For the first time since the school opened in 1955, St. Mary Pinckney is thankful to have a few empty chairs in their classrooms.
As they prepare to roll out their re-opening plan and welcome students back into the building Aug. 24, a major game changer allowing them to come back full time and in person is the fact that their school building has capacity for twice their enrollment.
“Our students have always reaped the benefits of smaller class sizes, from more individual attention, increased participation, and better communication between teachers and students to ample public speaking opportunities in front of the whole school or the intimate, tight-knit community we have built. But now, our smaller class sizes allow us to come back full time and in person, which we cannot place a value on,” said St. Mary Principal Veronica Kinsey, who has been with the school for 34 years.
“We believe the best place for our students is in school, and we have been working around the clock for months to ensure they are going to be safe,” she added. “Unless Governor Whitmer shuts schools down across the state, our plan is for all our students to be in school all day, every day.”
Founded 65 years ago in Pinckney, the K– 8 private elementary moved to a new building in 2003 that was built to host 250 students. With a current enrollment of 130 plus pre-k, that extra breathing room goes a long way in today’s pandemic.
“Even with enrollment up 20 percent and new students in every grade but one, we can space our students six feet apart in every classroom,” Kinsey said. “We also placed school branded social distancing imagery in the hallways so our students can visualize six feet apart with visuals that will also spark their minds and creativity. We even wrote a St. Mary Wildcats 20-second hand washing song,” she added.
St. Mary assembled a task force made up of
The following components make up the St. Mary re-opening plan, which was modeled after the governor’s MI Safe Schools Roadmap, and is waiting approval from the Diocese of Lansing:
· Security: keeping school more quarantined and closed off to visitors as if shelter-in-place mode
· Face coverings: going above and beyond to supply grades k-5 with face shields even though it is not required in the classroom for the lower grades
· Building Changes: Disinfecting processes, closing drinking fountains but making hands-free bottle stations available, changing lunchroom processes
· Staggering drop-off times, pick-up times, lunchtimes and recesses
· Classroom Layout & Handwashing Protocols: students will wash hands upon arrival and throughout the day
· Physical barriers, Social Distancing: new location for assemblies, utilizing wide outdoor spaces and the gymnasium
· Distant Learning & Communications: distance learning plan in place in the event Michigan goes back into Phase 1-3
Drawing from over 120 years of expertise amongst task force members, scientific research and recommendations from
the Diocese and State, the school put together the plan to protect students and staff in various Covid scenarios. These strategies range from creating isolation spaces and a new school 20-second handwashing song to requiring parents to perform daily health screenings and send their child to school with their temperature clearly labeled on a post-it note.
“Executing a plan requiring that children wear face coverings and practice physical distancing may prove the most daunting of the challenges posed by reopening,” said Michael Fill, DO, FACEP, an Emergency Physician with Henry Ford Health System and Dexter resident who helped lead the task force and has three children attending St. Mary. “However reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 through cleaning and disinfection is another crucial aspect of reopening that required careful planning. St. Mary has done due diligence on both. We feel the in-school environment we have worked to create is safe and sustainable for all students and staff.”
All school and parish staff including lunchroom workers will also complete the OSHA Covid-19 Safety Training Course.
“As a parent, I know my children require face-to-face interaction with their teachers to be fully engaged in learning,” continued Dr. Fill, who has children entering the 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades at St. Mary this fall. “For our family, distance learning serves an important purpose, but it does not equal in-person learning. There is no place like school to foster students’ academic, social and emotional growth.”
Dr. Fill donated 75 percent alchohol wipes for face shields and desks supplying the school with thousands of wipes this fall. He and other task force members at St. Mary developed the re-opening plan incorporating ways to create a safe school environment, such as:
· Developing School-Based Safety Strategies
· Sanitizing Extensively
· Ensuring Clean Hands and Physical Distancing
· Screening for Symptoms
· Using Smaller Class Sizes for Physical Distancing
· Planning for Intermittent Quarantine
· Addressing Individual Students with Diverse Needs
· Creating Isolation Spaces
· Communicating Evidence of Contact or Cases to the Community
· Providing Training and Support for all School Personnel
· Addressing the Impact of this Pandemic on Mental Health Needs
“Having parents with medical backgrounds partner with teachers and other experts on our task force was very effective because they understand how extremely complex it is to create and manage a successful school in the best of times,” continued Kinsey. “Doctors and nurses were able to look at the safety of our staff and students and make recommendations such as keeping students and staff primarily in their own classrooms to create a ‘homeroom environment’ for each class. It’s a fluid process, but we promise to be transparent as the team charged with implementing the plans to keep our families and staff safe.”
“In the best interest of our students, families and staff we did what it takes to get back to school,” continued Kinsey.
“We want to reopen on time and in person. During this time of social and emotional upheaval, our students have never needed us more.”
St. Mary Pinckney is open to families of all faiths for enrollment in grades pre-K -8 offering excellence in education and rich extra curricular activities including cross country, volleyball, basketball, band, Lego robotics and chess club. Contact Veronica Kinsey at (734) 878-5616 or email email@example.com with questions or to schedule a tour.
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PHOTO CREDIT: St. Mary Pinckney