How and Why Will Northwest Students be Returning to Campus

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Co-written by Maya L. ’23 and Zoe C. ’23

Getting students back in school has been a long and complicated process for The Northwest School. A large number of students have had a chance to be back in the Northwest building, but what went into the decision to hold school partly in person? Students, parents, and faculty have many differing opinions on going back to school, but ultimately the administration has the final say.

The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic is not only affecting individuals, but will affect schools as well. According to IBISWorld “Demand for the Private Schools industry is expected to fall due to a decline in the number of high-earning households stemming from the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.” Private school is an 84 billion dollar industry, but revenue is predicted to decline 1.7% in 2021 alone as a direct impact from school closures due to coronavirus. Northwest is a school that cares about its students, that’s not up for question, but it is also a school that costs $41k a year to attend. Money will always play into decision-making at private schools such as our own because they rely solely on tuition and donations to stay afloat. Unhappy families means less donation money, so private schools operate to please the parents. If parents are feeling as though they aren’t getting their money’s worth, the school will make hasty changes to remedy that.

Washington is vaccinating people based on health risk and exposure. This means that a majority of high school students who don’t have any serious medical conditions will only start getting vaccinated at the end of the summer. The general public will most likely not be done getting vaccinated until the end of 2021, possibly even spanning into 2022 based on information from the Washington State Department of Health. One year ago around this time—unbeknownst to us—we attended classes in the Northwest building for the last time. At the beginning of the first week of March, Northwest had cancelled upper and middle school concerts and the ArtsFest Gala. March 9th, 10th, and 11th were scheduled to be regular academic school days. The upper school dance was postponed to Trimester 3 but Northwest was hopeful that the abroad trips to Spain, France, and Taiwan would still happen. Then, after a week of news about schools all around Seattle shutting down for different periods of time, Mike McGill, former Northwest Head of School, sent out an email to students and families. School on March 9th and 10th was cancelled in order for teachers to learn how to teach remotely. On March 16th we would all begin trimester 3 fully online. Looking back at an article published in the Seattle Times titled “Coronavirus daily news update, March 6: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation,” we see our hospitals were facing shortages of medical supplies as cases grew throughout the state, but a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial had been approved at a health research institute in Washington. There had been 15 total reported deaths caused by coronavirus. Now there are more than 500,000. Opening the school is a decision based on the interest of the students and the school. The decision making process on when and how to go back to in person school has been hard for everyone both in the administration and for families. 

We reached out to the administration team at Northwest to learn more about the decision making process involved in sending students back to campus. Decisions like this take a lot of time and planning to make sure students’ health and safety are in consideration. The interim head of school at Northwest, Dennis B, told us some of Northwest’s main reasons for sending students back onto campus. He mentioned how several aspects of teenage life are missing. He goes on to tell us more about how students and faculty health is really important. Saying, “being and learning in the same physical space; social interaction; being among peers and friends; a semblance of normalcy. The safety and health of our community members will always be at the forefront of our thinking, and the social and emotional wellbeing of our students and faculty are also critically important.”

The health and safety of students and faculty is the main priority for Northwest upon returning to campus. Northwest’s administration team mentioned some of the many precautions they are taking for the health and safety of the Northwest community. Some of these precautions being a temperature check and the three W’s when on campus: Wear a mask, Watch your distance and Wash your hands. I think the three W’s are an easy way to ensure the safety of the Northwest community. 

The Northwest Administration told us how they made changes to the building to ensure the safety of the community. They said,“We have upgraded all of our HVAC systems to have medical grade filtration and we have installed several free-standing air purifiers throughout the buildings. We’ve modified classroom layouts and will have floor markings in high traffic areas to allow for at least 6ft of distance between everyone.” All of these precautions will make it the safest that it can be on campus for the students and faculty. 

There are also some members of the Northwest community that may not feel safe returning back onto campus for the rest of the school year. The Northwest administration has made it clear to the community that our hybrid learning plan is optional. The administration team told us about students that decide to stay remote for the rest of the school year and what the third trimester will look like for them: “Students at home will enter the Zoom meeting room just as before. The difference is that there will be a camera mounted in the classroom that shows a wide view of the students who are in the building. Teachers will plug their laptops into the dock in the classroom and plug the classroom camera into their laptop’s USB port. Teachers will then launch the Zoom meeting and begin teaching from the front of the room. Teachers will be shown how to ‘cheat out’ in order to be seen both by the camera and the live audience.”

This important decision making process didn’t just happen at the Northwest School. Schools like University Prep and Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences are also planning on having students returning back onto campus. 

We had the chance to talk with Brian G, the Director of Global Programs and the co-chair of UPrep’s COVID Task Force. University Prep was one of the first schools in the Seattle area to be active with having students on campus. University Prep did a trial run for having students on campus, from the end of October to the beginning of November. Brian talked about the trial run saying, “Our trial period had two goals. First and foremost, we wanted to see our students back on campus again; to welcome our new students and to reconnect with our returning students in the safest and most successful way. Our other goal was to test all of our new health and safety protocols; to learn how they all worked in real-time.” University Prep’s trial run was a great way to get feedback from everyone involved and to test out all covid protocols.  

Brian G told us about some of their COVID plan to make sure the University Prep community is safe saying, “Our on-campus protocols include a required COVID-19 symptom attestation form, two body temperature checks, clear protocols on quarantine, and a ton of work that went into upgrading and adjusting our campus to make it safe and ready for our students and teachers to return to the classroom.” 

Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences is another 6-12 school in the Seattle area. We also had the chance to talk with Erin A, the Director of Safety, Trips & Outdoor Travel at SAAS. Erin told us some about their COVID plan, mentioning how all individuals on campus are required to wear a face mask made of a minimum of three layers. SAAS also provides 5 face masks for all students. She also mentions how they changed some parts of the school to get more air flow. She says, “We upgraded our HVAC systems to make sure we have proper ventilation and air changes in each space. Any spaces we had additional concerns about, we added a standalone air filtering system.” Creating more airflow in classrooms and hallways is a good way to ensure the safety of the community. 

The decision making process is complex. There are many issues and concerns our schools take into consideration before sending students and faculty back onto campus. The health and safety of these school communities is the key guiding principle upon which they have built their hybrid learning plans. Whether online or hybrid, students and faculty in the Northwest and wider Seattle community are looking forward to reuniting with each other.

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