deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 16,341,920 total cases and 650,805 total deaths around the world. The pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the most significant challenge we have faced since World War II. Even more than a health crisis, it's also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis, causing a myriad of different stressors to each person.
As I sit at the desk in my home office, I am thinking about the beautiful Summer 2020 weather we have had thus far; I stare at Mia and Bianca cuddled up beside me in a yin and yang formation, reminding me that harmony exists where complementary forces interact and form a dynamic system where the whole becomes more significant than the assembled parts; I am enjoying a bouquet of fully bloomed bright yellow roses from last week’s very memorable NDA Class of 2020 graduation celebration; and as I sip my cup of tea, I am in disbelief that we soon shall be turning the calendar to August.
As I sit at the desk in my home office, my brain is overloaded with considerations, plans, and the necessary supplies and student, parent, and faculty and staff training needed to ensure a safe reopening in September. Due to the hard work of the NDA Executive Leadership Team, and many volunteer faculty and staff members who are spending time at NDA this summer, I am confident that we are building and will implement a well thought out plan. This plan will keep the safety of our community, as well as the potential need to change gears, at the forefront. Much like the image of Mia and Bianca’s yin yang formation, a dynamic system is being built. I have included highlights of the plans below.
Return to School
As mentioned in my July 15th communication, NDA has the unique ability and physical space to deliver a strong academic education and address the social-emotional health of our students, while still being able to adhere to the current safety guidelines on campus. Of course, we are also preparing plans which will allow us to alter our plan to a hybrid or wholly virtual environment, in a moment’s notice, if that becomes necessary for any reason.
However, recent assessments have shown that we need more time to adequately prepare our faculty on the new technology and safety protocols that are being put into place. Therefore, we are making a slight change to the first day of school. Rather than September 8th, as previously communicated, the first day of school will be Thursday, September 10th. In a separate correspondence, Faculty and Staff will be given more detail about expectations for the sessions occurring September 1st through September 9th. Students and parents will be receiving independent communications with detailed information about New Student Orientation, which will take place the afternoon of September 2nd as well as the Return to School Student Meetings, which are mandatory for all students. In these two-hour sessions, each grade level will come together (using social distancing rules) at a designated time on September 8th and 9th to hear more about the new Safety and Wellness, Academic, and Technology protocols. One parent or guardian is welcome to attend with each student.
Parents and guardians will also be receiving a separate invite for a Q&A Virtual Town Hall Meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 19th, at 5:00 pm to ensure all questions are addressed before returning to school.
In summary, as of today, the current return to school plan is as follows:
- The first full day of school is Thursday, September 10th
- Return to In-person instruction on campus, with appropriate social distancing and masks, 5 days a week
- Enhanced technology in all classrooms and increased e-learning professional development for faculty
- Defined Safety and Wellness protocols, including mask breaks, sanitation stations, amplified daily cleaning routines, outdoor spaces
- Synchronous virtual learning available for those families that choose this option
Academic Task Force
Though we certainly face the challenges of a changing academic landscape this fall, what has always ensured a quality Notre Dame education remains the same: a dedicated and talented faculty, a focus on the individual care of our students, and a commitment to a rigorous curriculum that will serve our students beyond our gates. Principal Susan Butler adds that “To serve all of our students and families during this time of uncertainty, we must have clear communication, protocols, and resources in place that are consistent across all classrooms. Parents and students alike should know exactly where to find assignments, grades, and information. Our teachers are experts in their fields. It is my job to make sure that they can best communicate this expertise and passion in a format that allows them to connect to our students and families in the meaningful way that sets Notre Dame apart.”
To this end, our faculty have begun a series of professional development sessions to hone their learning platform skills, classrooms are being equipped with technology that will allow both our “in the building” students and our students who may be learning from home a bonded classroom experience, and our technology is being tested for its capability and efficacy. Clear guidelines are being formulated for the delivery of classroom assignments and resources, grading communication, and student classroom behavior and expectations - both in school and remote. Additionally, supply lists, Bring Your Own Device (Grades 9-12) parameters, and Chromebook (Grades 7-8) distribution information will be communicated in the next two weeks. Students will not be able to share materials in the classroom, nor will lockers be in use to ensure hallway safety and distancing.
While we hope to see all of our students on our campus for our full academic year, plans are already in place for both a hybrid and full remote schedule if needed or required. Our hybrid schedule would break each grade level into two cohorts. Cohort A would attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays while Cohort B attends classes remotely in real-time. Wednesdays all students and teachers attend their full class schedule remotely. Cohort B would attend school on Thursdays and Fridays while Cohort A attends classes remotely in real-time. Regardless of the plan in use, all work and assignments will be communicated through our enhanced Google Suite for Education Enterprise Classrooms. This allows us to be fully remote on a moment’s notice with no loss of educational time. All of these procedures and learning platforms will be reviewed with both parents and students before starting school.
We do understand that some families may choose to continue remote learning as we open our doors. That is a very personal decision that Notre Dame will honor and support. You will be receiving a survey within the next two weeks to ask you to let us know your plans and choices. We will also ask some questions that will help us to serve not only your student’s academic needs but also her social and emotional needs as well.
Safety and Wellness Task Force
According to the CDC, schools are an important part of the infrastructure of communities and play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just their academic achievement. As a small, independent school, Notre Dame is working hard to ensure the safety and wellness of its students, faculty, and staff while continuing to provide the academic and social experiences that shape a student’s education on campus. Dean of Students, Emily Haley, shares that “we are fully aware of how unprecedented these times are and that physical and mental health and safety are of utmost importance alongside academic learning. There is no doubt the return to school will look different this year, but what does not change is our commitment to helping all members of our community succeed and be well. We will communicate protocols and help everyone adapt to the necessary changes. The Guidance and Heath & Wellness team members are here to assist everyone with any concerns, anxieties, and needs as we head into the new school year.”
The Safety and Wellness Task Force has been busy preparing the building for the start of the year using state guidelines. We are implementing plans for thorough cleaning schedules, sanitizing stations, door openers, instructive signage, outdoor study space, alternate classrooms, staggered class dismissals, mask breaks, and more. PPE supplies for students and faculty are a priority and there will be updated protocols for the Nurse’s Office. Student Wellness Plans will be developed as needed for new and returning students which can aid with academic success as well as social and emotional needs during this new normal. Additionally, meetings with the Dean of Students, School Nurse, and Adjustment Counselor will be available for anyone who has specific questions or concerns. Finally, a Pandemic Protocols Handbook is being written and will be shared at the Return to School Student Meetings in September.
As you may know, on Tuesday, July 21st, the MIAA Board of Directors unanimously approved the COVID-19 task force’s recommendation to push back the Fall 2020 Athletic season from August 24th to September 14th. The date change was advised by the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee, but this will also give school administrations some time to work through the unforeseen challenges of the first few days of school before introducing fall sports. Come early August, DESE and the EEA will issue guidelines regarding the fall athletics season. While there are still many questions regarding what sport participation will look like this fall, the priority “is that it has to be done safely.”
As for NDA Athletics, Co-Athletic Directors, Caitlyn Germain and Patricia Provost are working collaboratively with NDA’s Safety and Wellness Task Force to identify protocol and resources needed to support our student-athletes, officials, and entire athletics staff for a safe return to sport. While we would certainly love to start our sport participation opportunities as usual, we understand that ensuring health and safety is the primary focus.
We will continue to keep the NDA Community informed of decisions made. In the meantime, we have created three new social media pages to ensure the NDA community has access to updated information related to NDA Athletics. You can like and follow via the following links.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The NDA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force is being assembled and will be meeting in early September. The group includes NDA Faculty and Staff, Students, Alum, Board of Trustee Members, and Community Members, each bringing experience or expertise in the areas of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, differently-abled (physical and mental), and socio-economic status. I hope to share the names of the Task Force members in my next bi-weekly communication.
The faculty and staff are currently reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and will participate in a group book discussion on Thursday, September 10th. NDA Alum are invited to join this discussion and can do so by emailing Lindsay Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link. In addition, all NDA faculty/staff and students are reading Refugee by Alan Gratz. They will join school-wide discussions about the book’s message, including its connection to the Hallmarks of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
We, at Notre Dame Academy, are committed to ensuring continuous dialogue, education, reflection, and necessary improvement to honor the dignity of all people.
Board of Trustees
This month, three new members, Mary Beth Burke, Patti Peterleitner, and Sean Rose, were appointed to the NDA Board of Trustees. I am very excited about the addition of all three as they join a dedicated group of Trustees, bringing tremendous value and insights that will help govern NDA’s future trajectory.
Lastly, I would be remiss in closing this communication if I did not ask for your support in two areas.
First, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Catholic Education Association is partnered with private schools and are lobbying on our behalf to ensure that Catholic schools have access to emergency relief funds. As you may know, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, passed the House on May 15. Currently, this bill denies Catholic Schools access to the proposed $200 billion budgeted for education funding, putting Catholic schools and students at risk. In recent weeks many people have contacted Members of Congress in support of Catholic schools, and almost 100,000 messages were delivered! The coming days are filled with challenges for Catholic Schools as the Senate debates the bills that will directly affect US schools. To affect change that would benefit our school if the legislation is passed, I am asking you to complete this short form https://actnow.io/z4DLBe9.
Second, I fully understand that the pandemic has caused significant financial concerns for some families. However, other families have asked how they can specifically help alleviate some of NDA’s financial pressures as we prepare to return to school. The Academic and Safety Task Forces are finalizing their needs assessments and have begun to purchase necessary items. As you can imagine, the identified needs will have significant financial implications. And because many of our spring and fall fundraising events were canceled and the need for items was unknown when building our 20-21 budget, I am asking those of you who can to consider a monetary gift to help NDA through this unusual and challenging time. Enrollment is robust; a Fall Fundraiser is being planned (we will be “concentrating” funds raised on return to school expenses…. “orange” you wondering what the fundraiser will be?), a new online Spirit Shop is being built to raise funds, and best prices are being procured for all needed supplies.
However, additional funding is still necessary to ensure we continue to accomplish our goals and serve the NDA community well. If you can donate, please do so by either visiting our website at https://www.nda-worc.org/giving/pandemicpreparednessfund and making an online donation, noting you would like your donation to be added to the Pandemic Preparedness Fund, with a credit card or PayPal or by sending a check directly to Notre Dame Academy, 425 Salisbury St, Worcester, MA 01609 Attn: Pandemic Preparedness Fund.
I hope these updates are helpful and informative. I truly appreciate the support of the entire NDA family! As promised, I will communicate with you via “A View From My Home Office” on a bi-weekly basis throughout the remainder of the summer. If you have any questions or comments at any time, please feel free to reach out.
With gratitude and blessings,
Lisa Mancini ‘88 P‘18
Head of School
Notre Dame Academy