This fall, school will look very different for Arizona students. Maybe it’ll look a lot like this spring. Maybe it’ll be more like last fall. Or very possibly, school will be somewhere in between.
The Arizona Department of Education released the COVID-19: Guidance to Schools and Families. And it’s up to individual schools to figure out whether teaching will happen on-site, through distance learning, or a hybrid of the two.
We posed the question to Jewish day schools in Arizona to see what their plans are for the upcoming school year:
PARDES JEWISH DAY SCHOOL
Taking the lead from the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Pardes believes that returning to in-person learning is of paramount importance. However, the safety and well being of our students, families and staff continues to be our top priority, and we can’t turn a blind eye to the current numbers in Arizona.
We have made the decision to begin the school year on August 17 virtually, utilizing our upgraded, dynamic, interactive online learning platform with live daily classes and wonderful opportunities for community building. On September 8, we are excited to open our doors for on-campus learning for all students in kindergarten through eighth grade. While we hope to see as many students as possible in person, there will be an online option for families unable to have their child(ren) on campus. As a private school, we do not have to follow the public school requirements determined by the state of Arizona and would only adjust this plan if a statewide shutdown is declared or Covid-19 circumstances deem it impossible to maintain a safe community environment.
There are many important benefits that led us to the decision to delay in-person learning until September 8:
- It provides additional time for the number of cases in Arizona to hopefully decrease.
- We know that increased opportunities to have time outdoors mitigate risks related to Covid-19. Delaying the in-person start date moves us closer to cooler temperatures and the wonderful opportunity for additional learning outdoors.
- We are able to evaluate other schools throughout the world to see what worked to mitigate the risks of Covid-19.
- The additional time at home enables all of us to commit to a true community effort of adhering to the guidelines (wearing a face covering, staying at home as much as possible, physically distancing, and monitoring symptoms) thereby mitigating potential risks from recent summer travel. This community commitment will enable every student to begin the school year in person from the same safety vantage point.
- We are able to begin important community and relationship building. Students and teachers are able to interact in small groups, collaborate, and bond as a classroom community without physical distancing guidelines.
The School Reopening Plan is comprehensive and multi-faceted with the ultimate goal of mitigating risks related to Covid-19 on our campus. As you will see in the booklet, it incorporates new health and safety protocols, classroom redesign, enhanced cleaning, class pods, additional staffing and much more. As a smaller educational community, Pardes is able to integrate these necessary safety measures and pivot should it be deemed necessary.
Pardes remains as beautiful as ever but distressingly empty without our faculty and students. We will all need to make adjustments and be flexible because of this pandemic, and we appreciate the incredible parent and school partnership we have with our families. Together we can begin again the wonderfully important work of learning, inquiry, and growth that is the life of the Pardes campus. Together, Naaleh… We can do it!
Peter Gordon, Head of School, Pardes Jewish Day School
DESERT JEWISH ACADEMY
This message was sent to DJA parents on July 17:
This is a very difficult letter to write but one that we feel strongly must be sent out immediately in order to allow our families to make proper arrangements. It has been an unprecedented time for everyone, and we could not be prouder of the DJA community in its efforts to stay connected with each other while under quarantine. With the use of technology, we have been able to stay in touch with most of you and have had some really great experiences online with students, parents and staff! We absolutely loved hearing from everyone!
Like all schools nationwide, we have understandably been working hard to make a concrete plan regarding school this academic year. We have gone back and forth on how we could operate with the multiple scenarios provided by the government without putting student and staff health and well-being at stake. The answers you provided us from our surveys were able to give us a good idea of what our families felt comfortable with moving forward. We have participated in multiple weekly state Covid-19 training and will continue to do so as long as necessary. As a school, we have discussed at great length how the DJA could run an educational program meeting our high standards with the current limitations on students and staff that must be put into place to keep everyone safe.
It truly pains us to no end to say this, as educators and people who believe in the DJA and its community – we must accept the painful but necessary reality that the DJA simply can’t return to campus in August if we want to assure you that we can keep our students, parents, and staff safe from the Covid-19 virus. The DJA will provide distance learning for all of its students through the first quarter (returning to campus if deemed safe on October 13).
Please review the distance learning procedures and protocols that were sent out last week. This will help you prepare for the first quarter of school and get a better picture of how your child’s day will be scheduled. We are fully committed to providing our students with a well rounded and complete curriculum this school year. You will receive an email from your child’s teacher on August 3 detailing the daily class schedule, class procedures, and expectations. There will also be a virtual curriculum night for each class to allow parents to hear from their child’s teacher directly and have a question and answer session. The date for the virtual curriculum night will be sent out next week via email.
The perfect balance of school and community is what makes the DJA so special and we want to ensure that this tradition of connection between the classrooms, families, and community members continues whether at home or on campus. The staff is working tirelessly to finish their lesson plans and also to create several virtual events for all of us to stay connected in and out of the classroom. A school calendar is on our website and will have the events added in the upcoming weeks.
Please know that we support everyone in these difficult times. We hope that you will remember that The Desert Jewish Academy is and always will be your child’s family and home away from home. We are not going anywhere! We will be in full force beginning August 10 at 8 am for the first day of school!
We thank you all for your commitment and understanding and look forward to hearing from everyone!
The Desert Jewish Academy Staff
TUCSON HEBREW ACADEMY
This message was sent to THA parents on July 21:
Our administrative team, in collaboration with the THA Medical Advisory Committee, has been working hard to reopen THA in an environment safe for students, staff, and faculty. We have taken into account the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, “the preservation of life,” and are balancing this value with veshinantam levanecha, “teach your students – children.” The decision-making process has been transparent, including parent and staff surveys, board input, and meetings with our medical advisory group around the options of in-person learning and distance learning. We have also reviewed the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the State of Arizona Department of Education. We are grateful for the input we received and feel that we have the information necessary to make an informed decision about our school model for the fall.
We had hoped to be able to begin in-person instruction at the beginning of the school year. We miss having your students on campus, and we miss the sense of community that naturally surrounds a school. We have spent much of the summer making sure class setups and cleaning protocols were all in place to support in-person learning for a return in mid-August. However, the current COVID rates in southern Arizona, combined with the very understandable concern of our teachers and families, have led us to a decision to begin school in a distance learning model for all students when school starts on August 17. This means all students will be learning remotely through October 1, the end of the first quarter. In early September, we will reassess the data around learning options for the month of October to determine whether school will continue remotely or return to in-person instruction with a remote option for families who would prefer that their students continue to work at home.
We are very excited about the distance learning program we have developed for your students! We are proud of our THA teachers, who are committed to providing the best experience for our students at all times, and especially during the COVID pandemic. We have built upon the experience during the shift to distance learning in the spring, and the faculty has been working to create an online program that will be engaging and challenging, supporting your student’s learning in creative ways. Students will observe a schedule focusing on teacher-led instruction with projects that allow for hands-on experiences. The combination of curriculum and learning materials we already had in place, supplemented by the added resources of the Discovery Education program and Learning Ally, provides a strong platform to meet the needs of all of our learners.
For families for whom childcare is a concern, we will offer a supervised distance learning option, where students will be grouped by family in the cafeteria and supported by THA staff while the teachers teach all students in a remote format.
Families who would like to take advantage of this option are asked to contact Gabby Erbst (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than July 31 to allow us time to schedule personnel and space appropriately.
THA teachers and staff are currently preparing at-home learning materials for all THA students. Families will be able to pick up Chromebooks (grades K-5), workbooks, supply boxes, and other learning materials August 12 through August 14 in a drive-through format.
Out of both an abundance of caution with regard to COVID social distancing and due to the closure of Mt. Lemmon through November 1 following the Big Horn fire, we have canceled the Mt. Lemmon retreat scheduled for late October. That event will be rescheduled for the spring if access is permitted.
Information about your child’s class schedule, learning materials, and parent orientation will be sent to each individual grade during the first week in August. We look forward to seeing families through online meetings and during school supplies pickup week, and we look forward even more to the time when we’re all able to be on campus together again!
A final word – we recognize that the state of the world is ever-changing during this time of COVID, which means that the plans we’ve set out for you in this letter may change. We will send updates as they are needed.
Dr. Laurence Kutler, Head of School, Tucson Hebrew Academy