Dear Priory Families,
This academic year has been a different experience for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us to reimagine every aspect of the Priory experience — academic, social, and personal. Taking steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections at the Priory is a shared responsibility. With the first quarter closed, I hope you have been able to see the many ways we have worked to provide our students with an engaging experience. From opportunities to come to campus for chapel talks, socials, enrichment experiences, service experiences, clubs, activities, retreats, and sports, we recognize the importance of building relationships, socializing, and creating moments to engage with each other. I am proud of the way our faculty, staff, and administrators are working to create and strengthen connections through creative experiences and events and I encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities to engage with our Priory family!
Until a vaccine or curative treatment is developed, there is no single strategy that will stop COVID-19 or make it possible to return to pre-pandemic life. However, there is hope that through planning and working together, we can begin to return to in-person learning on campus. This will include symptom monitoring, frequent COVID-19 testing of the highest quality, wearing face coverings, physical distancing, and a variety of changes to other aspects of life on and off campus.
We have closely watched the schools that have opened to understand their successes and challenges and we recognize we have much to learn from others as we make decisions that are best for the Priory. We have consulted extensively with experts in the fields of medicine and epidemiology, including a small advisory group of doctors to help us understand the virus, the impact on teens and pre-teens, and the protocols and procedures we need to ensure safety for our entire community. We have also learned so much from our own events and the 17 families that call our campus home.
We recognize the risk tolerance for each family is different; we each have our own personal tolerance for the pandemic. It is imperative we understand this in order to take into account everyone else in the Priory community. One’s risk tolerance does not supersede local and state health policies; it is subjective and formed through personal experience. Sensitivity to our own risk tolerance and that of others, and being responsible for our choices is critical to our ability to open up the Priory in a safe way for all.
As we look ahead, our goals have remained consistent:
- Safely return to in-person learning in January
- Build on the meaningful connections established through enrichment, sports, retreats, socials, and Chapel services
- Have more students on-campus in meaningful and extended ways with ties to the curriculum
- Develop comfort level with students being on campus for longer periods, practicing transitions, and experiencing weekly testing
With that, and the extensive planning we have done to utilize our campus safely, we are planning a phased approach to returning to campus.
Phase 1 - On-going
Please see our Health and Safety Guidelines for more details about our plans, safety protocols, and adjustments as we prepare for in-person learning.
Phase 2 - October 26
Faculty returns to campus to teach DL from their classrooms
Phase 3 - November 9 - December 11
Middle School H Block - an OPT-IN experience at Priory for curricular activities and sports.
When will H block take place?
Four full weeks
Week 1 (November 9-13): Humanities & Performing Arts
Week 2 (November 16-20): Science & Visual Art
Week 3 (November 30- December 4): Theology & World Language
Week 4 (December 7-11): Math & Computer Science
No H Block the week of Thanksgiving or the week of exams
3 Days a Week- Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (Wednesday will remain community/enrichment days)
How will H block work?
H block will include two afternoon sessions:
Session 1: Curriculum Extension Activities: 3:15pm - 4:15pm
Session 2: Sports/Adventures: 4:15 - 5:15pm
To allow ALL middle school students the opportunity to participate in H-block, we have shifted the times for music classes to start and end earlier. Starting the week of November 9th, all music classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays will go from 2:05-2:55pm for middle schoolers. This new time slot will also be reflected in Blackbaud.
Departments will be paired up to plan one week of extended-learning curriculum. The curriculum will not be tied to a particular course, but focus on authentic elements of the featured subject areas. Examples might include the following:
- Collaborative, project-based activities
- Experiential, hands-on activities
- A combination of teacher-directed and student choice activities like a science experiment, role-playing debate, art project, performance, mandala, math puzzles or games, scavenger hunts, or robotics challenge
Families will have flexibility and opt-in for the week (weekly testing will be required to be on campus for the week; more information about testing will be shared in the next two weeks)
What are the benefits of H block?
- Students will get to see each other more consistently, build connections, and get to know the teachers and the campus better
- Students will practice transitions and testing
- Priory will have a better understanding of how to revise protocols for maintaining a safe campus and effective learning
- Students will get the opportunity to engage in more hands-on, student-centered learning experiences that are less feasible on zoom
Upper School grade level experiences on Wednesdays
Each grade level will be invited to campus for a full-day on Wednesdays (November 4, November 18, December 2, and December 9). More information and details will be provided next week but Upper School Advisory groups will have the opportunity to meet in person with their Advisor when on campus. Flex period programming will enable students to gather safely in small groups. Grade levels not on campus on a given Wednesday will still participate in Advisory and Flex remotely, and on-campus enrichment activities continue for Upper School.
Phase 4 - January 4, 2021
Middle School students return to campus for in-person learning
Phase 5 - January 19, 2021
Upper School students return to campus for in-person learning
Phase 6 - pending
Upper School students enrolled in the boarding program move back onto campus.
The Priory is dedicated to providing the highest standard of care to our boarding students. Earlier this month, the California Department of Public Health issued a state-wide directive closing all boarding programs until further notice. In the state's judgment, adolescents living in congregate settings during a pandemic pose overwhelming physical risks. As such, the Priory's boarding program will remain closed. We can neither anticipate precisely when the state will reverse this order nor when the circumstances on campus will permit the safe reopening of the dorms. We certainly understand that this is frustrating for our boarding families. As always, we will keep the Priory community apprised of any new directives or changes to existing directives from the Governor's office. In the meantime, our Residential Faculty will continue to support boarding students while they are living off-campus, our Facilities Department will continue to prepare the dorm's physical plant for a safe reopening, and our Administration will continue to assess how/when dormers can begin to live on campus once again.
All people returning to campus will be tested each week using an FDA approved PCR test. The cost for all testing will be covered by the Priory and conducted on campus. More information about testing will be available in the coming days about when, where, and how the testing will be done. We will provide regular updates about our testing results and keep you informed about adjustments to our plans.
We know that, even with the best plans in place, the virus will remain, but our goal is to make the Priory a “transmission free” zone. We will work closely with our medical advisory team to review the data we collect each week in testing and follow the trends and research that continue to emerge about COVID-19.
We began our academic year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit, asking for courage, knowledge, and understanding and we are certainly leaning on the Holy Spirit at this moment. One month ago, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, a time to engage in introspection and rejoice in new beginnings. Finally, at the beginning of this month, we celebrated the Mid-Autumn festival, formed around the concepts of family gatherings and reunions, contacting friends and celebrating the love we share. As we begin to return home to campus, we have much to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead, and I am grateful that we are on this journey together. If you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to reach out as we work to partner with you for a safe return to campus.
In a separate email, I will send out a survey to our Middle School families to collect your decision about our afternoon options.
Through all of this, our priority remains to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, our families, and our staff. We are proud of our community and look forward to providing Benedictine education for your child at 302 Portola Road in just a few months.
Always we begin again,
Head of School