Collaboration at AE/MS Results in Successful Return to Campus

In-person classes held four days per week

By Dennis Dobe

After a slow and extremely challenging first two-thirds of this school year, AE/MS was in a position to welcome students to attend in-person classes four days a week starting on March 1.  

For the first time since March 2020, we now experience what feels much more like “normal” schooling at AE/MS.  Although we know that AE/MS won’t really be back to pre-pandemic form until next fall, having more students on campus for more days a week was a very welcome development for students, staff, and parents.

There was a great deal of heavy lifting (both literally and figuratively) to get ready for Phase II of the AE/MS School Reopening Plan.  Although our facility systems were ready to go (sanitation equipment and processes, fixed mechanical ventilation systems, as well as numerous portable air purifiers), we had a number of facility and program logistics to address in order to safely accommodate twice as many students every day at AE/MS.  

Our school facilities team worked closely with our teachers to set up classroom designs that would assure necessary physical distancing.  Our school’s administrative assistant facilitated our system for acquiring necessary grant-funded equipment and furniture to make our classrooms ready for Phase II.  

The AE/MS administrative assistant also collaborated with our bus drivers to make necessary bus route and ridership adjustments in order to maximize physical distancing for our students riding school buses this spring. We needed to make adjustments to our student drop-off and pick-up procedures to safely and efficiently accommodate many more students being brought to and from school by their parents every day.  

And then there were student lunch considerations.  We needed to serve twice as many students as we had all year, safely and efficiently, and then have them enjoy their meals in classrooms so as to avoid population density and air quality issues in our cafeteria.  

Our food service staff demonstrated great flexibility and commitment in developing new systems in response to these challenges, assuring that we would serve quality meals every day and not have students lined up in the hallway waiting for lunches at any point throughout the school day.

Along with the Part A operational considerations listed above for Phase II, there were significant Part B considerations to address before we could welcome full classes back to AE/MS.  

Our middle school team needed to completely redesign its program in order to transition to a “block schedule” model which would minimize the number of class periods and student transitions throughout the day, therefore minimizing opportunities for COVID-19 transmission in our middle school.  In order to accommodate these necessary adjustments in our middle school program, we needed to make substantial adjustments to our Specialist, Student Services, lunch, and recess schedules.  

Thankfully, we had a small handful of very dedicated and very capable teachers step up to work on the new middle school program schedule and our school master schedule models that would cover all necessary bases optimally, efficiently, and as sensibly as possible.  The “logic puzzle” (as they called it) was extremely complicated, but ultimately when implemented, the new schedule ran without a hitch.

Suffice it to say, the entire transition process for Phase II would have failed if not for the commitment of many AE/MS staff members who contributed in ways large and small to prepare and implement our Phase II school reopening plan.  The contributions and importance of our AE/MS Health Office to assure safe and successful in-person schooling since the fall cannot be overstated.  

Also critically important to the success of our school’s transition to Phase II was the positive and professional approach to schooling during a pandemic demonstrated by our entire school staff, and our students who faithfully abided by every aspect of our school’s COVID safety protocols and reminded us every day how fortunate we are to be teaching here in Andover.  

In addition, our success all year can also be attributed to the skilled and constant support of our friends in SAU-46 and, perhaps most of all, to our parents who (more than anyone) bore the brunt of the pandemic and carried their families on their shoulders through hardships we never could have imagined a year ago.  

The kindness, support, and encouragement of parents shown to our school staff since the pandemic began has meant the world to us at AE/MS.  Through it all, we never felt alone, and we hope that you didn’t, either.

I am pleased to report that our school is now more productive, more energetic, and more joyful than at any other time in the past year.  Thank goodness!  We are now on a path to finish this extraordinary school year making up for lost time and returning to ever more normal schooling routines.  

On behalf of everyone here at AE/MS, I thank all members of the greater community of Andover for all they have done to keep the coronavirus at bay, keeping friends and neighbors safe, and allowing our school to operate without a hitch all school year.  It takes a quality community to withstand the challenges of the recent crisis as well as we have, and we definitely have got a good one!