Bucks County Courier Times Article

Bucks County private schools offering in-person instruction

Chris English
Bucks County Courier Times
 
Rabbi Ira Budow, Head of School at Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley, checks out desk spacing in preparation for the school's Tuesday reopening. [photo: CHRIS ENGLISH/STAFF PHOTOJOURNALIST]
 

As she and other staff members get ready for one of the earliest school openings in the state Tuesday, Abrams Hebrew Academy nurse Shelley Wigler has faith in the school’s plan.

“We’re confident we’ll do our part 100% within the building and within the school to keep things safe,” said Wigler on Thursday during an interview at the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school in Yardley.

“The families need to make sure they are doing their parts outside of school.”

That mindset is being repeated at private schools throughout Bucks County as they prepare to resume instruction amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Many, like Abrams, are offering in-person instruction to start the year along with an all-virtual option for students uncomfortable with returning to classrooms.

Archdiocesan grade schools (grades pre-kindergarten through eight) are offering full-time in-person and virtual options. Two prestigious private high schools in Bucks County, Solebury School in Solebury and George School in Middletown, will have the full range of instructional options available to students when they reopen.

All schools will have face covering requirements, social distancing standards and dozens of other safeguards in place when students return to classrooms.

At Abrams, hand sanitizing dispensers have been placed at the entrances to each room, walls have been knocked down to create bigger rooms and thus greater social distancing, and the former cafeteria has been converted to a large classroom with desks spaced at least six feet apart.

Molly Goldfarb, a student at Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley, checks out one of many hand sanitizing dispensers she will be using when school starts on Tuesday. [photo: COURTESY ABRAMS HEBREW ACADEMY]

The kitchen has been closed down to further reduce risk, and brought-from-home or shipped-in boxed lunches will be eaten outside whenever the weather permits, Wigler said.

“Kids will have fun, they will learn and see each other, but they will do it with a mask on and they will do it six feet apart from each other,” she said. “And families have to do their part by making sure they’re not going into large crowds, not traveling to states where there are advisories to not travel to, and do all those other things.”

Head of School Rabbi Ira Budow said only about 10% or less of the school’s 185 students have chosen the all-virtual option. He said the school usually doesn’t open until after Labor Day but a decision was made to open much earlier this year.

“We’ve been preparing for this since April,” he said. “Why do we need more summer days? These kids have been out of school since mid-March.

“We have a teacher returning from Israel, and she will have to quarantine for 14 days before she can teach. We’ve invested a lot to make sure everything is safe, and we’re expecting parents to do the same.”

Wigler contrasted smaller schools like Abrams with the county’s public school districts, most of whom have decided to go all virtual for the first several weeks or months of the school year before adding other options, in many cases a hybrid, if pandemic conditions allow.

“The public schools are doing the best they can under very trying circumstances,” she said. “We will do better.”

Molly Goldfarb, a student at Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley, checks out one of many hand sanitizing dispensers she will be using when school starts on Tuesday. [photo: COURTESY ABRAMS HEBREW ACADEMY]

At Solebury School, Assistant Director of Advancement Holly Victor said about 25% of the school’s 220 students have opted for all-virtual learning when instruction resumes Sept. 10. Everything possible has been done to safely accommodate those returning to classrooms, she added.

“We are fortunate to have ample space and an intentionally small student body,” Victor said. “Our 140-acre campus with multiple buildings and open-air walkways gives us space and more safeguards than many schools to allow for in-person learning.”

George School in Middletown also has the advantage of a sizable campus that allows officials to spread students out in the interest of social distancing. Dormitories will be open, and the school will also accommodate commuting students for in-person learning and those who have chosen an all-virtual option when instruction resumes Aug. 31, Head of School J. Samuel Houser said.

“For our students returning to campus as boarders or as day students, we are taking careful precautions to keep our school community safe and healthy, both in dorms and shared campus spaces,” he said. “Moreover, we are intently monitoring the frequently revised guidance from officials as well as the real time conditions within our community, and we are prepared to modify our reopening plans quickly if needed in the interest of student, faculty and staff safety.”

Philadelphia Archdiocese spokesman Kenneth Gavin said much thought and study was given on which instructional models to offer at high schools and grade schools before settling on full-time in-person and all virtual at the grade schools, and all virtual and hybrid at the high schools. Available space and student ages were some of the many factors considered, he added.

Cameras are being installed in classrooms at the high schools, which include Conwell-Egan in Bristol Township and Archbishop Wood in Warminster, so that “students receiving instruction may do so in real time and for a full day,” Gavin said.

“The full-time in-person model has a greater impact at the elementary level as it allows time for students to develop spiritually, socially, emotionally, physically and academically based on their levels of growth and maturity,” he noted.

“We excelled with our virtual plan last March to June relative to what most schools offered,” he said. “We have had time to review and change, and implement new plans to improve from last year.

“We do know there will be hiccups in our plan, but when we have issues, we will work through them.”

Classroom capacities have been maxed at 23, allowing the school to achieve five feet of spacing in all directions, the principal said.

While confident in the St. Andrew virtual platform, Sikora said he’s glad archdiocesan grade schools are also offering full-time in-classroom instruction.

“There are more resources for the teacher to use, and questions can be asked and answered immediately,” he said. “Class transitions, discussions, checks for understanding, formative and summative assessment are all much easier to implement.”

Personalized hand sanitizing dispensers are waiting to be installed at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem. [photo: COURTESY HOLY GHOST PREPARATORY SCHOOL]

As he and other administrators and staff members prepare for a Sept. 16 opening, Conwell-Egan Principal Matthew Fischer said the hybrid model adopted for archdiocesan high schools will put fewer students in the building on any given day and allow for six feet of social distancing.

“All classrooms have a full wall of windows that will be utilized for proper air flow,” he said. “Ventilation systems underwent a complete review and upgrade this summer. Air conditioning units will be installed in each classroom prior to September to help regulate temperatures with windows being opened at all times.”

Like educators everywhere, Fischer said he’s anxious for the day when the pandemic allows for a full-time return to classrooms for students at all schools.

Like other Philadelphia Archdiocese high schools, Conwell-Egan in Bristol Township will be offering full-time virtual and a hybrid model of instruction. [photo: CHRIS ENGLISH/STAFF PHOTOJOURNALIST]

“Although we understand the importance of the traditional school model as it pertains to the intellectual, social and emotional development of our young people, we are ultimately charged with the responsibility of trying to ensure the safety of the people in our school community,” he said.

“When the time is right and school returns to what we remember as normal, the CEC community will be ready to soar.”

The school is also offering a hybrid option when instruction resumes Sept. 8, he added.

Doherty said school officials are taking advantage of all buildings on the 50-acre campus, even ones not traditionally used as classrooms, to ensure adequate social distancing. A large tent has also been set up to accommodate outdoor classes, he added.