Dear New and Returning Parents and Guardians,
I want to take the opportunity of this letter to welcome each of our new families—215 strong! —and to offer a short update to all of our families on preparations and planning for the coming school year.
Currently, we are actively preparing for the fall opening of school here on campus: guiding students to select courses, building our next cohort of school leaders, moving our housing assignment process forward, and completing many related tasks. In short, we are in the midst of the process that has long characterized spring and summer preparations for fall. We are employing technology similarly to how our students are learning at home, and our inability to meet in person has not slowed our planning or dampened our enthusiasm and commitment to the 2020-21 school year.
Simultaneously, we are acutely aware that COVID-19 will be with us for some time. Until a vaccine is widely available, and social distancing practices substantially relaxed, we will need to be adaptive, flexible, and above all, purposeful about the steps we take to keep our community safe and well. Over the last weeks, we have developed several important goals that will guide our planning process over the summer and into next year:
- Public Health. Our first priority is the health and well-being of everyone in our community, both here on campus and in the Pioneer Valley. We will continue to study and follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and State health officials as they define appropriate social distancing measures for the reopening of schools. We will be ready to incorporate these practices into our academic, residential, athletics, and community life programs as necessary. At the same time, we will strive to preserve, to the fullest extent possible, all the core elements of our existing educational program and the many distinctive traditions and community rituals that have long defined Deerfield Academy.
- Screening and Testing. We believe that screening and testing will play an important role as employees and students return to campus. Numerous initiatives are in process, and we look forward to the moment when fast and reliable testing will be available here on campus. We are working to establish screening and testing protocols for COVID-19 that support community health and well-being. We continue to draw on the expertise and experience of our medical team here, led by Director of Medical Services Dr. Bear Benson, and the wisdom of medical professionals in the areas of epidemiology and medicine who are actively involved in the fight against the spread of this virus. We have also established an interactive relationship with a medical consulting firm to assist us in certain areas.
- Health Facilities. This past fall we dedicated and opened our new health facility, the D.S. Chen Health and Wellness Center. It is an extraordinary resource for our students, staffed by a dedicated team of health professionals experienced in working with adolescents and young adults. The Chen Center provides significant flexibility to examine, diagnose, and treat students. We are studying additional facility needs and modifications that may be necessary to support our students this fall, and we will ensure that our facilities and personnel align with the screening, testing, and other protocols we develop before students return to campus.
- Residential Program. We will study our residential program in the coming months and explore ways to mitigate risk and protect student wellness. We are consulting closely with leaders in higher education to ensure our approach to community and residential life is in keeping with the highest standards of care.
- Continuity of Program. Even as we prepare to welcome new students, we are studying and preparing for a variety of contingencies, and we will be ready to ensure excellence and continuity of our educational program should the start of school need to be delayed or interrupted for any reason. Over the last few weeks our faculty have delivered our program in a way that is authentic, dynamic, and true to our educational commitments. Their creativity, commitment to improvement, and collaborative spirit will sustain us not only in the weeks to come, as we complete the Spring Term, but will also allow us to meet any future challenges.
- Support for International Families. We know our international students will face unique challenges, and we stand ready to support them in every way we can, including continuing remote attendance for students whose return to campus is impeded or delayed in any way, as well as assistance should they be unable to return home for scheduled school breaks or an unanticipated interruption in our school schedule.
- Decision-Making. Should changes to our program become necessary, we will move deliberately, transparently, and in full consultation with our Board of Trustees. This has been our practice over the last weeks, and if we have learned one thing in this extraordinary time, it is this: We will know a great deal more about the spread of this virus, screening, testing, prevention, and care by mid-summer than we do now. Patience and careful consideration in the face of uncertainty have served our community and our decision-making process well so far. We will continue to learn as much as we can, as soon as we can, and make necessary, thoughtful decisions as required.
- Enrollment Documents. Among the steps we are taking is a review of our enrollment materials, which were scheduled to be issued today to returning families. I have asked my team to pause in sending those materials so that we can consider various elements in light of the events of the last weeks and ensure that our approach and requirements are appropriate to this moment and the unique challenges created for families and the Academy. Spring Term “room and board” rebate letters for returning families will also follow shortly. I thank you for your patience and flexibility.
- Communication and Feedback. Most importantly, we remain committed to communicating well and frequently with you. We will keep you fully apprised of our processes and timelines for decision-making. Next week, on April 21 and 22, we will again host two DA Parents and Guardians Forums; links for these Zoom webinars will be included in the next Families FYI, which you should receive tomorrow. I would also like to draw our new families’ attention to this page on our website, which offers important information, useful FAQs, and an archive of previous school communications surrounding COVID-19. We always welcome and appreciate questions and comments from all of you; they guide our decision-making, enhance clarity, and ultimately help us become the best possible school for your children.
Even as we are focused on the risks and challenges that COVID-19 has created for our community, we are as committed as ever to the education of our students and the future of our school. As our returning families know, and as our new families will soon come to experience, the Deerfield spirit is like no other. That enduring spirit will be a great strength as we move forward through the next few months.
Academics: Ivory Hills / 413-774-1470
Enrollment: Chip Davis / 413-774-1400
Finance Office: Keith Finan / 413-774-1401
Financial Aid Melissa Persons / 413-774-1568
Student Life: Amie Creagh / 413-774-1452
Health and Wellness: Dr. Bear Benson / 413-774-1600