Greetings from Powhatan, where reopening for the coming school year is in full swing. Our faculty and staff are hard at work preparing for the first day of school on Wednesday, August 25. While our situation is much improved from this time last year and many of us had more typical summer experiences, we remain vigilant in the face of another (hopefully final) wave of Covid cases and mindful of the great trust you place in us to both educate and protect your children.
We continue to consult with the same team of medical experts that served us so well last year, and our goal remains keeping school open for in-person learning by employing health and safety routines which will decrease the likelihood of Covid transmission while offering our regular program and retaining as many of our valued traditions as possible. The Virginia Department of Health has emphasized three areas of focus for helping us to do this: vaccination, masking, and physical distancing. Since most of our students are not yet eligible for the vaccine, we must focus on the latter two, and we will begin the school year with everyone wearing masks while indoors (optional outdoors) and continuing to promote physical distancing as much as is practical both indoors and outdoors. There is some hope that this new wave will be short lived, so we take these steps in the fervent hope that we will be able to relax these community expectations in the future, especially for those individuals who have been vaccinated.
I invite you to review the attached Health & Safety Plan which we crafted based on the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Virginia Department of Health. We have learned much about this virus which will allow us to relax or eliminate many other mitigation measures employed last school year. As we plan for the coming year, our regular schedule and traditional events are all tentatively “on” with the understanding that we will be responsive to the pandemic and make adjustments as necessary. We will also begin allowing parents indoors while on campus, initially with new parents just prior to the first day of school and then all parents for Back to School Night and specific volunteer opportunities. All doorways, hallways and bathrooms will once again be open to all students, and all classes will be able to use shared spaces such as the library and makerspace. (Please note that we inadvertently included temperature checks in the arrival procedures distributed earlier this week. We have discontinued temperature checks.)
We should also recognize some silver linings from this trying time. We have learned that two car lines which are both separate from the bus line make the mornings and afternoons flow better for everyone, so we will continue to have separate Lower School and Upper School arrival and dismissal. Cait Gosnell, Darren Holgate, and I will continue to personally welcome students each day by rotating among the arrival locations, though the tradition of physically shaking hands will have to wait. We will continue to emphasize the importance of outdoor teaching and a Nature Enhanced Approach to Learning in order to meet the needs of our students. By maximizing our time spent outdoors, prioritizing eating lunch outside, and promoting healthy habits such as good hand washing, we will instill positive habits that will serve our community in the long term.
We will continue to rely on the full commitment of every family in the Powhatan community to keep us open and safe: take precautions to protect your health, stay home if you are sick, and get vaccinated (or make plans to get children under 12 vaccinated when available). Please also make sure that everyone in your family gets a flu shot. We expect the flu to be more widespread this year, and it will be challenging to differentiate it from Covid.
I recognize the wide variety of opinions as to how we should approach this situation, and I appreciate the patience and understanding of everyone in this remarkable community. The challenges of the past year reinforce that we are a strong and resilient community. We draw so much of this strength directly from our mission. As we think about the coming year, keep our school pillars of civility and respect in mind. By treating others with courtesy and consideration, we provide our children with the outstanding school year they deserve.