On February 28, WCA Head of School Johnny Graham issued a directive to his teachers to start preparing for possible remote instruction. When March 12 rolled around, Williamsburg Christian Academy was ready. WCA students continued with their curriculum remotely the following Monday, and with several adjustments and process changes, WCA’s students will all finish the year having learned all the material they were slated to learn when the year started. Now with the 2019-2020 school year nearing a finish, WCA is again planning and getting ahead by having a specific and detailed plan based on research and discussions with experts in the field. The aim: open school on time and in line with any governmental restrictions while still providing students top-notch, fluid, and continuous college-preparatory education and life skills training.
“Well before Covid-19 arrived in our region, Williamsburg Christian Academy demonstrated our care for the safety and well-being of our community through transparent communication to families on February 28,” stated Graham in a communication sent to all families. “Through God’s grace and prayerful consideration of medical data, WCA has served as a leader in the Tidewater region in providing a proactive, healthy, student-centric Christian education that accounts for the needs of the entire community.”
The plan to reopen was one that had to be carefully crafted, with many factors to consider. The school drew upon several primary sources in the process of developing the plan: Commonwealth of Virginia Executive Orders, Virginia Department of Health Covid-19 instruction, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, consultations with local medical experts, James City County Covid-19 data, WCA-specific data (e.g., sizeable future sickness outbreaks), and a hefty amount of prayer over what would be the best course of action for the school and its community. WCA is the first school (public or private) to publish an opening plan for Fall 2020 in the Historic Triangle, and has already received requests from Heads of other private schools in the region and even nationally for information on the plan to assist in the development of their own opening procedures. Some schools went so far as to ask to use the elements of the plan directly for their schools.
Based on the Virginia Department of Health data (click here to review), close contact is the primary method by which the virus spreads, and includes being within six feet of a sick person with Covid-19 for approximately 10 minutes. According to the Virginia Department of Health, being indoors (such as in a classroom) does not constitute close contact, even with an unknown infected person present, as long as individuals maintain a social distance of 6 feet. By following proper protocols, per the VDH, you are not at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
“WCA’s opening plan merely defines how we open the school year,” added Graham in the same communication. “It is also important to note that the attached opening plan is a “Both/And” blended model of synchronous live learning and asynchronous modules. This model will enable us to ease social distancing restrictions when permissible by state and local governments AND allow us to return to a remote platform if a substantial infection outbreak were ever to occur within our WCA community in the future. We look forward to a day when we may resume five-day brick-and-mortar operations on campus.” In the interim, Graham described, it is his and the leadership of WCA’s duty to provide the WCA community a portrait of the opening “floor” of school operations in August based on the best information available. Social distancing will be the core of the Fall 2020 Opening Plan per the Virginia Department of Health, CDC, and local physician recommendations.
The plan presented by Graham and the WCA Board is broken into several components: Onsite academic operations, custodial operations, hygiene controls, small group athletic procedures, and the role of virtual learning continuing into WCA’s future.
In terms of academic operations on opening, it is clear that among all groups in the school, the lower grades are the most dependent on face-to-face monitored instruction, and required the most onsite time. Since class counts will not exceed nine students for proper distancing, the lower school students may stretch into the upper-level classrooms usually reserved for the Upper School. The opening plan would have lower school students (preschool through fifth grade) onsite every day but Wednesday. The Middle School students (6th-8th), still needing significant face-to-face time but more capable of independent study, would be in the building on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and would follow remote study instruction on Mondays and Wednesdays. High School students, who have the greatest capability for more independent study (also a desired trait of WCA graduates) would have onsite classroom Monday and Wednesday and would be remote the remaining days.
The plan also outlines that custodial operations and hygiene processes will be stepped-up on opening. Always one of the most valuable services in any organization, WCA’s custodians will work to ensure proper care of all classrooms and other facility elements. Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control information and recommendations for schools in place at the time will guide most of the actions taken in those areas to provide the healthiest possible learning environment for students.
In what has become one of the biggest hot button issues relating to school programs, WCA will also have a concrete plan for athletics upon opening in the Fall. The approach will consist primarily of breaking down practices into smaller groups or groups that can be adequately spaced from each other, with the initial emphasis on specific individual skills (dribbling, passing, stick handling, review of rules and strategies, etc.) and endurance training while awaiting further easing of restrictions (team competitions will not likely be permitted until authorized by State authorities). Athletes meanwhile will not only get an opportunity to start honing their skills and get in shape but also reap the spiritual and mental health benefits of physical activity and the ability to interact in person with a small group of athletes. In keeping with CDC and VDH guidance again, athletes will be spaced at a greater distance than typical school activity, due to the possibility of droplets traveling further in the air while exercising.
The final segment is more forward-looking (past the pandemic). Going forward, this blended learning approach will allow WCA to offer families the best education possible. By providing a more hybrid experience, more class offerings will be available, allowing students to expand their learning profiles in ways that have not been possible before. The blended approach will also prepare them for the multi-faceted learning experience they will likely encounter in college. By exposing them to this model now while they have the support of WCA’s qualified and passionate teachers, students will be well-equipped for real 21st-century education as they grow and mature into young adults pursuing higher education and will have the tools and training necessary to be active agents in their own learning.
Using virtual tools to expand curricular offerings as they connect with experts and educators nationally and globally, Williamsburg Christian Academy will flip the classroom with a mixture of blended synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities. This mixture enables faculty to make better use of brick-and-mortar class time through careful inclusion of demonstrations, movements, simulations, experiential learning, and hands-on group and individual projects. Sitting idle in a classroom for 50 minutes is a relative thing of the past, and WCA intends to use this period to effect something of a shift in the learning approach, a shift that is not prevalent in the majority of local schools.
The small class sizes at WCA make this type of plan feasible, and there is even room for WCA to grow somewhat and still ensure proper distancing and other safety measures are followed.
The release of the opening plan coincided with WJCC schools’ announcement that there will be substantial budget cuts in the school budgets due to significant losses of tax revenue from business and tourism-related taxes. Among the proposals currently fielded by School Board officials is a complete withdrawal of funding for arts programs, decreased athletics funding, and a complete moratorium on middle school athletics. Additionally, the memo forwarded to parents pointed to the distinct possibility of fewer teachers and larger classes, as well as decreases in custodial staff.
WCA doesn’t plan to cut any programs per its new plan at this time, given its current enrollment. “We will continue to offer our acclaimed strings program, will have accommodations to provide for drama and a Spring musical production, and will have other clubs and activities just as we’ve always had,” Graham explained. “In some cases, those programs will likely expand, especially if we see an influx of new enrollments among those unhappy with budget cuts and shrunken or eliminated programs at other schools.” It is important to note, however, that all programs at WCA are subject to student demand.
Williamsburg Christian Academy is anticipating an increase in enrollments as a result of the forward plan and issues with budget shortfalls. WCA is accepting applications for all grades at this time for the 2020/2021 school year, and interested families can reach their Admissions Department to talk through options for enrollment, discounts, and scholarships, as well as offering a live virtual or social distanced tour of the school. Families interested in potentially enrolling at WCA, or who would like to get more information about the school should contact admissions at email@example.com or visit our website and fill out our Interest form (click to be taken directly to either site). Be aware that due to anticipated restrictions, there are limits to enrollment numbers at each grade level. Those wishing to enroll in classes that have become full will be placed on a waiting list.
The school also has several IB teaching positions open for the Fall. Candidates are encouraged to check the WCA website for more information and to download an application. Please direct inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.