EMS Plan for 2020-21 School Year: Every Student, Every Day

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After assessing facility spaces, enrolled student numbers, and Virginia’s Phase III guidelines for re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic, Eastern Mennonite School has announced it will welcome “every student, every day” to school for the 2020-21 academic year.

Paul Leaman, head of school, made the announcement in a July 1 letter to parents of K-12 students, sharing details for elementary, middle and high school divisions.

The “new normal” for K-5 students will be fairly similar to past years, he wrote, with enhanced health safety precautions as recommended by the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control. “Thanks to large classroom spaces in our newly renovated lower building, we expect grade-level classes to meet daily with their teacher.”

Students in grades 6-12 will adjust from an eight-period day to four block classes per day. The change will reduce the frequency of class changes, give time for enhanced daytime cleaning, and reduce the number of classes in the event the school must move to distance learning.

“We plan to use a variety of larger gathering spaces for instructional space so we can spread out and have everyone here every day,” wrote Leaman. “We are planning creatively toward a promising school year and anticipate being together once again!”

The email communication included a link to a survey regarding technology needs. EMS will be prepared for potential pandemic disruptions during the year, ranging from individual students needing to stay at home for health reasons, to state executive orders and weather temporarily closing school.

“We plan to ensure every student has the technological support needed to carry on,” Leaman said. Limited government funds, as well as generous donor support to EMS’ COVID-19 Aid Fund, will make fulfilling technology needs possible.
Teachers will return to school on August 17 to take part in a faculty-staff conference and prepare classrooms. The week will include professional development in preparation for ongoing increased use of technology.

Students understandably have a lot of questions about exactly what this will look like, note principals Justin King (high school) and Maria Archer (K-8). In the coming weeks, they will create videos and share details about everything from what to expect about lunch to chapel and Neighbor Groups and library use. “There are still a lot of details to work out now that we have figured out our basic schedule and building plan,” says King. “But we are excited about the challenge and so happy to know we can all be together again.”

Making music together — a core value at EMS — is one of the biggest areas of question, both wind instruments and choral singing. Jared Stutman, music teacher and choral director, created two videos to explain the challenges and possible workarounds for EMS musics this year.

Watch the videos:
Music at EMS 2020-21: Science, Safety and Concerts
Music at EMS 2020-21: Music Instruction and Schedule

See updates about the school’s planning for the academic year here.

Check out some more photos from this story

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