Norfolk Academy's top priority is the health and well-being of our students, teachers, and entire community.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, that simply stated goal became an extraordinarily complex challenge to surmount.
As Academy planned for re-opening in August with in-person learning, the school community mobilized over the summer in a massive effort that involved everyone, from the Board of Trustees to administrators, faculty, and staff.
Headmaster Dennis Manning named Associate Headmaster Linda Gorsline and Assistant Headmaster for Business Jeff Martin as leaders of the Re-opening Task Force. In addition, Director of International Programs Natasha Naujoks and Teacher-Coach Steven Goldburg led a Distance Learning Task Force. Members of both groups invested hundreds of hours in research, strategy, and implementation of measures designed to respond to the worldwide pandemic.
When students in grades 1-3 arrived for on campus August 31, they jumped with enthusiasm into a school day that had been transformed. While the measures taken are a direct response to COVID-19, many of them will prove valuable even after that health crisis is gone.
Among these many steps, the school has done the following:
- Contracted with Mako Medical Laboratories, LLC, to conduct COVID-19 testing for faculty, staff, and students. The school started August 27, and intends to test everyone who plans to return for on-campus learning. Anyone who tests positive must enter into Distance Learning, and the family must follow a physician's directions for isolation and quarantine. After these initial tests, the school plans to continue serial testing of faculty, staff, and student cohorts — random sampling and using a pooled cohort approach.
- Installed air purifiers in classrooms to improve air quality. Purifiers are essentially motors with a fan that draws the polluted air in the room into the unit and forces that air through different layers of filtration. The purified air is then returned to the room. The school is using an MA-25, which contains a HEPA Filter (H13); HEPA Filters are designed to remove 99.9 percent of airborne particles. They can clean up to 500 square feet every 30 minutes.
- Installed thermal temperature scanning cameras at several entrances. Anyone who registers a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will be sent to a nurse's office for further evaluation and, if necessary because of continued elevated temperature and/or other COVID-19 symptoms, to await a ride home.
- Re-designed the health clinic to increase space and capacity and increased the nursing staff.
- Increased bus capacity and staffing.
- Held informational Zoom sessions for Lower School families to help them learn about COVID-19. Pediatricians from Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters, Dr. Fred Fink, Dr. Paige Frazer, and Dr. Dana Ramirez, led these sessions, which began August 27 with our first, second, and third grade families.
- Accessed Virginia Department of Health zip code data to analyze zip codes of our approximately 900 families and generated a weighted zip code average infection rate for our NA families, which we have computed to be closer to the lower range of local and city infection rates.
- Exploring approaches to testing campus sewage streams for COVID viral content; absence of, or specific measurable levels of, COVID in campus effluence would be one more data point to help inform our ongoing strategies. That process was recently featured in The Virginian-Pilot with detailed explanations of the approach, which can provide indications of COVID-19 in a population before individuals show symptoms.
In addition, classrooms were rearranged to separate desks at distances that follows state health guidelines. Tents went up outside the Lower, Middle, and Upper schools, to allow classes to eat outside, as health experts say schools should provide outdoor activities as a means of mitigating COVID risks.
All of these steps are aimed at providing the most painstaking and methodical approaches to safety that the school could develop, ones that should bring an added measure of confidence and underscore the school's determination to use every resource and asset available to us to safeguard our children, faculty, staff, and community.
However, even with all the intense preparation for in-person learning, the school realizes that learning from home will remain the best approach for some families. With that in mind, the distance task force created BOLT, Bulldogs Online, Learning and Teaching, a comprehensive plan to serve our distance learners.
The school has invested in technology that will enhance our Distance Learning program. Among these:
- HoverCam Solo 8Plus document cameras for classrooms, which will allow for more robust synchronous instruction in a distance learning environment. With seamless integration into a Zoom call, these devices allow faculty to complement their computers' webcams with an additional, wide-angle document camera to capture high-quality live video images of real-time instruction, texts, whiteboards, lab experiments, etc. With some students learning remotely while others are on campus, these devices will allow faculty to serve both populations simultaneously.
- The school expanded its Bring Your Own Device program and invested in iPads for Lower School classrooms; Academy is prepared to ensure that all students have access to technology enabling them to learn from home, if they need to do so at any point.
- A Learning Management System (Canvas) was expanded to include all grade levels, providing clarity for students and parents. Faculty and staff have invested countless hours in training with the new technology, and that effort will continue throughout the year.
In his preface to BOLT, Headmaster Dennis Manning said, “Our approach to learning at Norfolk Academy has rested upon the unshakeable conviction that students find true motivation and joy in learning when they feel a close bond with their teachers...That belief in the power of teacher-student relationships is unchanged by the circumstances we face today; in fact, we believe in it more than ever."
To learn more about our Reopening, please visit our website.