- Phase 3 begins Thursday, September 24th
- Gunston Athletics: Target Launch September 14 | #GoHerons! - September 8, 2020
- Phased Reopening Update: Week One + Phase 2 Start Date + Athletics - September 4, 2020
- Athletics Update - August 14, 2020
- Student Orientations, Schedule Update & School Opening Plans, August 5, 2020
- Phased Reopening Announcement - August 3, 2020
Dear Gunston Community:
As promised, we wanted to provide a mid-week update on Phases 3 & 4 of our reopening plans. We are now in Week 3 of the school year, and having observed 50% campus density for two days, our safety protocols and procedures are working well. At the same time, we’ve identified several areas that need attention and careful planning before we launch Phase 3, notably the complexity of food service and the challenge of staggering class changes to manage student traffic flow. Meanwhile, Monday’s launch of athletics was a success.
As we evaluate moving forward with additional phases, we continue to take into account the following:
- Guidance from the State and the Queen Anne’s Department of Health: we are in contact with Dr. Ciotola and his team multiple times per week
- Trends related to positivity and cases per 100,000: these numbers have remained reasonably stable below the 5% and 15/100K thresholds
- Compliance with and enforcement of safety measures: these must be sustained
- Campus health: we understand that 0% positivity is not realistic, but positive cases impact reopening timelines
- The “eye test”: Gunston’s leadership team has over 100 years of combined experience managing high school students and campus rhythms, and our planning reflects this. However, students are not plans, so each reopening phase brings both pleasant surprises and unexpected challenges that inform our decision to accelerate or slow additional density.
Right now, we expect to welcome 11th graders back to campus on Thursday, September 24th, with a required all-grade orientation on Wednesday, September 23rd. We’ll announce the orientation timing at the end of this week. Using this timeline, we are targeting between October 1st and October 5th for the launch of Phase 4—the return of 10th grade. If we deem that 100% campus density is not feasible, kindly be advised that 9th grade would temporarily rotate into Distance Learning during Phase 4.
We named our Phased Reopening Plan “Gunston Together” because we continue to need everyone’s vigilance and support—both on and off campus—to stay healthy and open. I want to offer a special acknowledgement to Gunston’s teachers. All summer, our teaching team has prepared to improve the distance learning experience and to address the thorny challenges of concurrent teaching. While there have been a few snafus—I had one in my class earlier this week—we’ve sustained our educational momentum. Community support has been tremendous, and we will continue to keep you updated.
Head of School
Dear Gunston Community:
Gunston’s athletics program is central to the student experience, and it is essential for student health, well-being, and camaraderie. As we mentioned in our Phase 2 Reopening letter last Friday, the Queen Anne’s Health Department has lifted restrictions on Gunston athletics, and we are working closely with Dr. Ciotola to develop an athletics plan that adheres to comprehensive screening, mitigation, and public health risk management guidelines. Therefore, it is essential that you read this letter and review the linked documents relevant to each student’s chosen sport.
Our target date to launch Gunston athletics is Monday, September 14th, and all students are eligible to participate. While we are delighted to offer athletics this fall, we need to outline up front some of the key limitations of the program that might impact families:
- Transportation: Broadly, we cannot provide athletics transportation due to health limitations in bus capacity. Thus, we need to rely on parent/student transportation & carpools to practices and athletic contests.
- Practice Times: Given our academic schedule and the disparate geography of Gunston students, there will be a gap between the time that students complete classes in the afternoon and the time they can arrive at campus. Therefore, we are creating a “Cascading Practice Schedule,” beginning at 2:45 and ending at 5:00 p.m. Students will participate at the point they arrive—without penalty—and students who rely on the bus can depart at 4:30.
- Competition: Competitions will be limited to one athletic contest per week, and one of these will occur during the October break. At this time, ESIAC schools are exploring the ability to host spectators from opposing schools. These spectator guidelines will be shared with families prior to the first contest. Some member schools have smaller athletic spaces which may limit/prohibit visiting spectators. Waterfront sports are exploring the ability to compete in intrasquad events. Currently, the MDISA and USRowing do not have any sanctioned races this fall.
- Participation/Non-team sports/Intramurals/Remote Sports/JV: Gunston will continue with our ‘no-cut’ athletics policy, and based on levels of interest, Gunston will be able to offer junior varsity programs. If a student wishes to pursue an athletic offering that Gunston does not offer (horseback riding, archery, dance, etc.), they may pursue an Independent Sports Credit. Furthermore, if a student wishes to complete their athletics requirement off-campus in a self-guided fitness program like Volt (the online fitness program we used last spring), they may pursue a Remote Sports Credit. Finally, the Athletic Department will work to support students who remain on campus and wish to pursue a fitness/intramurals program.
Having reviewed the general information above, click here to view the additional procedures that students and families should follow:
- Interscholastic Athletics Practice Procedures
- Sailing & Rowing Practice Procedures
- Independent and Remote Sports
Later this week, we will offer a series of Athletic Town Hall meetings to answer questions in advance of the launch of the athletic season. Also, be on the lookout for an additional athletics participation “acknowledgement of risk” document, which must be signed before students will be permitted to participate.
As a school, Gunston always strives to accommodate the needs of students and families. This value is embedded in the first sentence of our mission statement: personalization. Thus, while we recognize that the dynamics of the pandemic have constructed roadblocks to our personalization options in the realm of athletics, we will strive to work with every family to maximize student participation.
I cannot say enough about our Athletic Director, Jon Mellinger, who has remained creative and flexible throughout this entire process. Should you have questions or feedback about athletics, please be in contact with him.
Head of School
September 4, 2020
Dear Gunston Community:
I’m delighted to report that we have enjoyed a successful orientation and academic integration for the Class of 2024. This week has permitted us to observe socially distanced classrooms (working well), class change traffic patterns (initially confusing, then easy), morning screening (very slow on Day 1, now smooth), intramurals (lawn games are both social and fun), afternoon pickup (much more complex than morning drop-off), tent capacity (expanded after some observation), inclement weather responses (adjustments still being made), and lunch service (grab-and-go is working well—a socially distanced lunch line is long: 6 feet times 60 students equals 120 yards—and we get it served in 10 minutes!)
Meanwhile, new relationships are being formed despite the expected challenges presented by masking and distancing. All-in-all, we have been pleased with Week 1, and we are thus confident that Phase 2 of our reopening plan can commence on Monday, September 14th, where we will welcome back the Class of 2021. We will host a campus orientation for 12th graders, so stay tuned early next week for details. Doubling our student population from 25% to 50% will necessitate additional observation and adjustments before moving to Phases 3 & 4, but we are optimistic that every Gunston student will soon return to campus.
Moving to Phase 2 is supported by the recently released school reopening metrics from the State of Maryland. Regional COVID positivity rates continue to hover near 3%, which is well below the 5% positivity rate identified by the State as a benchmark for increased restrictions. Unfortunately, regional daily cases have stagnated around 9 per 100,000, which is above the 5 per 100,000 that would indicate a capacity to fully reopen to all students. According to the state’s metrics, if positivity rates rise above 5% AND daily cases grow to 15 per 100,000, we would need to revert to distance learning.
While the goal is to have 100% of our students on campus, current metrics indicate that we need to prepare for the possibility where we could be restricted to less than 100%. If lesser percentages remain necessary, we would likely rotate classes on and off campus in waves. For example, if we were permitted 75% density, a grade could be on campus for six weeks, then cycle off for two weeks before returning again for six weeks. We continue to partner closely with Dr. Ciotola, the Queen Anne’s County Health Department Officer, who will be visiting our campus regularly. Each expansion of the student population⏤from 50% to 75% to 100%⏤creates new challenges in all of the realms noted above; for instance, a 224-student lunch line is nearly 700 yards long!
In order to plan Phase 2 re-entry logistics and orientations, please be advised that the school day will be over and buses will leave at 2:30 p.m. next Tuesday, September 8 and Friday, September 11. We will send a reminder email out on both Monday and Thursday evenings. If you pick up your student and can’t get to campus by 2:30 p.m., please let us know and we will arrange afternoon coverage until 4:30 p.m.
Also, this week, the Queen Anne’s Health Department alerted us that they will be lifting restrictions on Gunston Athletics. This is a significant and unexpected change, and we are consulting with the ESIAC conference, Ms. Manion, and our Health Advisory Team to consider options for maximizing team sports opportunities in the Fall. While I know that this will be welcome news to student-athletes, there are a number of issues that the school needs to work through, including:
- Athletics and our Phased Reopening Plan: In many ways, integrating students into an athletics program is a far lesser challenge than integrating them into classroom spaces. In athletics, fields are spread out and students can be effectively cohorted into practice groups and boats. Thus, it is quite likely that we can have 100% athletics participation available before we achieve 100% campus density.
- Coaching: Following the summer’s restrictions on athletics, which we expected to last through the fall, we alerted our coaches that the fall season would be suspended. To move forward, we need to quickly re-assemble an experienced and competent coaching staff.
- Health & Safety: The school needs to finalize athletics protocols that reinforce high standards of health and safety.
- Transportation: As the saying goes, “At Gunston, it doesn’t matter what the question is, the answer is transportation.” While the ESIAC Fall sports season would include a limited number of contests, we will need significant family support to transport our student-athletes to off-campus contests.
- Equity and Inclusion: The school's intention is to have the athletics program available to all students in accordance with safety guidelines and protocols. Scheduling and transportation needs will be considered in our planning process, and we aim to maximize availability to all students.
- Student Fitness: The school needs to ensure that our practice calendar will provide appropriate time for students to regain sufficient athletics fitness for competition.
The prospect of an interscholastic athletics season is exciting, and early next week we will send a comprehensive communication related to athletics. I continue to be grateful for every member of Team Gunston—this week’s success has been the result of a true collective effort. Thank you also to students and families for your ongoing support. We appreciate your patience as we pivot and flex through these ever-changing times. Similar to last Spring, we will collect regular feedback about your experiences so that we can make any necessary adjustments—watch for a survey next week!
Head of School
Dear Gunston Community,
This week, we learned that the Maryland Independent Athletic Association and the Delaware Independent Athletic Association have cancelled their fall interscholastic athletics seasons. They join the Maryland Public School Athletic Association which came to a similar decision last week, and we are expecting a directive from the state that will offer similar restrictions on interscholastic athletics.
At this point, Gunston will be suspending our fall sports season for Tier 2 & 3 ESIAC sports, which includes every sport except Cross Country and Golf. We are still in conversation with the ESIAC about potential limited participation in these sports. Our on-water rowing activities have been prohibited by the Queen Anne's County Department of Health, and we await a verdict on sailing. In the meantime, we're planning to move full-speed ahead on the development of a robust and fun intramural & fitness program for our students this fall.
As Gunston's Athletic Director, I understand why these decisions must be made, but I'm also deeply connected to the loss and frustration that student-athletes have been feeling since the pandemic began in the spring. While I know it will not replace the sports season, let me promise that we're going to develop a fantastic and spirited intramural & fitness program for the upcoming fall!
Dear Gunston Community,
In many ways, August for the Gunston community marks the start of the school year. Academic schedules near completion, school supplies are gathered, and excitement builds for new classes, new relationships, and new experiences. As we phase into the 2020-2021 school year, we look forward to welcoming all of you to what will certainly be a new shared experience.
Important elements of Gunston tradition in the face-to-face environment include the annual leadership institute, the 9th Grade Retreat, and the New Student Academic Orientation. Guarding the health and safety of all constituents requires adjustments to our program design while maintaining the focus of relationship building and the inculcation of community norms and values in fun and engaging ways. To this end, we include below the details of our program redesign, which were presented in the school’s master reopening plan.
Please be sure to keep an eye on your email for calendar invitations to all virtual events. In addition, detailed information about safety policies and protocols will be shared with all students and families in the coming weeks.
Monday, Aug. 17
1:00 - 4:00
Virtual Leadership Institute
Tuesday, Aug. 18
9:00 - 12:00
Virtual All New Student Orientation
Monday, August 24
Virtual New Parent Orientation
Wednesday, Aug. 26
8:00 - 2:15
9th Grade Orientation on Campus
Friday, Aug. 28
9:00 - 1:00
Distance Learning Orientation Day - all grades
Monday, Aug. 31
9:00 - (?)
Tuesday, Sept. 1
8:00 - 4:15
First day of school for all students
Monday, Sept. 7
School closed for Labor Day
On Tuesday, August 18, our student leaders will facilitate an engaging and informative orientation for all new students in all grade levels. Through a variety of virtual activities, we will begin building community connections, new students will be introduced to the important elements of the Gunston mission and philosophy, and they will have the opportunity to ask the myriad of questions related to transitioning to Gunston.
Wednesday, August 26, will be the practice academic day for 9th graders and teachers. We will begin the day with the check-in and health screening. Following a number of icebreakers and “getting to know you” activities, there will be a run through of the on-campus academic day. A detailed schedule and list of supplies will be sent home as we get closer to the event. Bus transportation will run and lunch will be provided.
All students, in all grades will participate in the Distance Learning Orientation Day on Friday, August 28. This orientation will prepare 10th-12th graders and all concurrent learners for the program. Gaining familiarity with the distance learning platform is essential for everyone as there may be times through the year that individual students or the school as a whole will pivot to distance learning.
Individual academic schedules continue to be created. Mr. Mark Wiening has dedicated hundreds of hours to building the master schedule aligning student course assignments with the classroom size requirements as defined by CDC safety protocols. Designing the master schedule matrix is complicated in a regular school year. We owe Mr. Wiening a debt of gratitude for the additional time and care that he has invested this summer. As soon as schedules are finalized, I will send a communication to this effect that will also include instructions for book purchases.
Detailed information will be shared often in the coming weeks. Your communications throughout this summer have been insightful and helpful as we have planned for the 2020-2021 school year. We encourage you to send along all of your questions as they arise. The hybrid learning environment is new for everyone and the strength of the Gunston community combined with our open communication will create a positive experience for all.
Christie B. Grabis
Assistant Head of School
August 3, 2020
In my favorite novel Great Expectations, the comic character Mr. Wopsle repeatedly urges his church to “throw the doors open” in order to allow every member (especially him) to have their say on theological matters. Over the past few months, I’ve heard this phrase— “throw the doors open” — applied to school reopenings for the fall. Just fling them open, some commentators say as they ignore basic public health data, and we’ll deal with the consequences as they emerge. Current large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and other locales have shown the foolishness of this approach.
In the same way that Mr. Wopsle’s suggestion to “throw the doors open” was politely and gently ignored, so has Gunston sought to ignore solutions that are scientifically, educationally, and logistically unsound. Indeed, our planning committee—in consultation with our Health Advisory Team—has spent the past three months seeking pathways that will balance the clear educational and psychological benefits of reopening our campus with the maximization of health, safety, and welfare for our community.
With this in mind, and having reviewed our plans with the Queen Anne’s Department of Health, Gunston will be moving forward in September with a Phased Reopening. We will begin by inviting our new 9th graders to campus, including a modified Orientation and Embarkation. Tenth through 12th grade students will begin the academic year via distance learning, with the goal of having further class groups re-enter the campus in phases starting in late September.
In Phase 2, our aim would be to prioritize our 12th grade students as the second group to return given their seniority and college guidance needs. Although dates will need to remain fluid, in a best-case scenario, all students will be reintegrated by the end of the first quarter. Over the next few weeks, we will seek to finalize the relevant benchmarks for determining when to greenlight further phases of re-entry.
Both our Phased Reopening strategy and the continuing cancellation of peer athletic conference/association schedules (like USRowing) means that our fall interscholastic athletic season is in jeopardy. However, we are formulating a plan with the ESIAC that may permit limited conference competition, starting in late September. To achieve this, we need to develop a protocol for having all students on campus at select times in September for athletic participation. This presents additional scheduling and safety considerations, so stay tuned for an update in mid-August on this. We continue to review the viability of fall waterfront sports, and no athletic practices will commence before September 1st. Should seasons be suspended, we will offer a fun and robust intramural program.
The rationale for our Phased Reopening approach is multifaceted. By starting with 25% of our student body on campus, as well as smaller numbers of faculty, the school will have the opportunity to integrate a complex set of new health, screening, and safety policies with lower campus density. Second, new 9th grade students possess the greatest need for direct connection with their teachers and classmates. The process of effectively acculturating and integrating every Gunston student into the environment is challenging and nuanced, and accomplishing this via distance learning presents enormous challenges for new students and the school.
Other benefits of this approach include:
- our ability to maximize the use of indoor and outdoor teaching space;
- the opportunity to resolve any glitches related to “concurrent teaching” (where classes have students both inside the classroom and students connected online);
- lowering initial student density on school transportation;
- and, the minimization of a campus outbreak should it occur.
Perhaps most importantly, Phased Reopening also gives us opportunities to effectively adjust policies and procedures as they are implemented. Indeed, it is our belief that a cautious, phased reopening raises the chances of Gunston remaining open over the longer term.
In regard to distance learning, Gunston has prepared all summer for this possibility, and we expect to offer a best-in-class experience for those students participating. Every Wednesday since graduation, faculty and staff have spent the summer exploring and mastering various new technologies and the creative possibilities they offer. When not experimenting with how to integrate software, faculty attended weekly virtual professional development with educational experts. Some of the weekly topics discussed include leveraging mind-brain education strategies, integrating social-emotional learning, incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion in lesson plans, as well as thinking deeply about optimizing extended instructional time. In addition, every faculty member is now Level 1 Google Educator Certified and also becoming Apple Teacher Certified. Everyone has been documenting their micro-credentialing process using individual Google Sites, which allow them to share their ideas, progress, and advice with each other.
We are also launching the school year with a to-be-finalized 4+1 block schedule with a mid-week Wednesday of distance learning for all students. In addition to providing for a midweek deep cleaning (recommended to us by the QAC Health Department), this “+1” day permits us to deliver key elements of our mission—clubs, tutorials, advisory, and other individual meetings—that are constrained in a restricted, physically-distanced environment. It also gives students much needed screen breaks. In instances before or after a long weekend (including the first two weeks of school, which are both 4-day weeks), we will not have a “+1 day.” Should the public health situation change for the better during the year, we can easily pivot back to a five-day, on-campus schedule.
A few more important notes. We plan to offer bus transportation for students who need it, and we will be conducting a revised transportation survey this week to determine final numbers and routes. Bus fees are suspended for non-riders, and we will likely offer a month-to-month plan this year. Buses will be sanitized and student spacing will follow health guidelines. For older students who will be driving 9th grade siblings, we plan to offer a supervised space on campus during the day for on-site distance learning. We will also be modifying and simplifying our “pandemic dress code,” given the need to minimize the use of locker rooms for changing clothes. Thus for now, hold off on purchasing oxford shirts, polos, and khaki pants until we send a dress code revision next week.
Although we have certainly been informed by the decision-making processes of local public school systems and peer independent schools around the region, Gunston is responsible for making our own decisions about reopening in concert with the Health Department. Having evaluated the landscape, we are simply unwilling to make sweeping, months-long determinations about the structure of our school year, (e.g. distance learning until January, or guaranteed 100% on-campus attendance on September 1st). Of course, should the Health Department or the Governor mandate that we need to move to 100% distance learning, we must do so.
While we know that this news will be disappointing to many students and families, we hope you can understand that we make this decision with great care, and only after months of lengthy (and sometimes torturous) deliberation and reflection. Our decision has been made using the best-available science and after a thorough evaluation of our capacity to maximize learning and minimize risk. Given what we know, “throwing the doors open” is clearly a recipe for chaos; at the same time, starting the year with 100% distance learning does not align with what we know about mitigating COVID-19 and the negative psychosocial impacts of campus closures. Finally, we are prepared to accommodate those students who wish to attend 100% remotely in the fall.
Like other essential workers in industries that have opened successfully with modifications, the Gunston team is committed to providing the best experience possible for our students. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted that opening schools is extraordinarily important, both for students and for society. Thus, with both lives and livelihoods at stake, Gunston believes that mastering the skill of safely and effectively delivering face-to-face schooling during a pandemic is essential to the wellbeing of our students and our society.
Over the next few days and weeks, we will be releasing communications with more granular details on scheduling, health and safety policies, calendar events, transportation, etc. Please read all of these carefully. As always, we appreciate your deep love of Gunston and your ongoing support. Should you have questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
Head of School
- 9th grade students begin school on campus
- Modified Orientation & Embarkation
- 10th - 12th grade students begin via distance learning
- 12th grade students return to school in late September*
- All students integrated by the end of the first academic quarter* (October)
Strategy & Rationale:
- starting with 25% of students and smaller numbers of faculty gives us an opportunity to integrate complex set of health screening and safety policies
- 9th graders possess the the greatest need for direct connection
- 9th graders are easiest to cohort
- 12th graders to return second given seniority and college guidance needs
- ability to maximize the use of indoor and outdoor teaching space;
- opportunity to resolve any glitches related to “concurrent teaching”
- lowering initial student density on school transportation;
- minimization of a campus outbreak should it occur
- 4+1 block schedule with a mid-week Wednesday of distance learning for all students
- we will offer bus transportation for students who need it
- bus fees are suspended for non-riders with a month-to-month plan
- buses will be sanitized and student spacing will follow guidelines
- supervised space on campus for on-site distance learning for older siblings drivers
*We continue to ask for your flexibility and adaptability, as we examine and adjust each event in the calendar. Rest assured you will always be notified in advance of any cancellations and/or modifications to scheduled events.