Mount Paran Christian School
Tim Wiens, Headmaster
Being back in school at the start of the 202-21 school year was not really an option or a luxury for our institution. Our families truly needed one another. We needed our children to be a part of something bigger than what they had experienced for the previous 5 months via virtual learning. We needed our children to engage in relationships – with their teachers, with their friends. We needed our children to experience the safety and warmth of what it means to be engaged in the service of others, learning from one another, and growing through the communal nature of what live, in-person, relationship-centric schooling provides. For us, this was essential in meeting our core value of being “Community Oriented.”
Putting all politics and feelings aside, the MPCS Executive Council gathered along with teacher-leaders from each division of the school throughout the spring (once mandatory quarantines were no longer required we met in person rather than via Zoom) and summer to scenario plan for the school year to come – a school year that promised to be like none other in the history of our lives. Utilizing the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach (Ramirez & Wilkinson, 2016), we examined seven very specific questions to help us prepare for the following scenarios:
- Scheduled scenario (as we had planned for any other school year in the past)
- Intermittent scenario (understanding we may need to juggle virtual and in-person schooling throughout the year)
- Late scenario (beginning the school year late and going later than normal into the summer)
- Fractional scenario (others call this the hybrid – only have a percentage of your students on campus at one time)
- Closed scenario (not bringing students back, but only utilizing a virtual schooling platform as we had in the spring)
The seven questions/ideas we focused on were as follows:
- Create a scenario summary. What does the world look like at the end of our time horizon?
- Design a scenario timeline showing critical developments. What does our world look like throughout each stage of this timeline?
- Consider the uncertainties. What do we not know and/or how do we address the unknown?
- How are we winners and how are we losers in this world?
- What signs and developments must we look for in this scenario?
- What are the implications for us in this scenario?
- What does the transactional environment look like in this scenario?
After meeting weekly as a group for (and more than 80 hours) from April 3rd to July 15th, we had developed plans and strategies to address each of the aforementioned scenarios. As a large group, this was a grueling process, but a necessary one in order to be fully prepared for the start of and ongoing success of the school year. To date, nine weeks into the school year, we have had nearly 95% on-campus student participation, with approximately 60 of our 1180 students choosing our virtual option.
As we considered what was necessary, we equipped classrooms with cameras to enable students to participate from home on a daily basis, if necessary. We have physically distanced all students within their classrooms and in common areas such as the theatre and equipped all classrooms and the dining hall with a Synexis biodefense system. Throughout the campus, we implemented walking patterns (employing up and down staircases, identification markers in hallways, etc.) throughout each building and mandated masks for all when transitioning from one space to another, at drop-off and pick-up, and in all common spaces.
This is just a small sample of the steps we have taken to ensure the safety of our community on a daily basis. While we have had to quarantine approximately 100 students and 9 staff over the course of this nine-week period due to exposure, we do feel the start and ongoing success of this 2020-21 school year has been strong.
Every school needs an approach that works for their community. There is no right answer. For us, the mental and emotional health issues of our students were of primary concern, so opening school was always our first priority. I am pleased to report that we feel as though our opening and ongoing educational practices have been highly effective and we continue to plan for and pray that this will continue to be the case in the coming weeks and months of the 2020-21 school year.
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