After nearly six months away from campus, and following many weeks of planning this spring and summer, Austin Prep welcomed students back to campus on Tuesday, September 8th for the first day of classes. Students in Cohort A participated in on campus learning, while classmates in Cohort B joined classrooms remotely, which will be the case on Wednesday, as well. On Thursday and Friday, Cohort B will be on campus and Cohort A will participate remotely. Cohorts will rotate weekly with a specific cohort on campus three days one week, followed by two days the next week.
Austin Prep administrators worked throughout the summer to recreate, reframe, and reimagine life on campus to keep the Austin Prep community as safe as possible during the global pandemic. During this short period of time, every aspect of school operations – from campus arrival and dismissal, to dining hall protocol, and academic schedules – were reevaluated with the health and safety of community members the priority.
“Any decision we make for Austin Prep always will rely upon our unwavering commitment to examine challenges through the prism of Austin Prep’s mission, uncompromisingly keep the health and safety of the Austin Prep community paramount, and continue to deliver the singular educational experience for which Austin Prep is known,” Head of School, James Hickey, Ph.D. said. “Our reopening plan provides a flexible roadmap for our journey in the days and months ahead. It was specifically crafted to provide Austin Prep with the flexibility to adapt to the changing conditions that the pandemic will require us to meet.”
Preparations made for both on campus and remote learning have been extensive. Campus upgrades in advance of the school year have amounted to an investment of nearly $1,000,000, which has included improvements to technology, advanced disinfecting equipment, additional personnel – including a second school nurse – and campus infrastructure such as new HEPA filters and HVAC upgrades.
Additionally, classrooms have been set up to mitigate the spread of illness and increase social distancing. Each classroom has unique configurations and distancing, and the School has worked closely with Reading’s Department of Public Health in regards to dining hall sanitation, occupancy, and food distribution.
Remote teaching and learning was first introduced by Austin Prep in March after the school closure mandate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was well regarded across the school community, creating a standard of best practices and an educational model that many schools replicated. With an already existing 1:1 iPad program for students – which provides each student their own iPad – remote learning will be bolstered this year with improved network capabilities and new equipment in each classroom, allowing students and faculty to interact with even greater ease.
"The significant investment that we have made in technology will provide students with the opportunity to engage with their classmates and teachers in real time. This technology includes upgrades in cameras and microphones that will enhance the remote learning experience,” Assistant Head of School and Head of Upper School William Driscoll, Ed.D. said.
Parents, who were invited to participate in a community wide webinar shortly after the release of the reopening plan in August, were excited to have their children return to campus.
“In such an unsettling time, it gives us great comfort to know that our children are able to return to the Austin Prep campus this fall and have a sense of normalcy,” Amy Sperling, P’22, ‘25 said. “It is very clear to us that the School has put a lot of time, effort and resources into a very thorough and safe reopening plan. We are confident that our children are in the hands of caring and capable professionals.”