For the first time in more than five months, North Shore Country Day welcomed students back into the classroom for the 2020-21 school year. The first day of lower school brought 180 children to campus Aug. 27, while 130 middle school and 215 upper school students started classes Aug. 31; about 6% of students opted to attend remotely full-time. The school is beginning the year with a hybrid model, which incorporates on-campus, in-person learning for half the day, and a robust remote learning component for the other half.

“We’ve all been waiting for this day since March,” said Head of School Tom Flemma. “Having students back on campus again, seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter made today one the most special days of my career. The kids were so glad to see their friends and teachers it made all the hard work worthwhile.”

Over the summer, NSCD faculty and administrators concurrently planned for three teaching pathways: remote learning, full-day on campus learning and half-day hybrid learning. Ultimately, administrators decided to begin the year with the hybrid model. In addition to the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, the school’s work was guided by a group of NSCD community members, all of them experts, most of them current parents who are acutely attuned to the importance of these protocols, policies and procedures as NSCD approached the fall. 

“We believe the in-person model of learning lived out through the school’s first century continues to be optimal, and we will lean toward that form of education whenever it is safe to do so,” Tom explained. 

The half-day hybrid learning model is designed to de-densify classroom spaces and provide for social distance. It mitigates risk significantly by allowing smaller classes and flexible class scheduling while prioritizing in-person learning. The plan is also scalable. Should school be closed, it allows seamless transition to the remote learning model. If procedures and protocols prove effective, it may eventually allow for longer school days in some divisions. 

In many ways, class size is the primary driver of NSCD’s social distancing approach and undergirds the hybrid half-day model. In the lower school, this means cohorting—essentially splitting the grades into groups of 10-14 students. For instance, there are two third grade classes, limiting the number of students each child interacts with daily. Cohort groups may change several times throughout the year. 

In the middle and upper schools, students will not be cohorted, but their already small classes have been scheduled into rooms based on enrollment, ensuring that slightly larger classes will occur in the largest teaching spaces.
A number of other precautions have been put into place, which were detailed in a Return-to-School Plan, released to parents July 30. Masks are required indoors at all times, unless eating or drinking, and outdoors when at least six feet of distance cannot be maintained. Parents must complete a wellness screening for their children through an app each morning, and temperatures are checked daily upon entry.

“This will be a year like no other,” Tom said. “School will look different and feel different for every one of us for the foreseeable future, but the joy of learning and the power of community will endure, thank goodness.”

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