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School Reopening 101|Teaching & Learning in the Era of COVID-19

Greg Kwasnik
The health and safety of Holderness School students is always our first priority. So when students return to our beautiful, 600-acre campus in New Hampshire’s White Mountains this fall, they’ll find significant changes to their usual daily routines, all to greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19. From wearing a mask in class to staggered mealtimes, these new measures will help us meet the realities of pandemic life - and provide new opportunities for growth. 
We recently sat down with one of the architects of these changes, Director of Teaching and Learning Kelsey Berry. Here, Kelsey brings us up to speed on what’s new at school this fall, and how these changes could provide real opportunities for positive change. “A lot of schools are talking about how this is an opportunity to rethink school from the ground up,” Kelsey says. “One of the principles of our learning master plan is to balance conventional and progressive pedagogy, and I think we’re doing that well.”
 
MASKS & SOCIAL DISTANCING
In accordance with CDC and New Hampshire Reopening Guidelines, all students and employees will be required to wear masks indoors at all times. Masks will be worn outdoors when it is not possible to maintain a six-foot distance from others. That means all students and teachers will wear masks during class, and students will sit at individual, assigned desks spaced a minimum of three feet apart with six feet of spacing where possible. 

To maintain in-class hygiene, students and teachers will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering a classroom, and will wipe down their desks and any surfaces they’ve touched at the end of class. And since the spacious, 600-acre Holderness School campus often requires students to walk outside between classes, outdoor masks breaks will be encouraged. “Kids are outside no matter the weather, transitioning between academic spaces normally,” Kelsey says. “If kids are more than six feet apart outside, they can take their mask off and we’re encouraging them to do that as they transit.”
 
STAGGERED CLASS SCHEDULES
Designing a class schedule for nearly 300 students is no easy task, and it’s made even more difficult with social distancing requirements. This fall, each class will meet for 180 minutes each week - 30 minutes less than in past fall schedules, but with no material impact on student learning. In addition, each class block will be subdivided into three sections to allow for staggered start and end times. This staggered schedule will prevent the hallway congestion that occurs when all classes begin and end at the same time.  
 
CLASS LENGTH? IT DEPENDS
The new staggered schedule also gives teachers added flexibility in determining the length of their classes. While each class must meet for 180 minutes each week, class length will now vary depending on the class. For example, a Studio Art or Environmental Science class may meet for 90 minutes twice a week to allow for labs and studio work. In contrast, a Geometry class, where practice and repetition are important, might meet for 45 minutes four times a week. “For the first time, I was able to say to teachers ‘How would you like to teach your specific class?’” Kelsey says. “For the most part we’re able to give people their first or second choice in how they’re going to teach – I’d say 80 to 85 percent of classes, which is great.”
 
SATURDAYS
This year, students will forego traditional Saturday morning classes in favor of programs to support their social and emotional health. “There have been a lot of initiatives we haven’t found time and space for in the schedule over the past few years that we wanted to do around socio-emotional learning,” Kelsey says. This year, students will get that all-important socio-emotional boost.
 
Each Saturday, students will begin their day with a virtual assembly in their dorm PODs before moving on to a rotating menu of enrichment programs and grade-specific programming. The rotating programs will include equity and inclusion work, health and wellness, and outdoors and service. Notably, the grade-specific programming will include multiple days focused on the college process for seniors and juniors. Throughout the fall, seniors will spend time on Saturdays meeting with their college advisor, completing applications, and working on their essays with some of the school’s English teachers. Juniors will begin college-specific work in the spring.

TECH FOR TEACHING
While the vast majority of students will be on campus this fall, some may continue distance learning from home. To improve the experience for these students - and their teachers - each class will have a 65” television equipped with advanced teleconferencing equipment. Students learning at home will now be able to see the interactive whiteboards in class, and hear their teachers and classmates on campus; students in the classroom will likewise be able to see and hear their classmates at home. It’s a big step up from the laptop-based Zoom classes students attended last spring. The new academic technology will also vastly improve the experience for teachers, should distance learning resume for everyone. “If we do have to go remote, it’s a much better tech for the teacher to use,” Kelsey says. “The teacher can see the whole class and be presenting, which is cool.”
 
CHAPEL & SCHOOL ASSEMBLIES
Important community events like Chapel and assembly will be held outdoors in a socially-distanced format whenever the weather allows. That’s just one of the benefits of having a gorgeous campus with plenty of open space. In the case of inclement weather, these events will be held virtually. To maintain a sense of social interaction and community, students will watch these events in a group setting in their respective dorms. “We want to eliminate the number of times kids are sitting in their rooms starting at the computer by themselves,” Kelsey says. “So at least now they’re looking at a TV with all their dorm mates, who they can be unmasked with for chapel and assembly.” 
 
SOCIALLY-DISTANCED DINING
When your dining hall is as good as ours, there tends to be a rush of students and faculty at mealtimes. This year, with social distancing measures in place, our dining hall will only seat 140 people - or close to 50% of its regular capacity - at any given time. This means meals will now be served on a staggered schedule, with students assigned to one of four breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners. As such, family-style dinners, as we have known them, will be on hold for the foreseeable future. Students will also be allowed and encouraged to eat outdoors whenever the weather allows. 
 
Have questions about the reopening of school? Check out our Fall Reopening FAQs 

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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness, NH 03245

MAIL P.O. Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
PHONE (603) 536-1257
EMAIL info@holderness.org