Dear EA Families and Community Members,
First of all, I want to thank all of you who have contributed to the decision-making process regarding reopening the school in the fall. I also want to apologize that this has taken longer than expected. This proposal has had more iterations than anyone originally thought would be required, but we feel it is stronger for having had multiple rounds of feedback from our stakeholders. The Board of Directors, Explorations Academy’s COVID-19 Task Force, and I have all done our best to formulate a plan that honors the Explorations Academy Community’s hopes and concerns for what is bound to be an unprecedented school year. Please read through the following email and attachment carefully, there is much information to be digested, and I know each family will have choices to make regarding their options this fall. Whichever classroom environment you decide is best for your family, we plan to offer all students a world class education this fall term and beyond.
Explorations Academy will be adopting a phased-in approach to the school year, which will begin with small, in-person outings grouped by students and advisors, followed by a slow ramping-up of instructional activities and outdoor opportunities through October 1. We hope to maximize outdoor opportunities during our typically beautiful September weather with at least one day spent entirely outside each week. We will be offering an in-person maximized cohort and an online cohort to address individual family preferences. The phased-in start to the year will allow teachers to make adjustments to learning plans and create schedules tailored to the students opting into each cohort. Once into October, Explorations Academy is adopting a “Phased Re-Opening” based on COVID-19 metrics in Whatcom County. This reopening will see us shift to meeting twice a week for classes to approach a standard non-pandemic week at school. We want to stress that we may need to change the metrics listed to reflect changing circumstances; however, the full layout of possibilities can be found in our EA Covid-19 Risk Management and Community Plan (see below for linked document).
As with many traditional beginning of term activities, our orientation process will be structured differently this year to provide the safest possible environment for all Explorations Academy community members. Instead of our usual large group outing, our first week of school will be spent entirely outside. Students will spend time in small cohorts with their advisors, going on hikes, discussing exactly what the school year will look like, formulating goals for the year, building rapport, and participating in small group building activities that can be done at an appropriate social distance.
Families that wish to participate in the in-person first week are encouraged to do so, even if not opting into the in-person maximized cohort for the fall term. For those who prefer to not participate in person, advisors will schedule Zoom conferences or arrange a time to meet one-on-one outside of school hours and will provide materials and guidance to get students started on the right foot.
August 24 – Communication sent to families to indicate choice of in-person or online preference along with cluster choices, and to describe any anticipated technology challenges.
August 28 – Advisors assigned and will communicate orientation week plans with advisees.
September 8-11 – Orientation, clusters assigned.
September 14-18 – Meet virtually with frequent outdoor activities by cluster (in-person optional).
September 21-October 1 – Classes begin to meet regularly, both in-person and remotely. In-person activities will continue to be outside and in small groups.
October 2 – Staff in-service day for final online and in-person instruction prep.
October 5 – In-person classroom-based instruction begins based upon COVID-19 metrics. Based on the current metrics, if we were to fully re-open tomorrow we would be in the “Yellow Zone” in our COVID plan.
In-Person versus Online Opportunities
As indicated in the last email you received, we anticipate operating one cluster that will be entirely online. For those who were with us last year, this fall term’s online curriculum is being revamped to include less screen time, more project based schoolwork, scheduled days away from computers, and it will run simultaneously with the in-person classes. The teachers in this cluster will arrange field outings to outdoor venues where social distancing can be maintained. For those families who do not want to participate in these activities or who are unable to provide transportation, there will be a live Zoom feed when possible. In addition, we expect that each day will contain fewer classes than last year, and we look forward to finding new ways of promoting hands-on learning in this environment. Also, we will be reserving a significant portion of each Friday for non-academic activities. Plan on more one-on-one check-ins and activities designed to foster social cohesion in an isolated age.
For those families who elect to participate in the cluster with maximized in-person instruction, we expect the percentage of school days spent in the building to vary at different points in the term; however, we will be easing into this process, both out of an abundance of caution and in acknowledgement that the key metrics that we monitor are expected to be in flux for the near future as Washington State changes how they tally test results. Please note that even in the maximized in-person cohort, faculty may opt to teach remotely. In these situations, a staff member will accompany the in-person class to assist with classroom management and to facilitate any technology needs or issues that arise.
COVID-19 Risk Management & Community Guidelines
Explorations Academy will use a multi-tiered strategic approach as recommended by the Department of Health and developed by our internal COVID-19 Task Force. This approach does not rely on one particular health and safety procedure but rather a group of strategies that overlap and help protect students, staff, and families. Please note that this is only an overview, and full details are available in the attached COVID-19 Risk Management & Community Guidelines document. Some components of this plan include information regarding our Phased Re-Opening and metrics of each “Zone,” Health Screening at Entry, Cloth Face Coverings, Hygiene practices, Student or staff showing COVID-19 symptoms while at school, and Drop-Off and Pick-Up. If your family opts into the in-person maximized cohort or plans to take advantage of any of the optional in-person activities offered, please make sure you are comfortable with requirements to participate and the commitment to community by which you will be expected to abide. The COVID-19 Risk Management & Community Guidelines and associated forms and checklists will be made available on the Explorations Academy website in the coming weeks.
Next Steps & Future Communications
Teachers are currently hard at work planning for next year’s curriculum. Expect an email in the coming weeks that goes over our offerings and allows your family to select in-person or online instruction or to voice your preference for the theme associated with each offering.
Once more, thanks again for all your input. I fully recognize that it is impossible to create a plan that responds to everyone’s concerns; however, the organization has done its best to formulate a course of action that responds to as many requests as possible, ensures a life-changing education, and keeps everyone safe.
If you have any additional questions or concerns, please know that my door is always open. In addition, I am happy to organize Zoom meetings with individuals or groups who would like to further discuss this process or its result.
I am looking forward to an amazing year working with you all to strengthen this community and create unprecedented educational opportunities,
Head of School