Headmaster’s Newsletter

Update to Academy Families — August 7, 2020

Bell tower an flag
August 7, 2020

Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,


What a pleasure to see the nearly 175 of you who joined me and members of the SJA administration on Zoom Wednesday evening. Your feedback from that call will guide us as we continue communicating about our reopening plans, and will help keep us focused on important details as we try to understand what this year will look like. Thanks to the many talented professionals here, we’ve been comprehensive in our thinking so far, and can answer many specific questions now. But as thorough as we’ve been, none of us is an expert on how to open a school during a pandemic — so we want to hear all the thoughtful perspectives we can.


On that note: here is the final question we received on Wednesday’s parent call:


What…role [can] parents play in making this successful? What do you want from us? We are hundreds of skilled people at your service. What can we do?


I was grateful to hear so clearly that you are eager to help us succeed. And I was grateful to be able to reiterate how critical your help is as we model behaviors and practices that will reduce risk on campus when we return on the 31st. One of you asked how your kids who are in higher grades can help as well—as leaders to whom younger kids are looking for cues. They sure can, and we’re counting on them; we will do our best to show them how. Seeing school leaders like Sierra Shippee and many others working with the freshmen during HALO last week, we were so encouraged by their leadership, and we know that many others will also step up and be models.


And I do have a specific request. There is time between now and the start of school for you and your families to build mask-wearing and distancing, awkward as they can be, into daily life. Please help us normalize these behaviors — and indeed, to explain the rationale for the measures we are taking — and please let us know what you need from us to help you do that. We have ideas, but we are always looking for more.


1 .Family Zoom forum Monday, August 24th: We will hold another forum in a couple of weeks, with a time TBA. In the meantime, I’ll continue these Friday updates, and please remember to visit our Reopening Road Map site for many up-to-date details and FAQs based on your questions, and please submit your questions to me via the form on the site as well.


2. Green and White Schedules and Fridays: We have used the alphabet as a starting point to build our Green and White cohorts, who will attend school in person, on campus, on alternate days from Monday-Thursday. All will be online on Friday mornings. We will balance the numbers in each cohort based on multiple factors such as section size, family coordination, resident student attendance, and other specific needs — but by and large you can assume your cohort from your last name. Here is how the week will look:

    1. Monday and Wednesday: Green Cohort (approximately A-K) on campus; White Cohort (approximately L-Z) online.

    2. Tuesday and Thursday: White Cohort ( L-Z) on campus; Green Cohort (A-K) online.

    3. Fridays: mornings online with abbreviated class periods, from 8am-12:30 pm; afternoon optional projects starting at 1:30 pm for students in CTE, Arts, and other hands-on courses.


More details will follow about Fridays. We are reaching out to those students with specific needs to make sure they are accommodated properly, including those with internet access difficulties (see below). We have clear parameters to determine those students who will be on campus daily.


3. Internet Access: We are conscious of those students who have struggled with reliable internet access, and have a few possible ways to mitigate this:

    1. Students without internet service will be able to come to campus daily, and on online days will join their classes remotely from a designated, supervised area on campus. Again, we will reach out to those of you we are aware of, but please reach out to us if this is a hardship for you.

    2. Students could access the internet from alternate spaces in communities such as libraries, that are nearer their homes. We know of some of these spaces, and will share when we know more.

    3.  The Department of Public Service has introduced the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (“LECAP”) provides up to $3000 in assistance to qualifying and eligible consumers who seek to extend telecommunications lines to their homes. Hundreds of Vermonters without 25/3 Mbps broadband service live just beyond the reach of current cable and other Internet Service Providers’ networks. We hope this might help connect some families.


We know that there are other aspects of our plan that you are curious about, and we are trying to communicate those that are most timely in these updates — but our COVID Response Team is also preparing more information about quarantines, testing, contact tracing, and response to campus infection, and they will be communicating that directly with you as these plans are finalized. You will also be hearing about Orientation schedules and other student life information from our Campus Life Team.


Thank you again for your eagerness to help make in-person school possible in this uncertain and ever-shifting environment. Remember that Vermont remains an extraordinarily safe place to be, and keeping it that way will require resolving to look out for one another and follow the good science-based guidance we are being offered. To make sure we start with a clear understanding of the mutual care and responsibility we will be expecting of all members of the St. Johnsbury Academy community, next Friday I will be sending you what we’re calling our “Community Commitment.” We hope to provide some guiding principles for us to assume in anticipation of this year’s challenges—although we also recognize that most of these principles guide us whenever we are at our best. There is just no amount of rule-making and policy enforcement around COVID-19 that will substitute for the kind of culture that helps us understand our reliance upon one another. So stay tuned for that.


In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via the website, email, or phone (802-748-8171) if and when you have questions.


Yours Gratefully,


Dr. Sharon L. Howell


Related News