January 14, 2021
Dear St. Mark’s Community,
I hope you had a restful holiday season. As we approach a return to in-person learning on Tuesday, January 19, I write today to welcome all of our students—day and boarding students who will be with us in person, as well as those students who will join us remotely—and to provide some important reminders and updates.
The Health and Safety Task Force continues to meet regularly to examine and discuss local, state, national, and international COVID-19 data and trends. The School is also in regular contact with consultants at Environmental Health & Engineering, a valuable partner in the work of ensuring the safety of the St. Mark’s community, particularly as we return to in-person learning. I am confident in the approach that our Health and Safety Task Force and EH&E have taken, which incorporates frequent testing as well as nonpharmaceutical interventions we introduced in the fall such as mask-wearing, social distancing, regular cleaning of public spaces and classrooms, adjustments to our dining experience, HVAC system upgrades, and the implementation of HEPA filter machines.
Following are some important updates and reminders to keep in mind in the coming days.
Current Parent Open Houses
Parents will have the opportunity to meet virtually with me and members of the senior administrative team in an upcoming series of Current Parent Open Houses. The dates for these sessions will be finalized this week. Please look for a save-the-date email from our Advancement Office soon.
Day Student Expectations
As noted in the January 9 edition of the Deans’ Weekly newsletter, the School has developed a revised list of day student expectations for January through the end of the academic year. We ask families to assist in ensuring their students are able to adhere to these expectations. Our comprehensive control plan requires each member of our community to adhere to necessary safety protocols, including the student expectations outlined here, and we appreciate all you are doing to help in these efforts.
- Students should avoid large gatherings to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. These gatherings should be avoided regardless of location, whether at home or outside the home at another location.
- Students should remain committed to wearing a mask and practicing social distancing whenever they are outside the home.
- Students should avoid dining at any indoor establishment.
- Students should avoid use of public gyms, training facilities, and/or weight rooms, including working with trainers or coaches.
- Students should not hold part-time jobs in which they interact with the general public or with other employees while attending classes in person. Risks associated with exposure, even with the best efforts, are too high and we ask that part-time jobs are avoided while the student is attending classes in person.
- Students should not participate in group activities that include large groups indoors, such as outside organized athletics or other activities that involve large groups. Trips for medical appointments and other essential activities are acceptable.
- Students should maintain the same level of vigilance in upholding the School’s safety plan away from campus by limiting exposure to a limited number of people from outside the home as possible and adhering to social distancing and mask requirements if meeting.
Questions about items that fall outside of these guidelines or need further clarification should be directed to the Dean’s Office, which may request consultation from the Health and Safety Task Force.
Beginning this month, St. Mark’s is moving to a twice-a-week schedule for COVID-19 PCR testing. Exact dates for testing will be shared by Health Services and the Dean’s Office.
As of today, we do not envision a return to normal ISL competition this winter. Our athletics program during the winter will likely be limited to skills training and intrasquad play. I am in close touch with the other heads of school in the ISL and will share any updates about the winter or spring seasons as they become available.
Academics and Schedule
We look forward to welcoming students back to classrooms for the resumption of in-person and remote instruction on Tuesday, January 19. As a reminder, we will run a modified academic schedule for January 19-22. Each class will have one 60-minute in-person block, and one optional due date for a second assignment, which should help to manage student workload as we make our way to the end of the first semester, which closes on January 22. This modified schedule will also give students the opportunity to adapt to the important health and safety protocols and routines that will help us to keep the campus open for learning. Starting January 25, we begin operation of our updated hybrid learning schedule (in person and remote instruction), which has been refined with helpful feedback from students, families and faculty on their experiences this fall. Dean of Academics Mr. Waters provides an overview of some of the features and design considerations of the updated schedule in this explainer video.
Faculty members have been thinking deeply about our pedagogy for supporting both in-person and remote students since we last were on campus in November. Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning Colleen Worrell led a recent session featuring a number of faculty discussing the ways that they use different devices to create an experience that connects remote students to the physical classroom. Whether your student is learning in person or remotely this winter, we encourage them to continue connecting with their teachers and advisor to troubleshoot any challenges they are encountering as the modality shifts back to the hybrid context.
We know that many of you have the modified academic calendar on your minds as we look ahead to a stretch where we will not hold the traditional spring break. Faculty are thinking carefully about the approach to these days off, and how to ensure that the community can have a meaningful rest, even as we keep an eye on providing a rich and appropriately challenging academic experience. Our four-day weekends, February 12-15 and March 26-29, will be “no homework” weekends. For other individual days off (March 4, March 16, April 6, April 19, May 5, and May 20) we are asking teachers to assign no more than 45 minutes of work for the next class meeting, and no major assignments or assessments. A faculty task force led by Dean of Students David Vachris and history teacher Shelly Killeen will be thinking carefully about the programming and expectations for these days. More information about academics throughout the winter and spring will be available in the Deans’ Weekly newsletter each week.
Returning to Campus
Thank you to all of our boarding families who have signed up for move-in times on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, January 16-18. The link to sign up is here. Please arrive 15 minutes earlier than your slotted time for COVID screening. Please come to the MFAC Athletic building (Rt. 85 entrance) to check in and to complete your screening. We have a number of stations set up in the lobby outside the main gym. Please go to the MFAC first (not the front circle).
We ask that students limit what they bring to their House rooms—no furniture, and just the essentials—in the event that we reach the “red” level in our Campus Operation Phase Levels.
Due to the timing of COVID testing, boarding students will need to stay in their Houses until Tuesday morning (January 19) regardless of when results are returned. We will deliver meals to House rooms over the weekend and will sponsor meetings and other activities for those waiting for their results.
Thank you to all of the day students who came to campus on Wednesday and Thursday, January 13 and 14, for their COVID testing. We have made some changes to morning drop-off and check-in locations due to feedback and to weather considerations. Day students in V Form and VI Form should come to Taft Hall in the PFAC to check in and to complete their morning health report. We have created new spaces in the PFAC for V and VI Form day students, which are more accessible and comfortable than the MFAC gym was this fall.
Day students in III and IV Form will continue to use the Library as a day student space. However, check-ins will be located in the Outer Center area (not through the Library Quad). Students should be dropped off at the Front Circle and head to the Outer Center through the English/Religion Wing, or go through the Main Building exterior door that leads to the Outer Center.
Thank you for your attention to these important updates and reminders.