April 23, 2020
Dear Moses Brown Community,
I hope your family is staying healthy, safe, and connected during this unsettling period of social distancing. As we all do our part to “flatten the curve,” I'm struck by the ways that a spirit of community, of caring for one another and the world around us, reflects our values as a Friends school, even as the challenges we face are significant.
Now three weeks into distance learning at MB, I am immensely grateful to our entire community for embracing this new, temporary model of education---to our faculty for their dedication and creativity, our students for their hard work and resilience, and our parents for their patience and engagement at home. The stories of learning, caring, and compassion that I hear every day are inspiring.
This pandemic is frightening and has disrupted just about every aspect of daily life. As we rightly focus on the health and safety of our own families, I would ask the MB community also to be mindful of those on the forefront of battling the disease, as well as those who are facing additional fear and exhaustion, as the pandemic takes an inequitable toll on communities of color as well as families facing insecurity around employment and food.
This letter, one I hoped never to write, provides updated information on the pandemic and its impact on school operations for the rest of this school year.
Campus Closure Extended
Today, Governor Raimondo announced that public and charter schools in Rhode Island will continue with distance learning through the end of the school year. Despite progress in combatting the pandemic, RI is still experiencing community spread, and as a result, we too feel it is safest to keep MB’s campus closed and to maintain distance learning for the rest of the 2019-20 school year.
Perhaps by now many of you were expecting this news. I suppose I was too, but that hasn’t made the outcome any easier, or lessened its emotional impact. In so many ways, Moses Brown is like a family, and it just doesn’t feel the same when we can’t be together to share in each other’s joys, labors, and accomplishments. I am so sorry that this academic year has turned out in a way that none of us ever expected. And I hope, as is true of families, that being apart won't diminish our connections, but instead make us more appreciative of one another when we are able to be together again.
I’m thinking especially about our seniors, the members of the great Class of 2020, and their families. Not only do they miss their friends, teachers, and co-curricular activities, like everyone does, but they’re now wondering about how they’ll experience some of the milestone moments associated with the last year at MB---Senior Celebration, Baccalaureate, and Commencement. I hope that everyone in our community will recognize that their feelings of loss are real. We will do everything in our power to care for them and make the end of the year special.
To that end, I have asked Elise London and our two Assistant Heads, Debbie Phipps and Ron Dalgliesh, to assemble a team to develop alternative ways to celebrate our seniors. They have been working actively with a group of parents and initial information on emerging plans was shared with all senior parents earlier today. Our Director of Student Life, Beth Lantz, and 12
Grade Dean, Kelly Joseph, are also engaging in planning with the seniors. Similarly, OJ Marti and Jared Schott will lead teams in the Lower and Middle schools to reimagine what closing exercises could look like for Fifth and Eighth graders.
I can say this much right now: if it remains unsafe to gather in June, we will still celebrate our seniors in a fun and creative way---possibly blending recorded and live features---on June 11, the day scheduled for Commencement.
Seniors of course will receive their diplomas and thus be fully qualified to begin post-secondary study in the fall. We are also committed to finding a time to fully celebrate the Class of 2020 when we can gather again, in-person, as a community.
While bitterly disappointing, this extended campus closure does allow everyone now to make plans for the final two months of the year.
MB’s distance learning program is going well overall, and we continue to benefit from input from teachers, students, and parents. We will continue gathering feedback and refining our approach for the final seven weeks of the semester. We want to make sure that we are following best practices in terms of screen time, prioritizing students’ social and emotional needs, and striking the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning.
Caring for the socio-emotional development of our students has never been more important. Schools can play an important role in developing the resilience and positivity that students will need to move forward from this moment of global disruption and distress. MB’s teachers and advisors will be proactive in helping students maintain relationships with classmates. And our N-6 Counselor, Krista Haskell, our Psychologist, Jess Stewart, and our Nurse, Barret Clarke, are equally invested and committed to making this period of learning healthy and productive for all students and families.
We are now working through a number of longer-term academic issues related to distance learning. For example, we’re considering the merits of different approaches to grading such as Pass/Fail or ‘No Harm’ (where class averages can go up but not down). In the coming days, Division Heads will be sharing more information about this question as well as issues like final exams.
In the meantime, I want to assure MB families that all students who complete our distance learning program satisfactorily will be ready to progress to the next grade at MB in the fall. We recognize that transitioning back to the classroom after an extended absence will be both joyous but also complicated, especially as we integrate new students coming from distance learning programs at other schools. Our teachers will think deeply about how to make the transition positive and effective for all involved.
Apart from strictly academic concerns, we also want to do everything possible to keep our community feeling connected and engaged in the weeks ahead. Our Extended Day team, for example, just launched a free after-school enrichment program for Lower School students called X-Day Extras, which includes live programs, activities, and do-it-yourself projects two or three afternoons per week. We’ve assembled an internal team focused solely on promoting community connection, and we welcome your ideas (please email Kimmy Samways at
or Ryan Vemmer at
). And Debbie Phipps, Ron Dalgliesh, and I will play a role by hosting periodic Zoom chats for parents.
Since the decision to close campus was made after we went on spring break, we know that many faculty, staff, and students still have belongings and materials at school. Over the next several weeks, division heads will communicate plans to retrieve materials from cubbies and lockers, and employees should continue to contact Peter Arpin to arrange access to offices and classrooms.
We must ask that anyone coming onto the MB campus for these purposes wear a face mask covering the nose and mouth.
As we look toward summer, I am still hopeful that the pandemic will abate to the point where it’s safe to hold some of our usual summer programs. Jen Rawson, MB’s Director of Auxiliary Programs, will be in touch with the community as new information becomes available and decisions are made.
Planning for 2020-21 School Year
As we look toward the fall, we recognize that many families’ economic circumstances have been impacted by the pandemic, and that this has heightened anxiety about enrollment at MB for next year. Right now, we are hopeful, indeed optimistic, that we will be returning to campus for the start of the new year on September 2. But we are also working on contingency plans, e.g., in the event that social distancing restrictions are still in place. We will keep the community closely apprised as the situation continues to evolve.
In the meantime, if you have concerns about your financial situation moving into the summer and fall, please know that we are actively exploring ways to support our families and their desire to remain enrolled at MB. To begin a conversation about financial planning for the 2020-21 school year, please contact Vickie Monta, Chief Financial Officer, Hugh Madden, Director of Admission and Financial Aid, or Bobbi Krein, Director of Enrollment Management. As part of our planning, I’d like to thank our Development staff and parent volunteers who are working on a virtual iteration of MBeThere, our annual Parents Association auction and community celebration, the proceeds of which will support families whose circumstances have changed due to the pandemic.
A Final Thought
At Opening Convocation this year, after our seniors marched through the Front Gate and encircled our entire community, I shared the excitement I always feel at the start of each school year and invited all assembled to embrace the season of change and the moment of renewal and possibility. At the time, I could never have imagined that by year’s end we’d be adjusting to a change as momentous as distance learning.
As an ancient historian, I marvel at the fact that Moses Brown, now 235 years old, has endured periods of change before and always emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. I draw comfort knowing that in this unprecedented moment, even without access to our historic campus, MB remains a vibrant center of learning, full of creative, hard-working, and caring people. It’s the people of Moses Brown who make the school such a special place, the people who will carry us through this change, and the people we most look forward to embracing when we are together again.
As always, thank you for your support, and please reach out to me if you have questions or concerns.
Head of School