“Covid Silver Linings” at Suffield Academy

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Suffield Academy has opened its 2020/2021 academic year with full enrollment of 410 students. Head of School Charlie Cahn reports that the school has had no attrition due to Covid 19, quite a remarkable feat given the circumstances. In fact, demand has actually increased. At this writing, returning students are arriving in waves, and most of the student body will be attending class on campus by the end of September. About 50 students will be learning remotely through at least January, most of them international students.

The boarding students currently on campus are grouped in cohorts by dorms or dorm floors; each of the 23 cohorts has its meals together, with the various groups carefully scheduled in order to provide appropriate distancing in the dining room. Classrooms have been modified with the same restrictions in mind. Additional staffing means that classes can be smaller than usual and cleaning can be more frequent. Masks are mandatory, and Covid-19 testing for everyone at the school is occurring on a regular basis. All students will receive grades (as opposed to pass/fail options) as the school works to ensure that everyone’s educational experiences are as effective and productive as possible.

There will be club sports on campus but as of now no competition with other schools, which for those hoping for athletics to help with college admissions could have been a major disappointment. However, the coaches are continuing with their usual varsity team training and are staying in touch with college personnel to support and promote Academy athletes’ college admissions goals.

A unique challenge has been the need to arrange for international students to participate in class remotely; the variation in time zones in different parts of the world often makes the scheduling difficult. As a back-up step, the teaching faculty are recording classes by video and offering one on one on-line consultation with any student who cannot participate in live classes. The school is providing enormous flexibility in order to address all needs and serve all students.

Anyone who talks to a teacher these days knows that the work load for faculty members at any level during this crisis has increased beyond recognition. The skills required are unprecedented. Everyone has had to quickly master the technology which is needed, and has had to be nimble in addressing multiple challenges. But students and teachers at Suffield Academy are grateful to be back in a routine, albeit an unfamiliar one. They have found creative ways to continue the important education for which the school is known.

Charlie Cahn, ever the optimist, even observes that this cloud has a silver lining. In the future, when students are unable to attend class–for illness or for any other reason–stronger resources are set up for them to attend classes virtually, reducing the need for drawn-out makeup work. We could all use a dose of that kind of attitude! When this difficult situation is over, we will appreciate what we used to take for granted; but during this moment in time we have to wonder in what ways, both positive and negative, our world will have significantly changed. There must be other “Covid silver linings!”

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