Update to Academy Families — July 24, 2020

Bell tower an flag
July 24, 2020

Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,


It is a green and tranquil midsummer here on the Academy campus, even as we continue to prepare for students to arrive in just five weeks. Staff here are setting up our classrooms with the right technology, figuring out our traffic flow with “one way” signs, painting our window frames and bell towers so they gleam white, finalizing our SJA “Virtual Academy” plans, investigating outdoor spaces for teaching, and getting ready for the arrival of 50 new freshmen who will participate in the HALO pre-orientation program in-person, on campus, next week. We are most excited to have them here and to start introducing them to all they can look forward to at SJA — an added benefit is that they (and we!) will get a sneak preview of what our school days will be like when everyone is here in the fall. 


I have a few short updates to share today, and an invitation to share some feedback with us about how you’re feeling about the return to school.


First, I want to emphasize that one of our important guiding principles, alongside the absolute priority of keeping our community healthy, is that to be successful in our reopening we must remain flexible and ready to adjust our plans. That flexibility, alongside care of the community, is what will get us through the shifting realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are drawing this map as we go; and as we understand more about what our opening will require, and receive your feedback and questions, we may make adjustments such as the one to the schedule below. We’re also putting new structures into place that will help us to keep adapting well, keep the community informed, and make sure our guidance is easy to understand and follow.


1. More regular weekly schedule — In an effort to make our schedule more predictable and easier to manage week to week, instead of rotating our green and white groups every other day, we will do the following:

  1. One group will join us on campus Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other group on Tuesdays and Thursdays, each week.
  2. On Fridays, all students (except boarding students and those with specific needs) will join remotely for classes, chances to connect with faculty and advisors for office hours, and other online activities.


2. COVID Response Team — We have established a team of campus life, health center, and facilities staff who will be continuing to develop protocols and clear guidance for all of us around community wellness. They will be sending weekly messages to you about such health and safety measures as response to infection on campus, guidance about travel before and during the school year, mental health support, and updates from the Vermont Department of Health. The team consists of myself and:

  1. Beth Choiniere, Assistant Head for Campus Life
  2. Jack Driscoll, Dean of Students
  3. Sarah Garey, Director of Health Services
  4. Kurt Zschau, Director of Facilities

Please look for the first COVID Response Team message early next week.


3. Hearing from You — We are very eager to hear from you, since any plan we devise will only work with your help. We ask that you fill out this very brief survey (should take 1 minute) and share with us what you are hoping for, concerned about, and planning on for the school year. We would love your responses before next Wednesday, July 29th. Remember that you can also write directly to me through our Reopening Roadmap website. We will hold parent Zoom forums to address your questions and hear your thoughts on Thursday the 30th and Friday the 31st (time details to follow). 


With the deluge of news about COVID outbreaks around the country, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we live in a region of the country that is being lauded for its response to the pandemic; that Vermont has one of the lowest case counts in the country; and that St. Johnsbury Academy is in a county that has had very few cases since March. This is a safe place, and we can make it safer when we are diligent about doing what science tells us will stop the spread of the virus – including wearing masks, washing hands, physical distancing, and getting fresh air. I hope we can partner in doing these simple things, and be a community that stays well — if we do, we can enjoy more and more time together on campus. 


Thank you for trusting us, and I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you soon,


Dr. Sharon L. Howell


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