Update to Academy Families — August 20, 2021
Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,
I want to share a few updates with you; make sure you know what my priorities are for this first week as we return to school together; and also make sure you have all the information you need to navigate the start of classes next week. Ordinarily, you would have had this information before today—but I’m beginning to believe there is no such thing as “ordinarily!” Thank you for bearing with us as we rework some of our hard-working teams’ well-laid plans for return to school in light of new information about the recent surge in cases of COVID-19.
There is not a school in the country—perhaps the world—where faculty, staff, and families are not feeling stress about the waves of uncertainty and disruption that we are experiencing, not just around the pandemic, but around fundamental questions of the role of education in our society. It is important to note this, I think, because we are embarking on yet another year in which emotions exist at a high pitch, and people who are generally concerned with young people are specifically very concerned about how that constant state of stress is undermining their mental and physical health. We are fortunate that we have the resources we do at St. Johnsbury Academy to support our students—our teachers, counselors, proctors, coaches, and advisors are extraordinary people who care and are deeply optimistic about young people, and they work every day to support them. I am eager to support all of these educators in turn, as I know you will be—and know we are very hopeful, and grateful in advance, to have you as partners in that effort.
My priorities right now are to make sure that:
Our plan to be back on campus is designed to keep people as safe as possible, according to and updated using the best science and guidance we have.
SJA families have the information they need to get the year rolling next week, and going forward, we are communicating clearly and regularly with faculty, staff, families and students.
We provide a learning environment for students that is warm, welcoming, respectful, and contributes in every possible way to our students’ development, understanding their and our unique challenges in this moment.
1. The COVID Response Team is working hard to adjust to new information about the more contagious Delta variant—they have made a CRT Frequently Asked Questions sheet (below) that is very helpful, so please go there first for your questions about safety protocols.
As you know, we are requiring that all faculty and staff at St. Johnsbury Academy be vaccinated against COVID-19. The state of Vermont has also proposed that if a school can show an 80% vaccination rate for students, then there may be the option to move away from requiring masks. Obviously, that would be wonderful—so I want to highlight this part of the CRT’s information:
Vaccinations are our way out of this pandemic. Dr. Rebecca Bell, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont, says: “If you work at or attend school and are eligible for the vaccine, please get vaccinated as soon as you can. Now is the time. If you are the parent of an eligible adolescent, please have your child vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Please let us know if, after reading the information about vaccines here and at the links provided, you still have questions that we can answer. If you have at least one dose of vaccine, please email an image of your vaccination card to Sarah Garey at email@example.com as soon as possible, so we can reach that 80% goal.
2. Please take a look at our revised daily schedule. Students will be at school only until noon on Fridays, so please be sure to review it carefully. It will be published on our website along with all other whole-school schedules and agendas. I am going to reboot my Friday family updates, at least while conditions around COVID-19 remain fluid. I will plan to hold a Zoom or two with the Administrative and COVID Response Teams to make sure questions are answered and folks are informed—watch for more information on that early next week.
3. We would like to be a place where our community can experience a sense of calm and continuity in a stressful and often chaotic time—it may not be possible, there are lots of obstacles, but we are going to try. As we greet students and start our classes and activities, we will be focusing very deliberately on building strong relationships between and among us all—knowing that those relationships can anchor and steady us when things are rough. When we feel welcome and respected, heard and valued, we all do better at everything we attempt—so we will strive to make SJA a space where those things are true for all students and for everyone.
I wish I could say my actual door is open, but please know that my always virtual door is open to you, and I hope you will never hesitate to reach out to me for any reason. With thanks as ever for your support and partnership.
Dr. Sharon Howell
2021-2020 Back to School FAQ from the SJA COVID Response Team
Q: What measures are being employed to prevent the spread of COVID19 at school?
A: We know from public health experts that the most effective mitigation measures are to wear face masks while at school, stay home when you are sick, provide adequate ventilation in indoor classroom and school activity settings, and get a COVID-19 vaccination:
1. Vaccinations are our way out of this pandemic. From Dr. Rebecca Bell, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Vermont: “If you work at or attend school and are eligible for the vaccine, please get vaccinated as soon as you can. Now is the time. If you are the parent of an eligible adolescent, please have your child vaccinated as soon as possible. Many parents expressed a desire to “wait and see” when the Pfizer vaccine emergency use authorization was extended to include those 12 years and older this spring. But there is more urgency now to protect children before the school year starts and there is even more compelling evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective in young people. At this point over 11 million young people under the age of 18 in the U.S. have received the vaccine. That’s a lot of reassuring data points. More than two-thirds of Vermonters aged 12–17 have been vaccinated: that’s more than 28,000 young Vermonters. Now is a great time to join this ever-growing group of young people who are protected from the serious effects of COVID-19. In Vermont, minors need to have parental permission to be vaccinated. Pediatricians are happy to talk to parents about why we think it’s important for children to be vaccinated. Helpful tips for young people on how to talk to parents about getting vaccinated can be found at Teens For Vaccines.”
2. Masks are a simple and effective tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as well as other airborne viruses that produce symptoms like COVID-19. Following guidance from VDH and AOE, all faculty, staff, and students will be required to wear face masks (cloth masks, surgical masks, or KN95 masks) while indoors during the school day and during after school activities. This requirement is also in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Masks will also be required (per federal law) while riding in Academy buses and vans. Masks are not required while outdoors.
3. Ventilation and Moving Outdoors: HVAC upgrades during the 2020-21 school year mean that all academic buildings have mechanical ventilation. We will be looking for all opportunities to move activities outdoors in good weather.
4. Staying Home When Sick: All students and staff, vaccinated or not, should stay home when they have symptoms of infection, and get tested for COVID-19.
Q: What will lunch look like this school year?
A: Lunch is one of the more challenging aspects of the school day as it is the only time during the school day when students will be unmasked. The plan is to have students get a “grab and go” lunch from the dining hall and eat either outdoors or in their block C classroom. To facilitate students eating outdoors we are planning to set up tents and tables near the dining hall. We understand that we will have only a couple of months of outdoor dining weather but it is also an additional two months to work toward the 80% student vaccination target set by the VDH and AOE.
Q: What can parents do to prepare for the school year?
A: A number of critical things:
1. Vaccinate your student against COVID-19 as soon as possible. There are vaccines readily available across the state, and SJA and other schools will hold vaccination clinics this fall, with SJA’s starting on Friday, August 27th.
2. Stock up on masks.
3. Have a plan for sick days. If your student develops cold-like symptoms they will have to stay home and get tested for COVID-19 and stay home until the symptoms resolve.
4. Be prepared for changing guidance. As the pandemic conditions change so too may the public health guidance.
Q: How can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: COVID-19 vaccine is available at many walk-in clinics, most require NO APPOINTMENT, and the vaccine shot itself is FREE of charge. Please see the Vermont Department of Health Vaccine Resource page for more details, an “FAQ,” a list of clinics, and helpful facts and information about the vaccine. Please contact Health Center Director Sarah Garey at firstname.lastname@example.org with any further questions or for help accessing the vaccine.