Reopening & Staying Open Plan
Meeting the individual needs of each AESA family has always been and will continue to be, a core philosophy of AESA. AESA is prepared, ready, and looking forward to fulfilling this commitment for the 2020-2021 school year.
Last school year we all heard of COVID-19 for the first time, and we were unable to return to our physical campus following Spring Break due to what has now become a pandemic. We all found ourselves wondering what would come next. Now, here we are at the beginning of a new school year, and we have all experienced so much, learned so much, but through it all have continued to remain very supportive of each other along the way.
It is clear our community believes in education and in being in school. It is even more important now for our students, parents, faculty, staff, extended families, and loyal members of our community as it brings a sense of normalcy, purpose, a path to college, and important social aspects to our lives.
Our students’ transcripts remain intact and on target, unlike many of their counterparts, which is a problem they will have to deal with during the college admissions process. Many schools find themselves unable to return to their physical campus even with a moderate sense of safety. As a college prep school, it is vital that our students remain on target and that we provide social opportunities for them each day. It is difficult to listen to any news source these days without hearing about how schools are struggling to open, only to quickly close back down, and how teachers are refusing to return to their physical campus due to safety concerns.
Our goals are to keep our physical campus open AND provide a safe environment. Those goals are not mutually exclusive, but they require risk reduction efforts that go above and beyond what is being offered at other schools. Everyone needs to know that there will never be zero risk for any school in terms of COVID. AESA will do its best to provide the highest level of safety. That is why we have broken from the norm and have installed SecureAire (hospital grade air purification HVAC system) and are utilizing point-of-care rapid-result testing – both of which have never been used in a school setting before.
Primary Considerations & Goals
- The Physical Health and Safety of All AESA Students, Families, Teachers, and Staff
- The Mental, Emotional, and Social Well-Being of All AESA Students, Families, Teachers, and Staff
- The Continuity of High-Quality Academics and Learning Experiences
- The Wants and Needs of AESA Teachers and Staff
- The Wants and Needs of AESA Students & Parents
- Following the Requirements and Guidance of Local, State, and Federal Governmental Entities and Officials
- The Awareness of Multiple Perspectives about Risk and Mitigation Efforts
- Recognizing the Fluidity of the Situation
- Following the Guidance and Support of Reputable Sources of Information, Data, Guides, and Resources
- To Protect the Physical, Mental, and Emotional Health and Safety of the Entire AESA Community
- To Do Everything Possible to Open School Safely and Stay Open Safely for the Entire 20-21 School Year
- To Continue the Highest Quality of Education and Academics
- To Continue to Meet the Needs of Each Family
- Give Families Maximum Flexibility by Offering Quality In-Person & Remote Learning Options
- To Stay Constantly Informed with Up-To-Date and the Highest-Quality Information, Data, Guides, and Resources from Reputable Sources
Breakdown of AESA's Risk Reduction Strategies & Protocols
1. Meeting the Needs of Each Student by Offering Multiple Learning Options
2. Testing & Other Entry Screening Protocols
3. Building & Classroom Enhancements and Protocols
4. Individual & Group Behavior, Expectations, Duties, and Protocols
1. Meeting the Needs of the AESA Community
We believe it is very important to provide at least two learning style options this year. Each family within the AESA family is different, has different needs, different priorities, and different concerns. We understand, value, and respect these differences. We will not force any family into either exclusively In-Person Learning or Remote Learning. Families will always have more than one option available to them.
We definitely understand the importance of In-Person Learning. Students not only learn academic information at school, but they also learn how to be social, how to pick up on social cues, how to interact with peers and with authority figures, how to make friends, and how to become a good friend. At the same time, we understand that we are in a pandemic and have the social responsibility to make every effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. We have the obligation to protect every member of the AESA community – students, teachers, parents, and siblings. Beyond that, we have social responsibility to mitigate the spread within the Austin, Dripping Springs, Spicewood, Driftwood, and Lakeway communities so as not to overwhelm the local health care systems.
We foresee and have planned for the possibility for a hybrid of In-Person Learning and Remote Learning. There may come a time during the school year when it may become necessary to reduce the number of In-Person learners on the physical campus. In that situation, our In-Person Learners will need to do a combination of In-Person and Remote Learning. We would create a schedule where a certain number of In-Person learners switch to Remote Learning on particular days of the week, or particular weeks of the month. Hybrid Learning additionally gives families increased flexibility and autonomy – the ability to assess their individual situation on an on a daily basis and then decide which Learning Option best fits their needs.
The entire country learned a lot about Remote Learning last spring when schools across the country were forced to shut down for on-campus learning. AESA was able to transition very successfully to Remote Learning. Students kept their same academic schedule, and met live via zoom with their teachers and classmates every class period. The middle school and high school even were able to experience the rigors of final exams in May. Nonetheless, AESA meticulously planned over the summer break to dramatically improve AESA’s Remote Learning Experience. Our vision was to as best as possible, close the gap between the In-Person Learning experience with the Remote Learning experience. This vision has resulted in revamping the physical classrooms as well as deploying better software that together – creates a more intimate, personal, and collaborative Remote Learning experience. We are very proud of what we have been able to implement for our Community.
2. Testing & Other Entry Protocols
Surveillance Testing & Protocols
Under the supervision and incoordination with our Testing Partners, we conduct weekly rapid-result antigen Surveillance Testing for all on-campus students, faculty, and staff. Our main goal is to assess any prevalence in the on-campus population. AESA’s Surveillance Testing does NOT diagnose individuals with any results – only a physician’s office or CLEA entity can diagnose an individual with covid.
Daily Entry & Symptom Questionnaire
Every morning each student and faculty member will go through a screening process. The screening process will include a temperature check with a touchless thermometer, ask if you have been in close contact with someone with Covid19, if you or any of your family members have been asked to be quarantined, and confirm the absence of the Covid19 symptoms. Each school level (Elementary, Middle, and High School) will have its own screening station(s).
If an individual is determined to pose an elevated risk of transmission to the On-Campus Population, that individual has two options for reentry to campus: (a) 2 week required quarantine or (b) an accelerated reentry process by quarantining for 1 week and receiving a physician diagnosed negative covid result.
3. Building and Classroom Enhancements & Protocols
Hospital Grade Air Purification & Other Ventilation Enhancements
Mechanical Ventilation - SecureAire
AESA acquired and revamped all campus buildings’ HVAC systems with SecureAire, a hospital/microchip factory grade particle control and air purification system. SecureAire is utilized by many notable institutions and has been involved in numerous case studies over the years. For example, MD Anderson Cancer Center, utilizes SecureAire and found a reduction of 40% of viral and bacterial particles from their previous air purification system. Other notable institutions include: St. Mary’s Children Hospital; US Davis Health Medical Center; University of California SF; and IBM.
Fortunately, AESA’s existing infrastructure already allowed for quality natural ventilation opportunities. Nonetheless, AESA invested in creating even more natural ventilation throughout AESA buildings and classrooms. AESA has quite literally, broken down walls and constructed more exterior doorways and windows to increase the ventilation rate. AESA’s vision for this specific risk reduction effort was to bring the benefits of “the outdoors” inside.
Outdoor Learning Environments
Current information and data shows the virus has difficulty spreading effectively in well-ventilated areas and in UV light, both of which are provided by being outdoors. At AESA we have the luxury of ample outdoor space. Over the summer, we have built a number of outdoor classrooms. These classrooms are essentially wooden decks and Adirondack chairs. The decks have power outlets. No walls, no roofs, just live oak tree coverage. We have dramatically upgraded the WIFI speed and signal so that it is accessible throughout the Campus.
Capping Class Sizes & Reducing Collaborative Classroom Configurations
Class sizes have been capped to 8 students. Normally we have students and teachers sit at conference tables. We find that this type of setup is more conducive for class discussions. However, during this time, we feel it is more important that the students have ample space between each other and that they do not directly face each other. Classroom conference tables have been broken down and stored and replaced with small individual desks and chairs. All non-essential classroom furniture has been removed and stored to allow for more space.
Replacing Physical Items with Digital Counterparts
In an effort to minimize touch points, we have replaced many physical items, like books and paper/pen, with their digital counterparts. This move also eases the transition between physical and remote learning. We are using new software and hardware as the mechanism for combining the Remote Learners and the In-Person Learners in a single classroom experience. Students can use a stylus and complete worksheets digitally and in real time. The completed worksheets are saved automatically in their digital class notebook. Each student has a separate notebook for each of their classes. No more lost homework assignments, or homework assignments forgotten at home, or the dog ate my homework excuses.
Repurposing Dining Hall
As much as it pained us to do it, we split the dining hall into 3 classrooms. Since we are limiting the number of students allowed in each classroom as well as reducing congregation spaces, it was necessary to repurpose the dining hall. This change is not permanent however. We plan on returning the dining hall to its original configuration as soon as it is safe to do so. The In-Person Learners will be eating their lunch in the individual classrooms that they were in the period right before lunch. On most days, the students will take their lunch and eat outdoors.
Classroom Entry & Exit Protocols
This is an area where we have completely taken a 180 degree turn to the protocol of previous years. Before this year, we have gone to great lengths to severely reduce the number of ingress and egress points in the main building and in the Dining Hall. Moving from one classroom to another all occurred within the interior of the buildings. However, this method of moving from one classroom to another, creates congestion and crowding within the buildings’ interior spaces.
Therefore, this year students move from one classroom to another by exiting the building, walking around the exterior of the building to their next classroom. This practice will alleviate interior congestion, give students exposure to fresh air and UV sunlight, and give the students a mask break (as long as they remain appropriately physically distanced from each other).
Automatic hand sanitizer dispensers and disinfectant sprays are located in every classroom. If a transition of classrooms takes places, students wait physically distanced outside at the designated classroom line-up sign, rain or shine, while the classroom students properly exit and the room is sanitized. Students sanitize their hands as they enter the classroom and as they exit the room. At the end of each period, all surfaces are sanitized. This process is supervised by the teachers.
Increased Sanitation and Disinfectant Standards & Protocols
During the summer, AESA acquired many sanitation and disinfectant products/resources. Classes are cleaned at the end of each class period before students are dismissed. Teachers will supervise spraying cleaner on each desk and all chairs. After cleaner contact time is complete, students will wipe the desk and chairs before leaving. Everyone is required to sanitize their hands upon entry and exit of any room or building. Campus is fully cleaned at the end of the school day and fogged. All cleaning products and resources have been verified to be safe. Additionally, AESA constructed numerous outdoor handwashing stations, conveniently located near our new outdoor learning environments and throughout the campus.
4. Individual & Group Behavior, Expectations, Duties, and Protocols
Promoting & Reinforcing a Culture of Health, Safety, and Shared Responsibility
As a school, we will continuously find the time and platform to discuss with all of our students and families each of our roles in this global health crisis. Every student will understand that as a good citizen of the school, the neighborhood, the community, the state, the country, and the world, we owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to understand the benefit of doing our part to stay healthy and mitigate the spread of the virus. How our actions, even if they seem small, have a domino effect and ultimately impact everyone around us. We all share the responsibility to relieve the pressure that our health care systems continually face throughout this pandemic. We share the responsibility to protect the vulnerable people all around us including our Teachers!
Face Coverings are Required
In accordance with local and state requirements and guidance – students, staff and anyone on campus is required to wear a mask. This mask should be a surgical type mask, a multilayer homemade mask or a manufactured multilayer mask. Masks should fit snug to the face and fully cover the nose and mouth at all times inside but can be removed when outside and properly distanced. People are encouraged to take mask breaks outside whenever needed.
Physical Distancing & Bubble Protocols
By instituting all of the risk reduction strategies, we are doing our best to create a Bubble in which the entire AESA community can feel safe. In addition, we are taking it a step further by creating mini bubbles within the larger AESA bubble. For example, each student in the Elementary School remains with the same classmates and in the same classroom the entire day.
In the Middle School there are three mini-bubbles. The 6th, 7th, and 8th grades remain with the same classmates and within the same classroom most of the day, from 1st period through 7th period. The middle school grades intermingle during 8th and 9th period when they have the opportunity to take electives.
Creating and staying in mini-bubbles gets more and more difficult as the students get older. Therefore the high school does not have mini-bubbles, but it is its own bubble, and they do not cross paths with the middle school or elementary school students.
Individual Hygiene Information & Training
Hand Washing & Sanitizing
AESA strongly encourages and requires frequent hand washing and sanitizing by all individuals on campus. AESA provides information/training in accordance with CDC guidelines for all individuals about hand washing and other individual hygiene practices as well as installing instructional signage in bathrooms and throughout the campus.
Proper Sneezing & Coughing Etiquette
For example, the following is some guidance we provided to our community on Coughing & Sneezing Etiquette – “Respiratory droplets are created in mass quantities when a person sneezes and coughs. It is very important to “cover” your cough or sneeze. The best way is to cover your mouth is with a disposable tissue, or towel. Immediately dispose of the tissue, and then proceed to wash or sanitize your hands thoroughly. Do not touch your face, and do not come into close contact with anyone. Disinfect any door knobs or handles you touched along the way. If you do not have disposable tissue, the next best thing is to sneeze or cough into your sleeve or elbow. Do NOT sneeze or cough into your hands. Immediately proceed to wash or sanitize your hands thoroughly. Do not touch your face, and do not come into close contact with anyone. Disinfect any door knobs or handles you touched along the way.”