Dear Northwood Families:
I appreciate your patience as we continue to work on our plans for the fall 2020 trimester. Like every school, we are navigating the many challenges to prepare for your safe return to campus and, once here, for a robust, rewarding, and healthy educational experience. We are pleased with and cautiously optimistic about the plan and our preparations. Our planning aligns with what many other boarding schools and residential colleges have shared with their families. Please note that reopening requires New York State approval using guidance from the State, the CDC, and local public health authorities, and the not yet released Forward New York Plan parameters for secondary schools. We have anticipated these requirements and will adjust as necessary once released.
Northwood is committed to bringing back our students in the fall for an on-campus, in-person educational and co-curricular experience. We plan to begin classes on September 3 and are building opportunities for students to return earlier for athletic and co-curricular programming. First trimester classes will conclude on November 20 and the campus will then close until January. During that extended break, we plan to offer athletic and co-curricular programming in Lake Placid and possibly at other locations. Plans for the winter and spring will depend on the status of the coronavirus. We plan to have an update about the rest of the school year in October.
I am grateful for the many advantages our status as a small boarding school set in the Adirondack Mountains, with excellent medical facilities close by, provides Northwood and how we are uniquely positioned to offer outstanding academic and co-curricular programs for our students in a safe and healthy setting. Here are some advantages:
- New York State generally now has the lowest prevalence of the virus in the United States.
- The North Country region of New York, where we are located, continues to have the fewest number of cases per capita in the State.
- Most Northwood students board on campus, creating an environment where residents' health is easier to monitor and safeguard.
- All of the dormitories at Northwood are small, which creates easier monitoring of social distancing parameters.
- Should isolation be necessary, our small school and rural setting afford us the opportunity to do so in close proximity to the school.
- Northwood can provide daily health screening for students, as well as faculty and staff, coming onto campus.
- Our wooded campus has numerous areas to gather outside and abuts thousands of acres of state land with sprawling trail systems. Science tells us the coronavirus does not live long outdoors.
- Northwood can provide robust health monitoring protocols and regular virus testing to mitigate against virus spread.
- Our campus has limited entrances that can be monitored. All deliveries can be re-routed to areas not frequented by students.
We’ll announce the full plan after New York State releases its requirements for secondary schools. For now, I can share some of the major elements we expect the plan to include:
Organizing Students into Cohorts (Groups)
We plan to organize the student body into five or six cohorts of students living, dining, and participating in co-curricular activities together. The cohort will become a sort of extended family. If someone in the cohort tests positive for coronavirus, everyone in the cohort will be more closely monitored and restricted to ensure the virus does not spread. Students can interact with other students outside their cohort if they are careful to follow recommended practices.
Reducing the Density of Our Classrooms
Our goal is to maximize in-person and on-campus classes, science labs, and art studios. We know we will be expected to reduce the density of classes, which are already less than 15 typically. We expect some classes will be blended- some in person with the teacher and others remote. Regardless, all students will participate fully in every class. We are investing in state-of-the-art technology and spending the summer on faculty professional development to ensure the high quality of our students’ academic experience.
Athletics and Co-Curricular Activities
Northwood students place a high value on their athletic and co-curricular experiences, and we anticipate offering a full complement of athletic and co-curricular activities beginning shortly after students arrive on campus. It is likely that our athletic offerings will look different in the fall – as we cannot predict what our competitors will decide to do, but our coaches are prepared to offer a rich program of skill development in a competitive environment. Our students will participate fully in their chosen co-curricular programs.
We will have protocols and guidelines in place that keep the safety of our students, staff, and the local community at the forefront. Our summer planning focuses on giving our students the best experience that will help them attain their goals in their chosen co-curricular arena. We are communicating closely with NYSEF, ORDA, the Olympic Center, and the governing bodies of the sports we offer as we plan for the fall. We are scheduling games, camps, and events for the fall trimester with the understanding that this is all dependent on the guidance from public health agencies and athletic governing bodies. If we are unable to compete or travel in the fall, our coaches will have enhanced programming in place that will allow colleges to continue to recruit our student-athletes.
Ensuring a Virus-Free School
We have been aided in our planning by local doctors and public health experts who understand Northwood and this pandemic. We are particularly indebted to our current parents who work in the medical field and have offered their wisdom and experience as we have planned for the fall. We have a rigorous and science-based program to bring students safely back to campus. It has four elements:
Gating Conditions: these are the prerequisites for re-opening school and will include a low prevalence of the virus in the region, clearance from the state to open, procurement of testing and PPE supplies, and updated school protocols on health monitoring and cleaning.
Onboarding Students: To ensure the safest return of all our school constituents, we will likely bring students back in phases, one or two cohorts at a time, and require everyone to be tested upon arrival and again within 14 days.
Monitoring and Surveillance: After students are returned safely to campus, we will remain vigilant by conducting health screenings and regular virus testing, rigorous cleaning and handwashing, and reducing density in classrooms.
In the Event of Positive Cases: We will be prepared to handle appropriately those who test positive and have space to isolate sick students, either in our expanded health center or close by, with additional trained staff.
Travel to the United States is currently restricted, and the U.S. State Department has not started to issue student visas for newly enrolled students from outside the United States (returning students currently holding F-1 visas do not need new visas). We expect the situation to open up as we approach the start of the school year, and will be in touch with international families frequently over the summer.
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The guiding principle in all our decision-making is the health and safety of our entire community — our students, staff, faculty, and the Lake Placid community. Our highest goal is to work together to bring our students back to campus this fall.
We will follow up soon with more information and updates and as we work together to continue to deliver a full Northwood experience. In the meantime, we are here to answer specific questions you might have. Call or email Sandy Baker (518-302-5111 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule your appointment. I am confident that this will be a unifying experience for our entire community and that we can achieve our aims. I am grateful for your support of Northwood School.
Michael J. Maher
Head of School
PS: For an overview of how cohorts will work, watch this brief video. We’ll provide more details in the coming weeks.