Now that Elizabeth Lee Black School has been opened for three weeks, I thought that I would give you an update.
First and foremost, we have had a very strong return to school.
I truly believe that the five months of planning, brainstorming, identifying potential problems and then looking for solutions paid off! Certainly, there are and will always be “bumps in the road,” but the faculty and the administrative team have worked together and I am pleased to say school is going well!
We developed three options for students to learn this Fall: in-person instruction, remote, and hybrid (a combination of in-school and remote). Of the 180 current students, approximately 40 chose hybrid/remote. I believe that it was very important to give the students and families the opportunity to return in person safely, but also give them the opportunity to learn from home. The strategy has worked tremendously well. Because many of our students chose to go either hybrid or remote, our classes are quite small with only four or five students per room. Our students and families are truly grateful and happy to return to the structure and support of a typical school day.
Some additional highlights include:
• We have incorporated an “outdoor” classroom for our Pre-K Counts program and are utilizing outdoor spaces as much as possible for all the classrooms. We know that the children are safest—and in many cases, the happiest—with outdoor learning.
• Through the overwhelming support of our IT department, we have embraced remote learning both synchronous and asynchronous for those families who prefer to access take-home paper activities. There is a learning curve, but we have come miles since we began utilizing the Box platform and GoToMeeting in March. We currently are investigating other platforms such as Schoology and Microsoft Teams to determine what works best for our students and families.
• Most of our students came to school the first day wearing a mask and have continued to wear it throughout the day. To see three year old children wearing a mask without complaining was a surprise that we did not anticipate. One of the children actually said to me, “I love my mask!” I attribute this to the many communications we had this summer providing suggestions for parents as to how to help their child become accustomed to wearing a mask. One of the best videos was Julia from Sesame Street (https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2020/09/23/sesame-street-helping-kids-with-autism-learn-to-wear-face-masks/29004/) practicing mask wearing. Certainly, we have students with whom we are working to slowly acclimate them to wearing a mask.
• We have, as a goal, to make sure that if a student must be away from school due to quarantine, he or she will still be able to learn. All of our school districts have supported our students by providing them with the technology with wither a Chrome Book or iPad. This has been invaluable as a very large percentage of our students did not have technology in their home.
• We have an abundant amount of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), whether it is masks, gloves, shields or other protective equipment. Knowing that there would be shortages, we aggressively began our efforts in March and continued throughout the summer months. We anticipate shortages going into winter so we continue to expand our resources. Mask-Erie, under the leadership of Bridget Foust, has provided us with 4000 masks for our students and individuals. We wanted our faculty, families, students and the community as a whole to know that we were doing everything possible to assure a safe return to school and work.
I am truly inspired by the creativity, ingenuity and initiative of the Barber National Institute staff, families and community as they came together to meet the challenges of COVID-19. I will continue to update you on our progress. Yes, it definitely is a “work in progress.”