GRACE News

College Connections, Issue 11

GRACE is busy getting ready for the 2020-2021 school year and we appreciate your prayers as we figure out the best way to navigate school in the midst of the global pandemic. Likewise, colleges are figuring out what their fall semesters will look like for admitted students and their admissions departments are gearing up for an application season that will be unlike any preceding it.  Included in the July College Connections Newsletter are timely tips for the class of 2021 as they begin to work on their college applications as well as helpful “look ahead” advice for underclassmen. 

School Year 2020-2021 Update

GRACE Families,

Our plans for the 2020-2021 school year continue to evolve as we gather recommendations and guidance from a variety of sources, while also trying to anticipate the guidelines and requirements that the local government will put in place. In the June 3rd email, I shared four potential scenarios that would be in place as we return to school in the fall. At this point, it is most likely that GRACE will open under the “Yellow” or “Orange” scenario, both of which will be described in further detail below. 

As was shared previously, these are our driving priorities:

  1. Providing a safe learning and teaching environment for our families and employees, while also preserving our sense of community. 
  2. Utilizing all of our resources to deliver on our vision that our students will be grounded in God’s Word and challenged to achieve academic excellence as they prepare to use their gifts and abilities effectively to follow God’s plan for their lives, regardless of circumstances. 
  3. Prioritizing face-to-face on-campus instruction, especially for our youngest students, while providing opportunities and accommodations for students or families who are dealing with immuno-compromised or other circumstances that may make them at-risk 
  4. Developing flexible plans that will allow for transitions to or from a VLE scenario if necessary.

The plans represent our best efforts to develop strategies that protect everyone in our community, while also providing a fantastic GRACE educational experience. To that end, we seek to balance the precautionary recommendations required to keep our students and employees safe with a practical view of the interactions that take place in a school each day. We plan to meet on our campuses as long and as often as we are allowed to do so. However, being able to do so will require changes to familiar and, in some cases, beloved routines. These are the sacrifices we must make in order to be back on our campuses and gather together once again as a community. 

General Safety

The following safety guidelines will be in place at the start of the school year and will last as long as necessary. In addition to being best practices, we see these actions as opportunities for us to demonstrate our love for our neighbors. These small steps may cause some inconvenience but will help keep our community members safe. We are making plans for our community knowing that some individuals will think they are too strict, while others will feel they are not strict enough. 

With that in mind, we are taking these steps not only to keep individuals safe, which is the absolute priority, but also because the consequences of having someone on campus who has a positive test for COVID-19 are so severe. For instance, if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is reported on our campus, whether it is a student or an adult and even if the individual is only on campus for a brief period of time, the WCDHHS may require the school to be closed for a minimum of two to three days. Furthermore, if a student or employee is determined to have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, they may be required to remain off campus for up to fourteen days. 

  1. Temperature Checks. Temperature checks for all employees and students will be mandatory before individuals are allowed to enter any GRACE building. If an individual’s temperature is above 100.4, the individual may not enter the building. As of now, GRACE is planning to conduct temperature screenings on campus, but we are also investigating ways for families to conduct and share the results of daily health surveys that would include validating student temperatures. If GRACE conducts the temperature checks, morning carpool processes will be modified to accommodate the testing. 
  2. Cloth Face Coverings. Cloth face coverings or masks will be required during transitional times within the buildings for all students. Students will not be required to wear face coverings during instructional time in the classroom unless the student is working closely with another student or teacher. GRACE will provide each student with a “neck gaiter” face covering, but families can provide their own for each child.  Teachers are not required to wear face coverings during large group instruction, but will be required to do so when working closely with a student. Please note that this will be subject to change depending on the guidelines set forth by the local authorities. For instance, the Mayor of Raleigh declared that masks will be mandatory for public gatherings as of June 19. We do not know how this applies to schools or if this will be in effect in August. 
  3. Movement Throughout the Day.  Signage on both campuses will encourage students to maintain physical distancing of six feet apart when feasible. Signage will also be in place to remind students to remain on the right side of the hallway during all transitions. Staff will monitor the hallways to enforce physical distancing and movement as much as is feasible. Where possible, students will remain in class or cohort groups throughout the day, limiting interactions that are not deemed essential. When possible, teachers will transition between classrooms instead of students.
  4. Visitors to Campus. To minimize the risk of exposure, we will begin the school year by limiting access to our campus buildings to students, teachers, and essential personnel. We will not allow parent volunteers as the school year begins, but we hope to do so as the year progresses. 
  5. Water. Students are asked to bring refillable water fountains that can be used with the new touchless water fountains. 
  6. General Hygiene. Please review best practices for the prevention of the spread of germs with your child. Students are encouraged to cough into the crook of their elbow. Students will have additional opportunities to utilize hand sanitizer and wash their hands throughout the day. 
  7. Cleaning. Classrooms, desks, chairs, and other high-touch areas will be cleaned throughout the day. 
  8. Lunches. We are developing plans to provide lunch in classrooms and/or develop a schedule that alternates between lunch in classrooms and the gym, student center, or outside area. The school will distribute prepackaged lunches, but will not prepare lunches on campus. Also, outside delivery by individual restaurants or services such as GrubHub or Door Dash will be prohibited. 
  9. Care for sick students. Provisions are being made to enable the school to better isolate students who become ill during the school day. On the lower campus, the nurse’s office is being redesigned to provide a place for students to receive medical attention in a more private and isolated setting. On the upper campus, an area is being set aside to serve as a place for students to stay until a parent can pick them up. An ill student will be required to wear a mask until he/she leaves campus unless the student is having trouble breathing or is vomiting. 

When to Stay Home

As referenced earlier, the consequences of having an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 on campus are significant, so we are asking parents to partner with us by following the following guidelines:

  1. If a member of your household tests positive for COVID-19, is awaiting test results, or is experiencing symptoms:
    1. Stay home
    2. Call your doctor
    3. Inform GRACE
    4. Coordinate the time for the student to return to the school with the GRACE administration.
  2. If a student is unwell and experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms:
    1. Stay home
    2. Call your doctor
    3. Inform GRACE
    4. Coordinate the time for the student to return to school with the GRACE administration
  3. If a student has a fever over 100.0:
    1. Stay home until the child is fever-free without medication for 72 hours
    2. Call your doctor
    3. Inform GRACE

Please note that if a child demonstrates a fever above 100.0 while on campus, he/she will not be allowed to return to campus until the child is fever-free without medication for 72 hours. This is a change to our former 24-hour policy. 

Support for Students who are Unable to be on Campus

GRACE is investing in technology and teacher professional development to serve our students who are unable to be on campus for an extended period of time due to illness, a compromised immune system, or possible exposure to COVID-19.

Details Specific to the Instructional Scenarios

Yellow Plan 

Lower Campus 

  1. Students will be spread out in the classrooms as much as possible. 
  2. Students will be asked not to share pencils, crayons and other items. 
  3. Where necessary, teachers will provide individualized manipulatives for instruction or will sanitize necessary materials before use.
  4. Playground and gym use will be limited to grade level or class.
  5. Students in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade will be required to wear face coverings when working closely with other students. 

Upper Campus

  1. Student tables will be spread throughout the classroom and partitions will be provided to separate the students. 
  2. As instruction allows, students will face the same direction for classroom discussions and instructions. 
  3. Classrooms will have designated entry and exit points.
  4. While science and math classrooms will be shared by multiple grade levels, other classrooms will be grouped by grade level to limit mixing between grade levels.
  5. Student drivers will be discouraged from congregating in the parking lot. 
  6. Students will be required to wear face coverings when working closely with other students. 

Orange Plan

GRACE will function under the Orange Plan if the governor or local government mandates that schools must operate at reduced capacity. All of the provisions of the Yellow Plan remain in place. Under this scenario, students in fourth through twelfth grade would alternate between on-campus and live off-campus instruction. Students in grades TK-third would be allowed on campus per the guidelines allowed by the government. More details will be provided at a later date. 

Red Plan

Under “Red” conditions, government guidelines prohibit GRACE from having students on campus. In this event, we will transition to a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) until restrictions are lifted. Please note that this could include a brief two or three day period if GRACE were to close for cleaning due to possible COVID-19 exposure like the scenario described earlier in this document. 

In the event that GRACE is required to operate in a VLE environment for an extended period of time, the Board of Trustees will examine extending financial credits for activities that a virtual environment may restrict the school’s ability to deliver effectively. 

Preparing for 2020-2021

GRACE is investing considerable resources to prepare our campuses to support the new environment, as well as for general improvements. The following list provides a brief summary of some of these investments:

  1. Additional Teaching Positions. To reduce class sizes and support flexible instructional plans, the Board of Trustees approved funding for the addition of multiple new teaching positions. GRACE is also investing in professional development for our teachers in preparation of teaching in a virtual environment, if we should have to do so. 
  2. iPads. To better serve our fourth, fifth and sixth graders, we are replacing the Chromebooks with iPads. 
  3. Support for Virtual Learning Environment. In the end-of-year parent survey, one of the biggest requests was from parents of younger students who wanted more live instruction. To that end, in addition to investing in professional development, the school is also purchasing iPads for every classroom to enable teachers to provide synchronous instruction for students who are not on campus, whether due to illness or if we are in VLE. At this time, GRACE is also researching additional technologies to enable a better quality of production for synchronous VLE instruction, as well as researching and investing in multiple learning platforms. Lastly, Chromebooks will be available for families with students in TK-3 who need the devices for virtual learning. 
  4. Touchless Water Fountains and Faucets. As was mentioned previously, touchless water fountains and faucets are being installed throughout both campuses. 
  5. HVAC System. Improvements are being made to the HVAC systems throughout both campuses, including the installation of an air ionization system to “clean” the air in the building. 
  6. TK and Kindergarten Classroom Renovations. As has been done the past few years in the third-grade classrooms and Lower Campus art room, the TK and Kindergarten classrooms will be undergoing renovations this summer to open up the instructional space. 
  7. Lower Campus Playground. Construction on the improvements for the Lower Campus playgrounds will be underway soon. 
  8. Outdoor Improvements. Plans are underway to make improvements to the outdoor spaces on both campuses, including the completion of the outdoor instructional area and garden on the Lower Campus and the extension of the dining area outside of the Upper Campus student center. 

Athletics, After Care, Before Care, Performing Arts

There are many facets of school life for which our plans are still evolving. Athletic Director Devin Terris will share information concerning fall athletics as we receive updates from the NCISAA. We intend to offer both Before Care and After Care, but those plans are still evolving. The current guidelines provided by the state for the performing arts, specifically the vocal arts and band, are very restricting, but we are seeking solutions that will enable our students who are passionate in those areas to continue to develop their gifts and talents at GRACE. 

Summer Timeline and the 2020-21 Calendar

I plan to share updates with our community the week of June 29, the week of July 13, and the week of July 27. The members of our school leadership team are receiving information from professional services, government agencies, and peer schools daily. As we gather and interpret the information, we will continue to seek God’s direction to make the best decisions we can for the GRACE community. The current environment requires a great deal of patience and creativity when it comes to planning, so we thank you for your ongoing support as we work through the details. 

GRACE plans to begin the 2020-2021 school year on August 12. Ideally, we can adhere to the published school calendar. However, we may have to adjust the schedule during the school year to ensure as many on-campus instructional days as possible, which could mean adjusting some of the days that are currently listed as days off and extending the school year. The past few months have taught us the value and importance of being flexible and patient — skills we will no doubt need moving forward. 

Our Commitment

Our commitment continues to be a loving community that spiritually and academically equips, challenges, and inspires students to impact their world for Christ. The employees of GRACE will do everything within our power to deliver on this mission and provide a source of stability for our families through these tumultuous times. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to develop plans and strategies that enable us to best do so  – regardless of the environment around us. 

Thank you for your continued support and the opportunity to serve your family. 

Blessings,

Eric Bradley

Head of School 

College Connections, Issue 10

I hope you are all enjoying your summer and having a chance to rest and recharge. While COVID-19 has certainly changed the college admissions landscape, the fact remains that colleges need students! Included in the June College Connections Newsletter are tips for college searching, application essays, standardized testing, and financial aid. If you are in the class of 2021 or 2022, there is a lot in this month’s issue that applies to you.

Class of 2020, this is likely your last newsletter and we hope that you are getting excited about starting your college journey. If you plans have changed, and you will be attending a different college than what we have recorded, please let us know. Be sure to mind your social media posts and make sure that you are reflecting character consistent with the values of your future college. Colleges can rescind offers of admission – this month’s newsletter has an example of this.

Looking Ahead to the 2020-21 School Year

GRACE Families,

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to partner with your family during the 2019-2020 school year. Looking back over the year, there are so many amazing memories, but there is no question that the lasting memory of the school year will be that of the impact of COVID-19 and the implementation of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). I am proud of the way that our teachers, school leaders, and families rallied together to meet the challenges brought about by the crisis. 

Thank you to teachers who reinvented their content delivery and poured hours into learning the best ways to adapt to the VLE landscape. Thank you to the IT team that kept everything afloat. Thank you to our families, especially those on the lower campus, who worked to support the instruction and provided valuable feedback along the way. Thank you to the staff members who wrote notes, made home deliveries of yard signs, and coordinated the pick-up and delivery days.  Thank you to the Whelpley family for inviting us into their home each week for chapel services. Thank you to all of the prayer warriors who lifted our community in prayer. I do not have enough words to share my appreciation for everyone who supported our community throughout the year, and especially these past few months. 

Under challenging circumstances, our community rallied together and remained strong as parents, students, and employees reached beyond themselves to persevere. However, this should not be a surprise to anyone who is a part of our community. This is GRACE. 

Looking Ahead

Planning for 2020-2021

In many ways, planning for the upcoming school year is more difficult than the challenges faced these past few months. For the past few months, members of the school leadership team have collaborated with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and peer school leaders from throughout the country to develop plans for next year. There is little doubt that we will begin the school year under the cloud of the current pandemic, dealing with local government guidelines and incorporating new safety guidelines, but we will not know the extent of these provisions until later in the summer. 

Ideally, we would be able to proceed as we have in the past. However, if the cost of being able to gather on campus is to follow some modifications to our traditional practices, then we will follow those modifications. To that end, our leadership team is developing plans for multiple scenarios. These are our driving priorities as we do so:

  1. Providing a safe learning and teaching environment for our families and employees, while also preserving our sense of community. 
  2. Utilizing all of our resources to deliver on our vision that our students will be grounded in God’s Word and challenged to achieve academic excellence as they prepare to use their gifts and abilities effectively to follow God’s plan for their lives, regardless of circumstances. 
  3. Prioritizing face-to-face on-campus instruction, especially for our youngest students, while providing opportunities and accommodations for students or families who are dealing with immuno-compromised health conditions or other circumstances that may make them at-risk 
  4. Developing flexible plans that will allow for transitions to or from a VLE scenario if necessary. 

Scenario Planning and Timeline

As noted earlier, these plans are a work in process and are intended to provide a broad overview of the possibilities under consideration. The scenarios provided below are intended to provide a broad overview of the four primary operating scenarios we see as possibilities for the upcoming school year. We will provide a more detailed report to our families on June 18. We plan to communicate the finalized plans for the conditions under which we will begin the school year on July 30.  

To help us best serve our community, we ask each family to complete this survey concerning your child’s experience in the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). 

Financial Information

National and regional independent school associations are predicting that enrollment at many schools will reduce dramatically and are encouraging schools to prepare for as much as a twenty percent reduction in the number of students enrolled in the fall. As of today, GRACE’s enrollment is down three percent from last year. Prior to the shutdown, re-enrollment was at 89% and new applications were up by 23%. When the shutdown hit, re-enrollment held steady, but the new applications came to a halt. New student applications and inquiries have begun to increase over the past three weeks, which is an encouraging trend. However, it is difficult to predict how overall enrollment will change over the next few months as families and businesses deal with the lingering economic impact of the coronavirus. To that end, a need-based, temporary emergency tuition assistance fund has been established to assist our families for whom income loss, furloughs, layoffs, or COVID-19-related expenses have created concerns about affording GRACE next year. We will do everything possible to ensure GRACE remains affordable for our current families facing financial hardships. Please contact Karen O’Conner (koconner@gracechristian.net) for additional information regarding tuition assistance. 

Like most areas of the economy, independent schools are facing a number of challenges caused by the COVID-19 environment. In a normal budgetary cycle, 91% of the GRACE annual budget is invested in personnel, facility, and instructional costs. This upcoming year, we anticipate significant increases in expenses in each of these areas as we provide a safe and consistent learning environment for our students, regardless of the potential guidelines and restrictions caused by the virus. Fortunately, the school applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, enabling the school to avoid furloughing or firing employees, while protecting the school’s reserves, which we anticipate will be needed in the coming year in response to the challenges described previously. 

At this time, GRACE is not planning to reduce tuition for the 2020-21 school year. However, if conditions dictate that students spend an extended time in an off-campus instructional environment, the school leadership and the Board of Trustees will consider making a change. We will provide more details about these possibilities in the June 18 communication. 

The 2019-20 school year provided unprecedented challenges for the GRACE community. By the grace of God, we persevered through those challenges and will be a stronger community as a result. I do not know what the coming months have in store for GRACE, but I take great comfort in the fact God knows us, loves us, and will sustain us. 

Blessings,


Eric Bradley

Head of School