Dear Families,
Let me begin by thanking those of you who have been able to fill out the remote learning survey. If you have not done so yet, we'd appreciate it if you could fill out
the survey this weekend. We always want to hear from you, as you are living the learning experience daily with your children.
Given what we have learned to date from our families, as well as some questions that have come out of the survey, I am going to offer a Q & A for this week's communication.
What are the specific strengths of Pine Cobble's remote learning program?
The teachers. The learning and evolution that happened between last spring and this fall, so that screen time is more tightly focused, which in turn allows more time for off-screen work in the afternoons. The consistent engagement, excitement for learning, and availability of teachers who go the extra mile. The structure of the classes.
What are the challenges of remote learning?
The desire for more social interaction with friends has been shared by families of Beginner, PreK and K students as well as families of older students. Some families like the virtual social experiences, and some would prefer not to have more screen time. We will continue to offer optional on screen social interactions for all ages, and, below, you will learn of an outdoor socialization program we are planning to roll out in 2021.
We have also heard from some families about challenges with connections to live classes. In this regard, we are making sure that live classes are recorded and posted. And, building upon this, we will also be developing and uploading some new specialist asynchronous opportunities.
Finally, we are sensitive to the demands on parents who have to do their jobs and simultaneously support younger children in their remote learning. The evolution of our recorded lessons and asynchronous activities are designed to help in that regard. We also strongly encourage you to please be in touch, so that we can work together on ways we can help address your family's specific needs.
Is there anything else you would like to know?
In this final question of the survey we heard from families that they would like more information about what the PCCRI (Pine Cobble COVID Risk Index) is, how it is used, and how it will be used in determining a return to in-person school.
The PCCRI weights the percentage of our students, faculty, and staff from each of our sending counties when looking at COVID cases per 100,000 residents in those counties. Our population percentages are as follows:
Berkshire County: 75%
38% in Williamstown
18% in North Adams
19% in Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesboro, Pittsfield, Savoy
Bennington County:19%
Arlington, Bennington, N. Bennington, Pownal, Readsboro, Shaftsbury, Stamford

Rensselaer/Washington Counties: 6%
Berlin, Cropseyville, Eagle Bridge, Grafton, Petersburg, Stephentown, W. Creek
Statistical analysis of data from earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that once the PCCRI hit values above 4.0, and remained there for at least 72+ hours, this would indicate an upcoming rapid increase in COVID cases that would make it unsafe for the Pine Cobble community to continue with in-person learning.
On several occasions this fall, components of our PCCRI showed significant increases requiring additional study. Our data analysis demonstrated that the cases involved were contained to specific nursing homes, and, with medical guidance, we made the decision to remain open.
On November 10th, the day we made the decision to move to remote instruction, our PCCRI had hit 5.7 and was over 4.0 for 72+ hours prior. The week following our decision, the PCCRI had risen to 17.6 and today it is at 29.8, confirming the earlier statistical analysis. Our decision to move to remote learning was the responsible decision not only for our community of students, faculty, staff and their families, but also for the broader region. And within days of our decision, schools in Adams, Cheshire, North Adams, Pittsfield, Dalton, and Lenox moved to remote learning. While having your children on campus for in-person learning is what we all want, we are always going to base our decisions in science and data from our sending counties, and make the responsible choice for our students, faculty, staff and their families.
What will guide our decision to return to in-person school?
To quote our advising physician, Chief of Staff at Southern Vermont Medical Center, Dr. Dobson, in a conversation this Wednesday, "right now the cases are on the rise so fast, we don't know what could happen because the prevalence is not clear yet." 
That said, our ongoing analysis of data from earlier stages of the pandemic, as well as some related modeling, indicates that three stages are likely:
  • An initial steep rise in the number of cases, where risk is high;
  • A plateau stage, where the number of cases remains high, but stabilizes overall, and carefully designed outdoor activities may be undertaken safely
  • A drop to a much lower number of cases, where in-person learning may be resumed, with appropriate precautions.

The PCCRI threshold of 4.0 acts as a fail-safe where the return to in-person learning is concerned. In other words, in-person learning will definitely resume when the PCCRI falls below this threshold - but it is likely that the tipping point from the plateau to the drop stage will allow for the transition to occur sooner than this.

Pine Cobble will continue with remote learning at this time. Please read carefully below to learn about the different stages that we envision in 2021. 
In 2021, our plan is to begin an outdoor program with our early childhood students and, once that program is fully in place, offer a similar, age appropriate program for our first through eighth graders.
As described above, our medical team has advised us that the current sharp rise in COVID-19 cases needs to have leveled off and stabilized in our sending communities before we can begin our outdoor program. We cannot put a specific date on when this will occur, but as soon as these conditions are met, we will do PCR testing from the Broad Institute for the whole school community, and subsequently bring our Beginner, PreK and K classes to campus to begin the outdoor program we have been excitedly planning. Prior to beginning this program, we will send a survey, which will help us do our best to make it feasible for all families to participate in these socialization opportunities.
This optional program will be focused on socialization, and all required academics will continue to be offered remotely for all of our students until a safe return to in-person learning is feasible. This outdoor program will include walks/hikes, scavenger hunt type activities in our back fields with a variety of themes, and, when snow arrives, a whole host of options from sledding, to snow art, snow sculptures and much more. 
When we expand the outdoor program to first through eighth grades, we will have scheduled times throughout each day, bringing different cohorts to campus, with activities and adventures led by our outdoor program team of faculty and staff. 
The outdoor experience will, assuming PCCRI numbers stay stable, stay in place until we are able to return to full days of in-person school.
To return to full days of in-person school, I want to be clear what is needed for that to happen. As indicated above, a shift to a sustained downward trend, along with other variables that our medical advisors may recommend that we weigh at any given time, will be essential before a return to in-person school. This means that we will not put a specific PCCRI number on a return to in-person school: the key component will be a transition to the drop regime. Of course, as always, any family who wishes to remain in fully remote instruction for their child may choose to do so, even when we return to in-person learning.
More to come in next week's communication about what the optional, outdoor socialization program looks like. We are excited to share what we are planning, and we are looking forward to rolling out the program beginning with our youngest students, as soon as we can safely do so in 2021.