Following a challenging spring during which Waterford’s entire community (and much of the world) made an unprecedented and inspiring pivot to quarantine and distance learning, the School’s administration and a COVID Task Force dedicated a busy summer to preparing campus, classrooms, curriculum, and instruction for a return to campus learning. This was a feat that was possible, and yet knowingly and incredibly challenging.
Waterford’s fall opening on August 31 included all Lower School students back full time in grade-level cohorts, and Middle and Upper School students in a hybrid model, rotating ½ of the students on campus and ½ in concurrent learning at home every two days (please note, as of spring term all students—Lower, Middle and Upper School students—are able to be on campus full time. All physical distancing and masking protocols continue to be in place). Both division’s models were dictated by class sizes and 6-feet physical distance spacing. And just like that, students and teachers were back on campus — learning is taking place, teachers have tools available to them to make hybrid learning possible, but also to feel safe while being in person and teaching, and the entire community is committed to being back on campus.
We are pleased to share with you the 10 strategies and commitments that have allowed Waterford School to safely deliver on its mission of providing students with a world-class liberal arts education that stimulates intellect, ignites passion, shapes character during this unique school year. These strategies include:
1. A Commitment to Three Core Health Protocols
Mask-wearing, 6 Feet Physical Distancing, and Daily Health Screenings prior to Campus Arrival
Caring for all members of our community underpins all that Waterford does, and our founding philosophy reminds us of the deep responsibility that we have to each other in our learning: “Learning at Waterford is inherently communal and connected...students and teachers are in it together... learning occurs in the context of others.” We knew that upon opening, more than ever, we needed each other to approach every day with a commitment to our shared expectations of safety, to engage responsibly with each member of our community while on campus and off, and to maintain a resolve to care for one another through these actions. Our ability to return safely to campus instruction, and sustain classroom learning throughout the year, depends on the collective resolve of the Waterford community to practice safety protocols in all areas of our lives.
Central to the Waterford experience are devoted, dynamic and experienced teachers—scholars in their disciplines possessing deep content knowledge, boundless enthusiasm, and a relentless desire to cultivate in their students an enduring love of learning. COVID-19 and continued uncertainty made it clear that Waterford’s faculty needed to be prepared for the many learning scenarios and unknowns, and have platforms to support their pedagogy. Last summer Waterford teachers engaged in five weeks of formal training, in partnership with Global Online Academy, dedicating countless hours to refining their craft and curricula, reinvigorating their passion for teaching, and preparing for the many expected and unexpected ways this year will unfold.
A healthy school environment is dependent on the ability to clean and disinfect surfaces and have highly ventilated air flow to reduce the risk of exposure to viruses. EPA-approved, medical-grade disinfection products are used to frequently and thoroughly clean and disinfect each classroom between classes and all surfaces and areas used. In addition to daily clearing and sanitizing that occurs on a regular basis, each classroom has been set-up with disinfectant and teachers have been trained to clean each classroom prior to the next arriving—inclusive of desks, chairs, and other high touch surfaces (ie. doorknobs, light switches). Additionally, all sinks and bathrooms have been set-up to have automatic faucets, soap and towel dispensers, as well as foot pulls to open doors without the use of hands.
Much of the research shows that good ventilation is an important aspect to a healthy environment. Each classroom and office space throughout campus has been outfitted with individual medical-grade HEPA (High-efficiency particulate arrestance) air filtration units that completely clear the air each hour. Upgrades were also made this summer for increased fresh air intake with higher airflow in all classrooms with high grade Merv-8 filters installed in HVAC systems campus-wide, and UV light Filtration in all Lower School units.
The spring 2020 period of remote learning was planned in a matter of days, so Waterford School wanted to plan in a way that would give our students and teachers every possible chance for serious and effective learning this fall, no matter whether it took place on campus or learning from home. There was an inevitability of having distance learners — in the hybrid Middle and Upper School model, with students choosing to learn concurrently, and with any student who was slightly ill or at home due to quarantine.
Thus, we upgraded camera technology to Owl Cameras and installed monitors into every classroom across campus to facilitate and improve the experience for distance learners. Additionally, by strategically integrating technology into our classroom, students will learn through both teacher-directed and self-directed methods throughout our program utilizing Canvas, Seesaw, and other interactive platforms. Faculty are able to seamlessly teach to students present in the classroom while simulcasting to students who are engaging with the course concurrently from home. The added value of this technology affords students, whether in the classroom or simulcasting from home, a stronger sense of connection and community while in this blended model.
While our students’ return to school this year is unlike any other they have experienced, as a school community we are committed to our students’ academic growth, as well as the strengthening of their social-emotional competencies and helping them build resilience. By strictly capping class size and thoughtfully re-engineering our daily schedule to maintain grade-level cohorts, Lower School students (PreK-Class V) are able to safely learn while maintaining a 6-foot physical distance in our homerooms, in specialist classrooms, and at recess. New Morning Meetings and Closing Circles provide space for moments of consistent connection and reflection with their peers and teachers in a predictable and familiar setting, so students are well-positioned to thrive academically and cognitively, at home, at school, and beyond. In the best of ways, our liberal arts education prepares our students to think creatively, and with a nimble mindset, even in the face of this uncertainty, we are able to model a problem-solving approach grounded in our strong relationships and care for one another.
Middle and Upper School students returned to campus in a hybrid model, rotating ½ of the students on campus and ½ in concurrent learning at home every two days. Given the maintained enrollment, this approach allowed for a safe reopening to support appropriate distancing in average class sizes of 10 students and avoid mixing of cohort groups. Teachers use simulcast technology to livestream classroom activities to students learning concurrently, and students learning at home are able to interact and engage with their teacher and classmates on campus.
The Robotics team meets under large outdoor tents to build their robots and discuss technique, Lower School students can be found eating lunch on the knolls just outside their building, Class VI students find repose while reading aloud to one another in an English Class, Preschool students paint in the outdoor vestibules, and Upper School students find space on the expansive Main Quad to relax and be reinvigorated by the towering Wasatch Mountains before their next class.
Through the winter months, students in Middle & Upper School will utilize a heated and well-ventilated outdoor tent with limited-gathering size to maintain physical distancing and allow for small periods of time to be unmasked while eating.
Waterford School is grateful for our abundant outdoor space in most years, but this year it acts as a way to be together safely while adhering to guidelines.
With two full-time nurses who are both Point of Contacts for the Utah State Health Department, we are able to administer contact-tracing immediately, effectively, and ensure that students and teachers are following quarantine and isolation guidelines. In addition, the nurses ensure that the community is prepared for any illness and has support in the chance that a student becomes sick on campus. This investment reflects the value and priority the school places on the health and wellness of every individual on our campus. In addition to providing expert and clinical support for COVID-19, the school nurses also engage in programmatic health and wellness initiatives campus-wide. Caring for all aspects of our students’ health and wellness is paramount to creating an environment for all students to thrive.
Waterford’s highest priority this year is the health and well-being of each and every one of our students and faculty, all while maintaining program fidelity and quality. Not only have we created visible reminders of the constraints within which we are living — masks, distancing, hand hygiene —but we have also asked for a collective commitment from all members in our community to follow these measures so that we remain together. Each family has shown support and diligence in helping us maintain a healthy environment, which began with signing the Raven Strong & Healthy Pledge. A pledge that outlines the many ways, given the COVID-19 pandemic and Waterford’s core value of Caring, that each student will respect and honor the health and well-being of everyone in our community.
Waterford’s Lower School Head, Dr. Melanie Battistone delights that, “opening this year is likened to opening on the moon, and yet students have embraced the newness”. This is likely due to the many strategies outlined above colliding on day one back on campus, and our students’ readiness to return. And while our return has not been perfect—technology has failed a few times or students have sat too close at lunch—collectively, our students and teachers are adapting, and more importantly, they are joyful and learning has resumed.
Our founding Educational Philosophy states that “Our students value strong expectations that emphasize work, self-discipline, and dependability. As they practice personal accountability within the school context, they realize that learning is inherently communal and connected: that they and their teachers are in it together.“
We are in it together.
Waterford believes the collective preparation and shared commitment to opening safely allowed the successful transition back to school on August 31. And while campus learning and concurrent learning look and feel a bit different this year, the elements that matter most remain — our strong partnership with each family, each student’s curiosity and commitment, the integrity and rigor of our program, the care and expertise of our faculty, and the delivery of our mission.
If you are wondering if Waterford School is right for you and your family, please reach out to us to learn more about our world-class liberal arts education that stimulates intellect, ignites passion, and shapes character. We look forward to meeting up with you soon.