Article Featured in MONTCO.TODAY
At a time when most students and parents are preparing to start the school year in a virtual environment, and when most parents are concerned that the level of education that will be provided virtually will not be adequate to address their child’s educational needs, Center School is pleased that it will be opening its doors to students for full-time, in-person classroom instruction, on Monday, August 31.
The ability to teach students in-person arose when in mid-summer, Governor Wolf gave the “green light” for schools to open for in-person instruction. Center School’s Head of School, Mindy Wawrzyniak, was grateful for this decision and immediately got to work to create a safe learning environment for her students. “While I know our virtual program, Center School at Home, is excellent, I also know that students learn best when in school. We had the option to open virtually like so many other schools in this area, but we find that our students benefit from specialized instruction, and while we were very successful with our Center School at Home program during the COVID-19 shutdown, it is difficult to fully mimic what makes Center School so special in a virtual environment. I knew as soon as I heard Governor Wolf’s announcement that I would open our doors in the fall, with the goal of continuing to provide the excellence of our programming in a safe and healthy environment—something parents have been longing for since the shut-down.”
Knowing how important the safety of its students is, Center School got to work right away creating an all-encompassing opening plan that included recommendations from the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Montgomery County Office of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and CHOP’s Policy Lab. The needs of Center School students and their families were also taken into consideration, along with the ability of the student and Center School to observe these recommendations.
You might wonder how Center School is able to provide a safe learning environment when so many other schools are choosing to open virtually. One of the great advantages that Center School has is the size of its building. The building boasts very large classrooms and plenty of internal space to organize furniture and lesson plans to comply with physical distancing. The school also sits on 14 acres of land and provides many opportunities for teachers to conduct classes outside.
Safe learning is also possible due to the size of Center School’s student population. By design, Center School has always limited the size of its student population. While it has done so for years to allow teachers to provide personalized instruction to their students (a key benefit to a Center School education), this decision to limit class sizes turns out to be beneficial during the pandemic, as it allows the school to set up smaller groups of students, thereby minimizing interaction, and thus minimizing the spread of germs between students.
While safe distancing is an important component of any plan for student safety, Center School has implemented many more safeguards into its comprehensive opening plan. A strict entry and monitoring process will be followed for all students and employees upon entering the building. Visitors will be kept to a minimum. Classrooms, high-touch surfaces, and other frequently used areas are being cleaned and disinfected throughout the day, and each night, with CDC approved cleaning agents. All employees and students must wear face coverings throughout the day, and face shields have been issued to all employees and students as an extra precaution.
As stated above, small group instruction is a key component of a Center School education as it allows teachers to customize their instruction and meet the individual needs of their students. While students will be wearing face coverings during this time, Center School has also purchased plexiglass dividers to use as well, providing an additional layer of protection for students and teachers.
Added protections also exist due to extensive building renovations undertaken by Center School over the summer. A new state-of-the-art HVAC system was installed and it will continuously circulate fresh air throughout the building. Carpeting throughout commonly used areas, such as the hallways, has been replaced with vinyl flooring, allowing for easier and more frequent cleaning.
Just as important as these physical changes and safety measures are the people who will be implementing them. Teachers have worked diligently to implement other practices in their classrooms such as distance markers on the floors and teaching students how to appropriately line up, socialize, and learn collaboratively in a safe way. Students are learning new routines and how to adapt to the changing environment. Kelly Detweiler, second and third-grade teacher states, “I am completely comfortable with returning to the classroom and am excited to see my students. While our conversion to virtual learning during the shut-down was seamless, I missed the in-person interaction with my students. With the procedures that the school has implemented, along with the individualized procedures I have in place in the classroom, I am confident that my students will learn and grow this year and feel safe in their environment.”
Recognizing that there are some families who are uneasy about their child returning to school, but who still want their child to access Center School’s curriculum (because they know how important it is to the academic and social growth of their child), Center School has addressed those concerns by creating the Center School at Home Hybrid Model. Through this model, students are able to access all of their classes, with the exception of gym, throughout the day. Center School has installed a SmartTV in every classroom which is connected to a camera that has an integrated microphone. The teacher simply invites the student to class through a Zoom link, and the student “joins” his/her classmates from home, and is displayed on the SmartTV, so that the student can be a part of the class and the learning experience that is unique to Center School. Once the parent becomes comfortable with the student returning to school, the student will have benefitted from being a part of the learning experience all along.
There is no question that the pandemic has affected everyone in so many ways. One major area impacted has been our educational system. Since the shutdown, Center School has made every effort to ensure that its students would continue to learn and continue to grow educationally. From a conversion to Center School at Home to operating a summer program for students, we sought to bring some “normalcy” back to the educational process for our students—all with the goal of being able to open our doors again and provide our students with in-person teaching. We are convinced that we have a safe, well-structured plan in place to bring “normalcy” to the educational process and, after being away from school for almost six months, Center School is excited to welcome its students back to school and to continue its 30-year legacy of proving the excellence of its program to students in a safe and healthy environment.
Center School, located in Abington, PA, is a non-profit school with a successful 30-year history of serving students in grades 1-8 who have learning disabilities including dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD, auditory processing disorder and executive function disorder.
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Caption: Collaborative Workspace for Students