Ursuline has begun the school year with a short period of online learning complemented by a program that brings students to campus weekly for a full slate of activities, including music, technology, athletics, guidance, and wellness. After this first phase of online learning, the school plans to shift to a concurrent (hybrid) model in October and is well-prepared to shift to fully online learning, if necessary, or in-person learning when it is safe to do so. Staff are trained in all models, and will have live streaming technology in each classroom that allows teachers to instruct students on-campus and at home simultaneously.
Central to the school’s intention to provide a robust experience for its students is the inclusion of an on-campus program of leadership skills, spiritual development, and physical challenges -- “The Bear Cave Days” -- while classes are taking place online during September. With particular relevance for these times, students attended an in-person workshop last week with Dr. Nadja Reilly, a consulting psychologist, who has worked with Ursuline for many years. In light of the pandemic, Dr. Reilly guided the students on how to reflect on their worries, create realistic goals, and find ways to promote their own resilience. This week, a team from Hale Reservation worked with the students on leadership and collaboration tasks, and next week, a learning specialist will coach the student body on organizational and time management skills to assist with the challenges of the upcoming year.
Following the mandates provided by local and state government, extensive safety measures have been instituted and Ursuline has assured its families that the school’s foremost priority is the health and well-being of each student, faculty, and staff member. In addition to requiring masks and social distancing and reducing the density of the campus population, a new heating and ventilation system in the main school building, planned since the fall of 2019, will result in improved air filtration in the spaces where students and faculty spend much of their time. Although the freedom to move around the campus will be limited, students will have time to engage more deeply and seek extra help in every subject by means of an enrichment period built into the academic cycle. Additional measures to keep students healthy include a required daily wellness check before anyone comes to campus and a COVID-19 Prevention and Safety Covenant that all students, families, and employees must sign, pledging to live in accordance with state social distancing and travel guidelines. The covenant is a real-time example of one of the tenets of Ursuline culture, that of placing others’ best interests at heart.
Grappling with a pandemic is a tall order for any school, but school staff and families are looking to the new academic year with a sense of optimism and confidence. Bolstered by the experience of the school’s rapid transition to online learning last spring, Ursuline Academy is determined to defy expectations and provide a rich curriculum to its students, regardless of the constraints of the pandemic. Math teacher Stacie Dowling notes that “each person connected to the Ursuline community has been asked to learn and excel in things that are brand new to us...an awesome confidence to take into the future for all of us, no matter where we’re going, whether back into a classroom or on to college or life in general.”