October 16, 2020

Dear Lab School Families:

Thank you for your partnership during the opening six weeks of the 2020-21 school year. We are most grateful to the 202 families who responded to our recent pulse survey on October 7th. Seventy-seven percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that your child has had a positive start to the school year, while 6% disagreed or strongly disagreed. While we are pleased with this response, we want every Lab School student to have a positive year, and we will work diligently to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students. If you would like to see more detail on the results of the survey, please click HERE.

The purpose of my letter today is to update you on our plans for the period through Winter Break. 

The Schedule for Late October
This week we have continued with Virtual Plus programming in our Elementary division (one full day on campus per academic club) and Intermediate division (one afternoon on campus per team). Next week, Elementary students will continue with this schedule. The Intermediate division will be continuing with virtual teaching/learning, and Junior High and High School will have their second Virtual Plus day on Wednesday, 10/21. Junior High activities will take place on the Reservoir campus, while High School activities will take place offsite at the National Mall. Parents will receive more specific information from your divisions.

During the week of October 26th, we will begin our transition from the Virtual Plus modality to a pilot of our hybrid modality. During this week, two Elementary academic clubs will be on campus on Tuesday/Wednesday, and two academic clubs will be on campus on Thursday/Friday. Intermediate will have one full day on campus with each team. Junior High and High School students will be virtual, and our teachers will be prepping for the hybrid mode to begin on November 2nd.

As always, our plans for the upcoming weeks are subject to change depending on variations in the virus metrics (daily case rate, positivity rate, rate of transmission), which we monitor continually. Because our students and teachers come from many parts of the region, we monitor the metrics from a number of counties. However, we are subject to DC requirements and public health mandates in our decision-making. 

Plans for Our Hybrid Pilot in November
As I have previously shared, this year has required us to use a different approach to planning. We are being forced to think about shorter time increments for our plans because of the many changing variables. Instead of developing a plan for the academic year, a semester, or even a quarter, we are planning several weeks or at most several months ahead. We recognize that this “just in time” planning can create frustration and stress for both families and teachers; however, this approach is a necessary part of this unusual set of circumstances.

Our next pivot – a pilot period for our hybrid modality – will take us through the Thanksgiving Break. For the three weeks beginning November 2nd through November 19th, we will move to a more robust period of on-campus teaching and learning. The schedule from next week through November for each division is provided here

In creating these schedules, we have remained committed to our goals of providing in-person opportunities for teaching, learning, and connection, while also adhering to important principles for risk mitigation to protect the safety and well-being of our entire community. Please review the risk mitigation plan that will guide our work on campus for the weeks ahead.

Our transition to more on-campus, in-person teaching and learning during November will serve as a pilot of our hybrid modality. This pilot offers us the opportunity to learn how best to deliver our educational and social-emotional program when we have students learning and teachers teaching both on and off campus. 

Our teachers and students learned a great deal about how to teach and learn virtually from March to June of last school year. This experience enhanced our ability to deliver an exceptional virtual experience this fall. Likewise, we will learn much from this short pilot of hybrid teaching and learning that will help us be prepared for a potential hybrid spring semester. In addition, this pilot of our hybrid modality will allow our teachers the opportunity to enhance our knowledge of our students, thereby supporting their social-emotional well-being.

I want to acknowledge that each person and family in our community has a different reality that impacts the ability to return to campus.

In addition to our extensive risk mitigation plan, we have added a number of additional steps to enhance our ability to execute our hybrid modality successfully.

  • Enhancement of Outdoor Spaces: We have embarked on an ambitious technology project that will provide Wi-Fi access to all areas of the outdoor campus at Reservoir.  This technology upgrade will greatly enhance our capacity for more robust outdoor teaching and learning, and we are creating a system for organizing, reserving, and cleaning these spaces so that they are available to all on the Reservoir campus. Our teachers and students at Foxhall have already been using large segments of the outdoor campus successfully in our Virtual Plus modality, and will continue to do so as we move ahead.

  • Teacher Work Day(s): We are adding at least one teacher work day for each division prior to November 2nd. On these divisional work days, students in that division will not have virtual classes. The work days are necessary to provide time for our teachers to effectively set up hybrid classrooms and plan for this new modality. In addition, we have created some new classroom spaces to allow for greater physical distancing and teachers need to prepare those for students. None of our teachers have previously taught in a hybrid format – with students both online and in-person. They need the opportunity to try new things and to learn from both successes and challenges.

  • Community-Wide COVID-19 Testing: We have arranged for community-wide COVID-19 PCR tests. Testing will be required for all members of our community (students, faculty, staff, and administration) who are returning to campus in November. The testing will take place in a drive-through format on the Reservoir campus on October 26 from 9:00am-6:00pm. Click here for more information about the logistics of the testing and a link to sign up. Community members may also choose to have testing done through their personal physician or at another site. If families choose this option, we ask that PCR test be conducted no earlier than October 26th and results be submitted to our nurses by Friday, October 30th. The purpose of this testing is to have a “snapshot” of the positivity rate of our community, particularly as it relates to our region at large. It should not create – for any of us – a false sense of security as our risk mitigation efforts are the most important defense that we have to protect our community. 

  • A Shared Community Agreement: We have created a community agreement for all members of the Lab School community – parents, students, faculty, staff, and administration. This agreement outlines our shared obligation to each other in providing a safe on-campus teaching and learning environment. The choices we make about mitigating risk in our personal lives support the ability of our community to be together on-campus for teaching and learning. This community obligation is critical to moving forward with and continuing the hybrid modality in November and the second semester.  All parents are asked to read and acknowledge the community agreement.

  • Virtual Window Prior to Thanksgiving: We have moved parent conferences for all divisions to Monday (November 23rd) and Tuesday (November 24th) before Thanksgiving, and all divisions will be virtual only on Friday, November 20th. This means that in-person teaching and learning will finish on Thursday, November 19th. This virtual window will provide a measure of safety for families and teachers who may choose to be with extended family during the Thanksgiving holiday.

After Thanksgiving and Beyond
When we return from Thanksgiving Break on Tuesday, December 1st, we will return to virtual teaching and learning, which we will continue through Winter Break. 

We will do this for two primary reasons. First and foremost, this will provide a measure of safety for our community following a period where many are likely to travel outside of our area. Second, reverting to a virtual environment will allow us time to apply the learning that happens during our pilot of the hybrid modality. We will be able to make changes to our program, our processes, and our technology in preparation for returning to a hybrid modality shortly after the Winter Break. 

If our regional virus metrics support this decision, we will return to on-campus teaching and learning in the hybrid modality following the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and Inauguration Day.
 
Acknowledging Individual Readiness for the Hybrid Pilot
As we prepare to enter this hybrid pilot, we recognize that members of our community are in many different places regarding readiness to commit to an in-person teaching and learning environment. We have surveyed families several times during these first six weeks of school. We have heard from many of you the hope that we can have more in-person teaching and learning this fall. Some families (between 10-12%) have expressed reluctance to have their children return to campus. Others have expressed a desire to explore this option, but have acknowledged that they will need to consider carefully the virus metrics and the school’s risk mitigation plan in order to make this decision.

Once you have reviewed all of the documents and information provided in this e-mail, we ask that you share your intention regarding sending your student for on-campus learning during the pilot of our hybrid modality. Your responses are critical to our planning for the hybrid period. We ask that you respond by completing this form by Tuesday, October 20 at 5pm. 

An Opportunity for Questions
I will be hosting three parent drop-ins over the next two weeks to answer questions. The dates are Monday 10/19 and Thursday 10/22 from 8:30am-9:15am and Tuesday 10/27 from 5:30-6:15pm. The Zoom link for all meetings is included HERE. You are also, of course, welcome to reach out to me by e-mail with individual questions. 

How Can Parents Help Lab During This Pilot?
I am grateful to this parent community for your support during these challenging times. Many of you have expressed gratitude for the hard work of our teachers in preparing for every eventuality of this year. Some of you have asked what else you can do. 

First, please know that our teachers will – as they always do – be striving to provide the best possible experience for our students during our hybrid pilot. Because our teachers are new to hybrid teaching, we ask for an extra measure of understanding when things don’t go exactly according to plan. We will provide an opportunity for you to give us your feedback and suggestions so that we can use what we learn in November to improve our hybrid modality in January.

Second, some of our teachers will not be able to return to in-person teaching during this hybrid pilot. In those cases, we will, of course, provide a monitor in the classroom to assist with classroom management and tech support, while our expert teachers continue delivering instruction. As we adjust to new routines for lunch and moving around campus, we will use monitors to ensure students are maintaining physical distancing and other risk mitigation practices. 

We will be able to staff many of these roles in-house. We have also hired some additional staff to assist. And, we may benefit from parent volunteers during this hybrid period. If you are interested in a volunteer opportunity on campus during November, please complete this form to share your interest. We will reach out to you in the next two weeks if we are in need of your volunteer hours. We greatly appreciate, as always, the support of our parent community.
 
In Closing
It is my hope that the approach I have outlined will carry us forward in a positive direction for the days, weeks, and months ahead. This will be a long school year, but I am confident in this community’s ability to weather these challenging times with grace, perseverance and care for each other.

I will close with words shared recently by a Lab School parent. They state better than I could the attitude and determination which I hope will ground us all as we work together:

“LAB has been a port in the storm for so many of us long before this pandemic and extraordinary upheaval in our country.  For so many of us, we entrusted our children to LAB at a time when they were in crisis and we felt powerless to be able to help them. And, as other parents have said, LAB has saved our kids.  

We already know that LAB is a place to find comfort, acceptance, understanding and help when the stakes seem so high and the task so impossible. The reason that LAB, all of you really, have done such a remarkable job during this pandemic with distance learning, supporting kids and parents, maintaining community, sense of purpose and hope through this unprecedented time is that you're all just continuing to do what you've always done. Take an obstacle that seems insurmountable and have the vision, the fortitude, the courage to say, ‘Let's just put one foot in front of the other and see where that takes us.’ “

I hope you feel as inspired as I do to be part of a community that can do this extraordinary work on behalf of children. Thank you for trusting us with your children, and for being a part of making this happen.

Best regards,
Kim Wargo
Head of School