In the February edition of The Andover Beacon, Andover School Board (ASB) Vice-Chairman Adam Jones offered a very thorough account of the ASB’s work with district administration and staff to create a sensible and responsible plan for AE/MS reopening. The topic of school reopening has definitely been the subject of the year for us at AE/MS. We have focused enormous energy and study to our conversations related to keeping students and staff safe this year, while maximizing learning outcomes and offering as much in-person instruction for students as we can. The process of reopening schools must be deliberate, and there is a calculated progression of steps back to “normalcy” for our schools and community in a post-pandemic world.
This fall we learned how to implement the health and safety guidelines offered by the CDC and NH-DHHS that were part of our initial plan to reopen AE/MS to students and staff (known as Phase I). Although we had a number of cases of COVID-19 and related quarantines early in the winter, which were destabilizing, we never lost our momentum and were able to adapt in order to stay open, continuing to serve students, families, and the community.
As cases of COVID began to decrease in February, a good deal of hope began to rise for a possible transition to AE/MS Reopening Plan: Phase II. By the middle of February, the metrics for both external conditions and internal conditions steadily improved and began to show serious promise for a transition to Phase II as described in ASB’s school reopening report.
The Andover School Board convened for a special meeting on the evening of February 11. At the end of Board deliberations that evening, members voted unanimously to give AE/MS staff the “green light” to proceed with our transition to Phase II and set the date of Monday, March 1, as the date for Phase II to begin.
Phase II Begins March 1
What will Phase II entail? AE/MS will maintain a Full Remote Learning Option for the balance of the year for families who wish to have their children receive an AE/MS education but not come onto our campus for health and safety reasons.
For those wishing to continue in-person learning at AE/MS, the Phase II model calls for one day of Full Remote Instruction (Mondays), and four in-person schooling days from Tuesday through Friday (increased from two in-person learning days during Phase I).
Although the AE/MS staff had been planning for the transition to Phase II for many weeks, the time was now to begin actual preparations — and there were many to be made! With the help of Dennis Audet (AE/MS Plant Manager) and teachers, we were able to redesign classrooms across the school to afford necessary distancing for twice as many students as we had attending classes day-to-day in Phase I (in this ‘hybrid’ model, our student body was divided into a Blue Group and Gold Group, each attending classes in-person on alternating days of the week).
We had to develop a new model for Middle School instruction that incorporated a “block schedule” so that our larger classes would not need to move between classes so often, which would have presented undue safety risks for students and staff. This significant change in our school program necessitated significant alterations to the Specialist (Art, Music, Physical Education, and Technology), lunch, recess, and duty schedules. These changes precipitated additional changes to class and grade level schedules.
Wow, what a headache! Thankfully, we had a number of bright, solution-oriented minds like that of AE/MS Grade 1 teacher Stephanie Bendixsen to lead the project to update these critical systems in our school.
Also a significant area of concern and adjustment: school busing. With additional students and an imperative to maximizing physical distancing as much as possible, returning AE/MS Administrative Assistant Gail Parenteau worked with our fabulous bus drivers and families to make necessary adjustments to bus routes and assigned seating plans.
For all the work that AE/MS staff has undertaken in the last couple of weeks to prepare for Phase II, the enormous role that AE/MS students and families have played in making Phase II possible must not be overlooked. If it wasn’t for the support of AE/MS families who have faithfully adhered to our safety protocols related to health screenings, quarantines, and COVID testing, as well as limiting travel, sleep-overs, and more, we could not (and would not) propose this move to increased in-person schooling at AE/MS.
Also, please understand that the level of cooperation, compliance, and respect for school and community safety shown by our students each and every day has been remarkable. If we didn’t have students who valued their time in school so much, and who didn’t care for one another and their teachers so clearly, we would be far less confident in making a transition at this time to Phase II, or the plan’s success in the time ahead.
Andover, your children are absolutely amazing! The manner in which our students have stepped up to confront the countless challenges they face every day continues to be an ongoing source of inspiration for the staff of AE/MS. So far, so good. Well done, one and all.
As we continue to work together in Andover, both the school community and the greater community, we can keep COVID infection at bay, maintain our collective health and wellbeing, and keep our school open, making continued progress toward its mission of providing outstanding educational opportunities for the children of Andover, even during one of the worst pandemics on our nation’s history.
Thank you, everyone, for doing your part, so that we can do ours. Keep your distance. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.