A Message from the Head of School: A View from My NDA Office Dear NDA Family,
Today is October 21st. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported 8,188,585 total cases and 219,499 total deaths resulting from COVID-19 in the US, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 40,251,950 total cases and 1,116,131 total deaths around the world. A spike in cases continues in Massachusetts. At Notre Dame Academy, we recognize the number 7 - the seven weeks that we have safely remained on campus during the 2020-2021 academic year.
As I sit at the desk in my NDA office, I admire the fall foliage around the fields, and I am soaking in the sounds of students outside my window, glad that the fall weather continues to allow comfortable mask breaks; I am learning to recognize the faces of students, even behind the masks; I am enjoying the vase of red and orange gerbera daisies that sit on my desk; and, as I sip my cup of tea, I continue to feel blessed that we have been able to remain on campus together and are now in a more “normal” routine.
In some ways, the routine has made my recent bi-weekly communications seem “mundane”. I think back to the late Summer and early Fall when things were changing daily, decisions were being made constantly, and updated communications to the NDA community were imperative. There was so much to share. But after the last few very hectic months, I think we are all learning to more fully appreciate the “mundane.”
Of course, safety continues to be our top priority. As such, we have made some changes to the school schedule the weeks following Thanksgiving and Christmas Vacation. As a safety precaution and preventive measure, we will be having “full remote days” the week after Thanksgiving break and the week after Christmas break. We hope this will increase the chances of staying on campus long term. As you may know, we already have the Monday following Thanksgiving (11/30) off, and we don’t have classes due to remote Parent-Teacher Conferences on Tuesday (12/1). For the remainder of that week, Wednesday, December 2nd, Thursday, December 3rd, and Friday, December 4th, teachers and students will be remote. In addition, the week of January 4th (1/4-1/8), teachers and students will be remote. We will maintain the typical schedule for those days and the learning will be synchronous. We will not be having the Activity Block on these “remote days”, though Clubs that opt to meet during their regularly scheduled time can do so.
With most in-person events canceled, strict distancing rules in place, and additional remote days added to the calendar, we know that students are still craving engagement and interaction. Therefore, increased engagement in and out of the classroom is a focus. Some highlights of the activities that have occurred over the last two weeks include the following:
- The Notre Dame Academy Model United Nations (MUN) Delegation continues to meet and plan. This Saturday the NDA/MUN delegation will attend the Saint John's High School Model United Nations "virtually" from Notre Dame Academy. This will involve the same "Opening Ceremonies", the General Assembly Plenary Session, the 12 committee sessions, the passing of "resolutions", and the awards and closing ceremonies. NDA MUN is planning to attend the University of Chicago Model United Nations in February as a "virtual" delegation. The Middle School Annual Diocesan Declamation Competition and the B.C. High events are also still being planned.
- The physical education program certainly looks different, but we are being creative with different activities including nature walks, obstacle courses, and a Pickleball Tournament. Pickleball is a great activity that allows for some normalcy while still adhering to the safety guidelines which limits numbers on the court, physical contact, and distance between players. The 7th and 8th-grade students are also being introduced to the idea of mindfulness. At the beginning of the 7th and 8th-grade physical education and wellness classes, students are encouraged to take a moment to forget about the stressors in their life and bring their attention to the present. A range of activities have been introduced to the girls, which include grounding, intentional diaphragmatic breathing, offering up a sign of gratitude, completing a body scan to bring attention to and release any built-up tension, and guided meditations to bring calm into their life. Building in these mindfulness practices has proven to be rewarding for both myself and my students as we explore the mind-body connection.
- This week many of the NDA Faculty and Staff are also participating in a 5-Day Mindfulness Challenge. NDA Alum and current Parent, Mary Pergola (also my NDA Little Sister!) offered her program for us to learn a bit more about Mindfulness, Breathing, and Meditation and to try numerous activities that may help to alleviate stress, confusion, or frustration and bring comfort and peace. Personally, I have found the daily emails so helpful and wonderful reminders to do the simple things that we sometimes forget - starting with “just breathe.”
- Ms. Cook’s 8th-grade students are completing their unit on Rome by becoming Roman reporters and are writing news stories, recording news podcasts, and/or filming broadcasts. They are learning in an interactive way and having fun!
- Last week, the faculty, staff, and a number of Board of Trustees members met one evening and had a virtual discussion on the book, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. The group reflected, shared personal stories, and experiences in/out of school that have allowed us to consider the topic of race more deeply. We discussed how we can create conditions for sustained engagement in uncomfortable conversations about race and racism at NDA. While we acknowledged that we read a book written by a white person and that there are many, many books on race written by people of color that could and should be read in addition to this one, the evening was a wonderful opportunity for the group to share challenges and ideas.
- To celebrate the vigilance with all of the pandemic protocols and embracing strict social distancing rules, we had a “pajama day” last Friday. That morning I taught my Business Class in pajamas, showcasing one of the soft skills of leadership - celebrating success with your team. I have to admit, some of the NDA students and staff have some pretty cool PJs!
- The college admission season is in full swing with 85% of NDA Seniors having completed at least 3 applications and several having already completed and sent all of their applications. In fact, we have a number of seniors who have already received acceptance letters - before the first of November!
This year, the NDA Administration, Faculty, and Staff are funambulists. According to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, “Back in ancient Rome, tightrope walking was a popular spectacle at public gatherings. The Latin word for "tightrope walker" is "funambulus," from the Latin funis, meaning "rope," plus ambulare, meaning "to walk." Like a tightrope walker, we are continually working very hard to balance between keeping students safe and keeping students engaged.
As a thank you to the funambulists and the students for making the start of this very unusual year successful, we are changing Friday, December 18th from a half-day to a full day off, extending our Christmas Break by one day. Our Kris Kringle Celebration, typically occurring mid-day after shortened classes, will instead happen during the Activity Period on Thursday, December 17th. Although we will have some performances and holiday fun, we will not be exchanging Kris Kringle gifts this year.
The last few months of this calendar year will be busy. Last week, we officially kicked off the 21-22 NDA Enrollment Season. I am looking forward to meeting more parents and students interested in becoming part of the NDA family. If you see an NDA lawn sign in the community, snap a picture, and tag @ndaworcester on Facebook. If you’d like one for your own lawn, let us know here!
The next few months are also sure to bring new challenges and increased opportunities for COVID-19 to be spread. The NDA Leadership Team will continue to look for ways to minimize the risk to our students, their families, and our faculty and staff, and their families. Thank you for continuing to do your part. In the words of St. Julie, “The more difficult the times are the more we must expect and hope everything from the goodness of the good God.”
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out. With peace and gratitude,
Lisa Mancini ‘88 P‘18
Head of School
Notre Dame Academy