Austin Prep Prepares For Return Of Students To Campus

Below is a press release from Austin Prep:

READING, MA — Austin Preparatory School announced last week their reopening plan for the 2020-2021 academic year, with September 8 as the first day of classes. The reopening plan detailed the significant health and safety precautions made by the school and introduced a hybrid learning model where students will combine on campus learning with remote learning from home.

Austin Prep administrators worked throughout the summer to recreate, reframe, and reimagine life on campus to keep the Austin Prep community as safe as possible during the global pandemic. During this short period of time, every aspect of school operations – from campus arrival and dismissal, to dining hall protocol, and academic schedules – were reevaluated with the health and safety of community members the priority.

“Any decision we make for Austin Prep always will rely upon our unwavering commitment to examine challenges through the prism of Austin Prep’s mission, uncompromisingly keep the health and safety of the Austin Prep community paramount, and continue to deliver the singular educational experience for which Austin Prep is known,” Head of School, James Hickey, Ph.D. said. “Our reopening plan provides a flexible roadmap for our journey in the days and months ahead. It was specifically crafted to provide Austin Prep with the flexibility to adapt to the changing conditions that the pandemic will require us to meet.”

Preparations made for both on campus and remote learning have been extensive. Campus upgrades in advance of the school year have amounted to an investment of nearly $1,000,000, which has included improvements to technology, advanced disinfecting equipment, additional personnel – including a second school nurse – and campus infrastructure such as new HEPA filters and HVAC upgrades.

Additionally, classrooms have been set up to mitigate the spread of illness and increase social distancing. Each classroom has unique configurations and distancing, and the School has worked closely with Reading’s Department of Public Health in regards to dining hall sanitation, occupancy, and food distribution.

Students will return to Austin Prep for orientation beginning August 31. Each day that week will be devoted to a specific academic grade to limit the number of students on campus. During this mandatory orientation, students will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with new campus standards and procedures, emphasizing their responsibility in contributing to the safety of the entire community.

When classes begin September 8, students will be divided into two cohorts alphabetically by last name. When one cohort is on campus, the other cohort will be at home learning remotely. Cohorts will rotate weekly with a specific cohort on campus three days one week, followed by two days the next week.

Remote teaching and learning was first introduced by Austin Prep in March after the school closure mandate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was well regarded across the school community, creating a standard of best practices and an educational model that many schools replicated. With an already existing 1:1 iPad program for students – which provides each student their own iPad – remote learning will be bolstered this year with improved network capabilities and new equipment in each classroom, allowing students and faculty to interact with even greater ease.

“The significant investment that we have made in technology will provide students with the opportunity to engage with their classmates and teachers in real time. This technology includes upgrades in cameras and microphones that will enhance the remote learning experience,” Assistant Head of School and Head of Upper School William Driscoll, Ed.D. said.

In an effort to pay close attention to the diverse needs of all Austin Prep students, families do have the option to opt out of on campus learning and learn on a completely remote basis if students have a specific medical condition, or are not comfortable with attending classes on campus.

Parents, who were invited to participate in a community wide webinar shortly after the release of the reopening plan, have been supportive of the School’s efforts.

“In such an unsettling time, it gives us great comfort to know that our children will be able to return to the Austin Prep campus this fall and have a sense of normalcy,” parent Amy Sperling, of Reading, said. “It is very clear to us that the School has put a lot of time, effort and resources into a very thorough and safe reopening plan. We are confident that our children will be in the hands of caring and capable professionals during this time.”

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