This page serves as a central resource for Walden community members. Real-time updates, the status of ongoing decisions, and helpful resources will be posted here. Please see our Reopening Plan, Health & Safety Plan, and informational video below, which incorporates current guidelines for the upcoming school year. For additional questions, please email email@example.com. Additional resources are highlighted below as well.
8.13.20 - Reopening Plan
Dear Walden Families,
Carly and I have a combined 75 years of experience in education and never has our job as educators been this challenging. The responsibility we feel for the health and safety of our students, families and staff is our foremost concern. Of equal importance is honoring the commitment we have made to you about your child’s education at Walden. We are honored you have chosen Walden and want nothing more than to give you what you so intentionally signed up for. So how do we accomplish both of these things in a pandemic that has lasted far longer than anyone anticipated?
As you probably know, on Tuesday the PA DOH released new recommendations for reopening of schools. According to the recommendations, Delaware county is at a 5.2% positivity rate, which puts us in the “Moderate” range of community transmission. Anything below 5% is considered “Low” community transmission. The Moderate range of community transmission calls for a blended model or full remote learning. The Low range of community transmission allows for full in person or blended. While we believe this language is intended primarily for public school districts serving much larger populations of people, we need to consider it as well.
Being on the bubble of these categories, along with being surrounded by public schools who are opting for an all virtual start has put us in a very tough position. We have always said that as long as our state and county were in yellow or green, we would re-open. But once again, new recommendations have been added.
Our goal is to find the right window to open safely so that we can keep school open as long as we can. To that end, we are proposing a staggered opening in which PS/K & Gr. 1-2 students will begin full time in the building on August 31 and Gr. 3-8 will begin virtually on August 31. We will monitor the county positivity rate until Delaware county is in the low range, or under 5% for at least a week before having all the students in the building.
We feel that by reducing the number of people in the building while Delaware County is on the bubble between moderate and low community transmission, we have a better chance of sustaining success in keeping school open. Although our class sizes are small and we are committed to keeping students in pods, we fear that if we brought the entire school back to campus while the medical experts are anticipating a possible increase after Labor Day travel, we would be making shut down decisions as soon as we were opening. Please know and trust that we want to be back in the building even more than the students! Be assured our Pandemic Team will monitor the data regularly and re- assess in mid- September with the goal of fully opening as soon as possible.
We know this may not be the news that some of our elementary and middle school families want to hear, and we are sorry. We’ve been to dozens of webinars, regularly meet with other school administrators and have directly sought the expertise of Dr. David Rubin, Director of CHOP Policy Lab who has quickly become a leading authority on the safe reopening of school. Dr. Rubin shared that many schools have opted to bring their youngest children in first because they tend to be less symptomatic, therefore we expect the risk of transmission to be lower. With 24 new preschool students, we want to offer these children an opportunity to get to know their teachers, build relationships with their classmates and orient themselves to their classrooms and materials.
Although not ideal, the older students are more independent and are capable of managing the online classroom. To best serve the needs of our 3-8th grade students over the short term we will be working with our teaching teams to ensure a high level of synchronous instruction to build community and connection as well as provide regular academic instruction. Our teachers will be working from the building and over the next week we will be digging deeper into the details of the schedule with the goal of having synchronous instruction end by 1:30 to allow students the option to sign up for one on one or small group sessions in the classroom with teachers at school when needed!
We will also be considering any new students in Gr. 3-8 and how we can best accommodate them, so if your child is new to us, we will follow up individually to talk about a plan! Additionally, we will plan a pick up day before the start of school/ meet the teacher/ do assessment/ possible opportunity to connect with classmates. We will work to plan time to bring kids to school to connect with teachers and friends as we know how desperately it is needed!
Thank you again for choosing The Walden School for your child/ren. We look forward to seeing you soon on the school campus!
Mary and Carly
8.5.20 - Health & Safety Plan
Dear Walden Families,
We hope you are staying well and healthy. Thank you for your patience as we have worked through the ever-changing details about what the reopening of school for 2020-2021 will look like. The health and safety of our community is our foremost concern. Although we have invested untold hours and poured over endless research to plan our return to learning in the building, we are also keenly aware that the COVID-19 situation is dynamic and could require us to pivot to virtual learning for a period of time. As you probably know, many local school districts are quickly changing to a virtual start at least for the month of September and although some of their planning is different because of the much larger size of their student population, each school in our county must all consider the same health data. We will consult with our contact at the Chester County Department of Health and will make a firm decision by Friday, August 14th.
That being said, as long as Pennsylvania/ Delaware County is in the yellow or green phase, we hope to welcome the students back to the building on August 31. In order to maximize safety, we have established firm limits of class sizes of 15 children per room and will strictly adhere to the cohort model of keeping students together as a pod throughout their school day as a way of reducing potential exposure. Daily symptom screening and temperature reporting through a user friendly app that parents will complete before school will be another major support in ensuring that staff and children are only coming to school when they are healthy! We all need to take care of each other!
Attached to this email you will find our Board approved Health and Safety plan that outlines further details of how we’ve prioritized student safety. The plan is based on the template created by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and will also be accessible on our website. There is much that is similar to the video that was shared with our community in June, with the exception of a few key changes that are summarized below.
According to the PA Department of Education, all students over the age of two are required to wear “face coverings”.
At Walden, we will ask that the “face covering” each person wears is in the form of a double layered cloth mask as they are currently considered “the gold standard” of safety measures. Cloth masks must be secured to the head and wrap around the lower face so the nose and mouth are covered. We realize that it may be easier for children to wear a neck gaiter that can easily be pulled up and down. If you opt to do so, please make sure it is of a high quality material, double layered and securely fit. Because bandanas can leave some exposure through the sides and bottom, we ask that students not use a bandana as a face covering.
We realize that many local schools may include the option for face shields without masks, but based on the research below, we feel strongly that masks are the safer option for our staff and students. If students or teachers would like to wear a shield as an additional precaution over their mask, we encourage them to do so.
"If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, told ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton on Wednesday. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force coordinator, made similar statements about the benefits of face shields on Fox News on Thursday.Fauci and other experts stress, though, that face shields are just that: an added layer of potential protection to be in addition to masks, not an alternative. "We can't view them as direct replacements of masks," said ABC News contributor John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and the chief innovation officer for the Boston Children's Hospital. "High quality masks should still be considered the gold standard."
We realize that no one wants to wear a mask all day, but if we want to learn in the building, it’s simply what we need to do to protect ourselves and each other. Many parents have shared how well their children have adapted to extended mask wearing through summer camps so we are confident that they will manage this new way of life even better than adults!
Teachers will maximize space and use of the outdoors as much as possible so that teachers can give “mask breaks” as often as it is safe. According to PDE, “Schools should provide face covering breaks throughout the day. Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet during these face covering breaks. Schools may allow students to remove face coverings when students are:
Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart;
Seated at desks or assigned workspaces at least 6 feet apart;
Engaged in any activity at least 6 feet apart (e.g., face covering breaks, recess, etc.); or
When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.”
Temperature taking via Magnus app:
Upon further consideration and best practices for more comprehensive daily symptom screening, we will be asking families to take temperatures at home in the morning and complete a brief, but important checklist to ensure that children are healthy before coming to school. The Magnus app we have purchased comes highly recommended from other Independent schools in our community and we will send instructions for parents as soon as they are available. We thank you in advance for spending the extra few minutes each day to support the collective well being of our Walden family!
Infrared thermometers will also be kept in each classroom so that teachers can readily take temperatures should a child not be feeling well.
Outdoor learning and Ventilation:
In order to offer as many outdoor learning opportunities as possible, Walden will be placing a 20x40 foot tent large enough to accommodate 2 classes at a time. There will be a wall between the 2 outdoor classrooms and that space will be large enough so that students will be 6 feet apart. There will be a weekly sign up sheet for teachers to select times that work well for their class. Teachers will take students to learn outdoors whenever possible!
As previously mentioned in the video from June, Walden’s HVAC system has been cleaned and updated and charcoal filters have been added. (Lucky for us, our wonderful facilities manager, Wayne Troop is an HVAC specialist!)
All windows throughout the building will be open as often as possible and wind tunnel fans will be purchased for each classroom to maximize air flow.
Students will go outside for recess!
Preschool students will use the front area on a staggered schedule and students will remain with their cohorts. Playground equipment will be cleaned between classes.
Elementary and middle school students will be in the back of the school and remain with their classes in a designated area.
Because we cannot guarantee that students will remain 6 feet apart while playing, masks will be worn during recess unless students are given permission by the teacher on duty to distance themself and take a mask break.
Walden has followed their standard back to school protocol for arranging transportation for students through their individual districts. At this point, we have not heard of any changes that will be happening, but you might want to contact your local public school district to confirm your child’s arrangements.
Staggered arrivals of PS/K & EL/MS are already in place which allows for social distance
We will avoid congestion by using multiple entrances, as Mrs. Coyne/ Heness (P/K 1) and Mrs. Roddy/ Goldstein (P/K 2) will have students come directly to their classroom door rather than using the main entrance.
All students wear masks upon entry and sanitize their hands.
EL/MS students will enter through main doors on Sandy Bank Road until 8:00 and Providence Road doors after 8:00.
PS/K parents will park their car in a parking space, walk their child to the designated entrance and say goodbye at the door.
The busy time of day will be carefully staggered so that a limited number of students are traveling through the building at once.
For indoor dismissal, students will be picked up from exterior classroom doors or designated door on Sandy Bank or Providence Road. Outdoor dismissal will take place from a designated area on the playground. Teachers will provide further details in upcoming communication.
A teacher will stand outside starting at 2:45/ 2:50 to call small groups of students for the bus .
Bus students are dismissed first beginning at 2:50 and will be supervised by another teacher outside to get them on the bus and monitor social distancing.
Parents for car line should not arrive until 3:00 to avoid both traffic congestion and having too many students traveling through the building at one time.
There will be a teacher in the upstairs EL/MS hallway who goes to the classroom door to notify small groups of children when it is time to leave.
As your summer winds down, we respectfully request that all of our staff and families remain aware of Pennsylvania’s list of travel restrictions and the recommended quarantine of 14 days after traveling to the following states: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Travelers.aspx
We cannot overemphasize the importance of caring for each other as a community by following all the proper precautions!
Q. Many local public schools are following a hybrid model. Has Walden considered a hybrid approach?
A. Public schools are offering a hybrid approach largely because they are unable to implement the required safety guidelines of 6 feet of distance if all of their students are in the building at once. Fortunately, Walden’s small class sizes allow us to allow 6 feet of distance between students even when all students are present! Additionally, the size of our community is more conducive to containing students to pods and having them remain in a single group/ classroom for the day which greatly reduces potential exposures.
Q. What happens when someone in a classroom is suspected of having COVID-19?
A. It cannot be overemphasized that sick children must stay home. No adult or child with symptoms should be in school and the Magnus app will help ensure that each family and staff member is monitoring their health on a daily basis.
If we have a confirmed case of COVID-19, Chester County Department of Health officials will be immediately notified. These officials will help administrators determine a course of action for our school and collaborate with the Pandemic Team to make decisions on a case by case basis. The team may consult with medical providers on best practices related to specific cases. The student or staff member will need to be cleared by their physician if they have been confirmed positive for COVID-19, and be fever free for three days with improved symptoms, and ten days since symptoms first appeared. The chart from the Chester County Department of Health that is found on the last page of the attached Health and Safety plan is the guideline that all local schools will be using to determine how cases will be handled. Based on what we’ve heard from people who have gone through the process, they have felt very confident in how CCDH has handled the situation and guided them every step of the way.
Q. How will Walden determine if school is unable to open for in- person learning?
A. We meet with other small Independent schools each week and also stay informed of the decisions of surrounding local school districts. We will also keep a close eye on the data in our area and consult with the school contact at the Chester County Department of Health to review the daily positive case counts, the cumulative cases over 7 and 14 days (i.e. trend data), as well as the characteristics (i.e. age) of the population that may be showing an increase in cases. Other data points in this decision making are also evaluated, including hospitalizations and deaths. If there is compelling evidence that a remote start becomes necessary, we will notify you by August 14th.
Please know this same process will hold true throughout the year to determine if a decision for remote learning needs to be made at any point in time.
Q. If Walden needs to implement flexible learning, will the schedule and offerings be similar to the spring?
A. Although Walden offered a very successful and robust online program in the spring, it was put together with very little notice and was believed to be much more temporary than what was initially thought as a two-week shutdown that lasted for three months. As the stay at home order extended, our offerings evolved, and we made the very best of the situation as Walden’s teachers did an incredible job of engaging students academically and maintaining a close social and emotional connection.
While quickly adapting to a whole new way of teaching and learning, teachers simultaneously worked in planning groups throughout the spring to prepare for the 2020-2021 school year. One group was focused on Facilities and Operations that managed the logistics of learning in the building. The other group focused on Distance Learning and took a hard look at what worked well at each grade level and where we would like to improve. They considered everything from maximizing the schedule for student interaction to balancing screen time, whole group learning, small group learning and individual support.
New Chromebooks have been purchased to add to our existing laptop inventory, and we now know that all of our 5 full day students will have consistent access to technology should the need arise. Teachers have identified the programs and applications that work best at each grade level and will be prepared to offer an engaging, balanced program of synchronous and asynchronous learning should flexible learning need to begin.
Q. I am hearing a lot about pods and cohorts, how exactly does this work at Walden?
A. This is one aspect of the health and safety guidelines that is pretty simple for us and not a drastic change for our students as they’ve always happened at Walden to a certain extent! By keeping students with their class all day in the same space rather than co-mingling with different classes or rotating rooms, their exposure is greatly reduced. Students will remain in their classrooms throughout the day and when it’s time for art, music or language, the teacher will now come to them in the classroom rather than the students entering a space that has been shared by other children. Students will continue to eat lunch with their classmates and stay with their cohort during recess. Our hope is that we will be able to ease up on this as the year unfolds and that students will be able to socialize with friends from other classes when it becomes safe to do so. The more we limit contact, the less people will be impacted if a group needs to be quarantined.
In closing, your child’s health and safety is paramount and your trust is something we will keep working hard to maintain during these uncertain times. We are all in this together and we will keep you informed if we need to adapt and make any further changes. Should you have any concerns regarding the attached Health and Safety plan or if your family’s plans for the school year have shifted, we ask that you contact us as soon as possible.
Mary and Carly