Eastern Mennonite School completed the fall semester to Thanksgiving break with no incidence of Covid in grades K-12 among students, staff, or teachers. “This is a testimony to everyone’s adherence to our mitigation efforts, vigilance in monitoring symptoms, wearing face coverings, and making wise choices when out and about in the community,” says Paul Leaman, head of school. “I cannot say enough how grateful I am to our employees and school family.”
With Covid cases on the rise locally and across the country, and families’ plans varying related to holiday travel, the school moved to distance learning for grades 6-12 following the Thanksgiving break through the first week after Christmas break. Elementary students returned to school for the two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Participation in extracurriculars, including any athletic-related activities, are constantly being scrutinized. All Covid schedule-related decisions have been made by Leaman in consultation with the school’s Strategic Leadership Team, athletic director, the Covid Medical Advisory Group made up of parent medical providers, and the Virginia Department of Health.
Access to the upper building, where grades 6-12 meet, is limited as the front office remains open to answer questions and move art supplies, robotics equipment and sewing machines to an outdoor retrieval area for pick up. Some teachers record lessons and do synchronous online classes from homes, while others work from their classrooms. A recent check-in with the school’s Operations Leadership Team found representatives from each division sharing overall positive reports of the week’s progression. “It (online teaching) is definitely better than last spring,” reflected one teacher, “but it’s still a challenge.” Having had all of the fall to be in person with most students and practice various tools for online learning made the switch much easier.
Meanwhile, applications for the 2021-22 school year are coming in strong. The elementary division is at capacity already with room for a few more in kindergarten, reports Marsha Thomas, admissions director. “I’ve never had this many applications before Christmas,” she notes. EMS’ ability to pivot to alternative teaching models on short notice increased awareness in the school, which also has highlighted many of the school’s core values of one-on-one attention in an experiential and values-based environment.
Those interested in applying to kindergarten, being placed on a waitlist for grades 1-5, or applying for openings in grades 6-12 should visit easternmennonite.org/visit to find extensive information and register for a virtual visit.