3 Ways Westminster School Is Managing the Latest Challenges of the Pandemic
The pandemic has presented day-to-day challenges for nearly every aspect of life, and school is no exception. This has meant everything from unexpected closures to a lack of virtual teaching options at many public schools. The sheer number of students and the need to comply with state regulations continue to hinder these public schools throughout the pandemic.
Because of its small size and independent governance, Westminster School is better equipped than these large public schools to provide a safe, effective environment for learning.
The Benefits of Being an Independent School
As a private school, Westminster is able to remain agile and creative throughout this global pandemic. Being an independent school means we can make independent decisions about what’s best for our Westminster community—without having to navigate excessive bureaucratic red tape.
Because of their sheer size and the nature of their governance structure, public schools are less able to offer this flexibility. This becomes clear when you examine the numbers. For the 2020–2021 school year, Fairfax County Public Schools served 179,542 students; Westminster School currently has 225.
COVID-19 testing is just one example. Some public school districts hand out home tests to students. Given the number of students and faculty members, this is the only viable logistical option. This does, however, put the burden on the parents, and it opens up the possibility of tests being administered inaccurately or potentially not even done at all.
“We have every sympathy for public school teachers and administrators during this challenging time,” said Nancy Schuler, head of school at Westminster School. “Our ability to respond more effectively to this situation is a simple matter of numbers.”
3 Tactics to Ensure a Safe Environment at Westminster School
1. Westminster School Vaccination Event
Adhering to the idea that vaccination is the most effective safeguard against COVID-19, Westminster School was committed to the idea of getting as many students and staff members vaccinated as possible.
This led to a vaccination event held at Westminster School in Annandale, Virginia.
A pediatrician and her staff administered the actual vaccine, and Westminster staff members assisted by handing out snacks and monitoring everyone after the shot.
“We had movies going and a balloon artist making balloon animals. We wanted everyone to feel safe and comfortable,” said Schuler. “It was all about trying to make it as easy as possible for the families to get the vaccines, to get tested, and to do it all right here.”
2. COVID-19 Testing Event at Westminster School
Prior to returning to school, Westminster wanted testing done on the entire community of students and teachers. Knowing that travel and family gatherings had likely taken place over the break, this was a measure the school wanted to ensure the safest return possible.
Heavy snowfall over the first week of January complicated the reopening of school, but on January 5, the drive-through rapid antigen testing event went forward.
After eventually securing enough tests, ten Westminster administrators volunteered their time and braved the snowy weather and icy temperatures to participate in the schoolwide testing event.
“We wanted to ensure that every member of our school—faculty, staff, and students—who was not able to access a COVID test outside of school could be tested prior to returning,” said Jori Sapper, admissions director at Westminster School. “Lines were short, and people were in and out in no time. This is possible because we’re such a small community, and everyone was just so grateful.”
Once again, this event demonstrated the increased agility and capabilities of a small school versus a larger public school.
“We could take this important precaution and overcome the challenges because of our size,” said Sapper.
4. As-Needed Virtual Learning
After the testing event, 7 percent of the students and teaching staff were found to be positive. Those people were then able to safely remain at home. Any student who tested positive was offered next-day virtual learning.
Because the technology and infrastructure for remote learning were kept in place from the 2019–2020 school year, any student who needs access to remote learning now gets live instruction with his or her own teacher. There’s no disruption to learning, and there’s no need to work with an unfamiliar instructor.
“Virtual learning is not opt-in like it was last year,” said Sapper, “but any student who tests positive has access to it as needed.”
Any student found to be positive stays home for five days, and a follow-up rapid test is administered before that child comes back into the building.
“Obviously, we can’t guarantee we won’t have any cases. No one can promise that,” said Schuler. “What we can promise is that we’ll keep students going to school. We promise an environment where parents are comfortable sharing a positive result in the family, and we promise a smooth, temporary transition to virtual learning for that child.”
In the public sector, several logistical problems manifest. For one, virtual learning opportunities are not always available. This means some children who get sick and have to stay home have no access to learning over that time.
Parents must also scramble for last-minute childcare options, as well as navigate the difficulties of at-home distance learning. There’s also the uncertainty of schedules. Some public schools are closing unexpectedly, while others are going remote for one day a week.
It all creates an environment of uncertainty that can be problematic for students, teachers, staff members, and families.
“We have the utmost respect for public school teachers and administrators. The burden they’re working under is so difficult,” said Schuler. “As a small school, we’re fortunate we don’t have to navigate many of these challenges imposed on our public school counterparts.”
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