COLORADO SPRINGS. Mid-August is fast approaching, and with it comes the rhythm of back-to-school activities. Schools across the nation are grappling with how best to approach the start of the 2020-2021 school year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect how we live our daily lives. The faculty and staff at St. Mary’s High School have been working all summer to prepare for the new year and the challenges it may bring.
At press time, St. Mary’s planned to welcome students for in-person classes to start the 2020-2021 school year. At the governor’s request, St. Mary’s High School has moved its start date back a week, with freshmen reporting on Aug. 19 and upperclassmen reporting on Aug. 20.
St. Mary’s President Rob Rysavy said that, as the staff and faculty have been working on plans, it is always with the thought of what’s best for the students.
“This year is definitely different,” Rysavy said. “We have a number of different plans worked out, and which option we choose depends on what the world does. The ideal is in-person, for sure, but we’re ready no matter what. In a world with no choices, we’re crafting the best possible outcomes.”
In the last two weeks of July, the El Paso County Health Department, the State of Colorado and the Centers for Disease Control all announced guidance for the new school year, some of which differed from each other and all somewhat different from what had previously been put out. Based on that guidance, St. Mary’s has devised an in-person plan that is more stringent than the safety requirements that were released. With so many different entities having a say in how the school year plays out, Rysavy said St. Mary’s is balancing it all by keeping the students’ needs at the forefront of every decision.
“As the world continues to change, we continue to adapt,” he said. “We’re putting the students first, in consultation with their parents, while implementing the regulations required by the current pandemic.”
Students will be required to wear masks at all times while on campus. Administrators have secured funds through a provision in the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that stipulates that non-public schools must receive equitable services through the state’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. This money will be used to pay for supplies to continuously disinfect school property.
Those funds also paid for teachers to attend professional development over the summer, learning how to best provide education in a distance learning or hybrid learning environment, if necessary, and how to best utilize the “Google Classroom” platform.
St. Mary’s philosophy is that the school partners with parents in providing the best education to students. To foster that partnership, administrators have surveyed parents three times since the end of May, with the goal of keeping a pulse on the thoughts and needs of the community. In July, administrators also held three virtual parent meetings to discuss the upcoming year — one targeting current parents, one for parents new to the community, and one for all parents.
“Our parents have had a voice in the process as we’ve formulated how to approach this new year, and they will continue to have a voice,” Rysavy said. “We truly believe that parents first and foremost are responsible for their children’s education and that we, at St. Mary’s, walk in partnership with them on this educational journey.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)