COVID-19 Information for the Westminster Community
Westminster is closely monitoring news and information related to the global COVID-19 outbreak. We are mindful of our imperative to keep our community safe while continuing our daily education activities as possible and appropriate. This page serves as a centralized location for information and updates regarding the School’s response to this rapidly evolving situation.
OUR LATEST RESPONSE
- Remote learning programs have been established to continue classes and schoolwork starting Friday, March 13, through Thursday, April 30.
- While we are engaging in remote learning, our campus will be closed to students. Students should not visit campus until further notice as there will not be adult supervision on-site.
- All on- and off-campus student activities and athletics have been canceled starting Friday, March 13 through Thursday, April 30.
- All student exchange programs and summer global program trips to CDC Level 3 countries have been canceled.
- The School has implemented off-campus travel restrictions for faculty, staff, and students.
- Students, faculty, and staff who have traveled to CDC Level 3 countries or who are exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID-19 have been asked to self-quarantine.
- Staff from our facilities department deep cleaned campus buildings while students and faculty were away for spring break, including sanitizing treatments.
- Wildcat Nation’s Creative Talents from President Keith Evans—March 27, 2020
- View the Weekly Parent Update from President Keith Evans—March 26, 2020
- Campus Updates and Observations from President Keith Evans—March 25, 2020
- Formative Moments from President Keith Evans—March 24, 2020
- Sustaining Virtual Learning from President Keith Evans—March 23, 2020
- Three Things I Learned from President Keith Evans—March 20, 2020
- “What’s Going Well?” from President Keith Evans—March 19, 2020
- A Message for our Alumni Community
- "Do No Harm" Standard from President Keith Evans—March 18, 2020
- A Message to Alumni Celebrating a Reunion in 2020
- Day Two of Virtual Westminster from President Keith Evans—March 17, 2020
- Summer School Registration Postponed
- Day One of Virtual Westminster from President Keith Evans—March 16, 2020
- Launching Virtual Westminster 1.0 from President Keith Evans—March 15, 2020
- Beta Test Update from President Keith Evans—March 13, 2020
- Reunion Weekend Registration Postponed
- Our Transition to Remote Learning from President Keith Evans—March 12, 2020
- Virtual Learning Beta Test Announcement from President Keith Evans—March 11, 2020
- Planning for Virtual Learning from President Keith Evans—March 10, 2020
- Preparing for Remote Learning from President Keith Evans—March 9, 2020
- Spring Break Update from President Keith Evans—March 6, 2020
Dear Westminster Families,
Have a wonderful weekend and make time for a well-deserved rest!
Dear Westminster Families,
Today, I want to steward the gift of your time and attention carefully by applying a bit less of it to this note in order to preserve a lot of it for the Weekly Parent Update. The reason is that the WPU is full of news and resources related to Virtual Westminster, student support, and myriad other topics that deserve your focus. So, what follows are a few lines from Robert Frost and a reflection, and then on to the WPU.
In his poem “Starsplitter,” Robert Frost wrote the following:
If one by one we counted people out
For the least sin, it would not take us long
To get so we had no one left to live with.
For to be social is to be forgiving.
The paradox of the COVID-19 pandemic as we live it now is that we are social distancing in very close quarters. That is to say that the mandate to avoid being close to the crowd has put us in close proximity to those closest to us. It is the challenge of being isolated in pretty cozy circumstances.
To be social is to be forgiving; to “stay at home” and forgive; to live together through this and forgive. May we be more practiced at forgiveness on the other side of our current troubles.
Don’t miss the WPU today! You can find it here.
Dear Westminster Families,
A little more each day, we are all “confined to quarters” and likely hungry for local news beyond our individual, ever-shrinking boundaries. So, I thought today that I would pass along some updates and observations from our campus and particularly the people who have continued to work here on our school’s behalf.
We have continued to employ all of our staff from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. This has meant that we have been able to complete a long list of projects that require empty buildings while also attending to facilities that need care and feeding even when unoccupied. The City of Atlanta’s recent stay-at-home order has required a new twist to our plans but we are still finding ways to be productive with our very dedicated staff. Our Security Team has been keeping busy managing the front gate and serving as everpresent eyes and ears across our couple hundred acres and 775,000 square feet of indoor space.
Flik, our food service partner, has remained employed as well, initially feeding our on-campus staff and now, as that group has decreased in size, preparing meals we deliver to our fellow citizens who are experiencing homelessness. In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, the sanitary standards of a professional food service are important to organizations that have to safeguard the health of their vulnerable guests.
Construction projects always serve up regular challenges and problems to solve. Ours are no different as we have experienced 35 days of rainfall this year and now a pandemic. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that we are on schedule and on budget as well. Our contractors have taken full advantage of an empty campus to move about freely and accelerate their progress where possible. Work on Campbell Hall and Hawkins Hall has largely moved indoors and blasting on the site of the new parking deck is complete. We held our breath after the City’s stay-at-home order, wondering what it would mean for construction. Thankfully, construction is deemed an essential business so we will not be interrupted due to this Executive Order.
Financially, we planned for multiple scenarios that might impact these construction projects. While we never relax when it comes to budgets and cash flows, the early generosity of Westminster’s leadership donors and careful stewardship have positioned us well to bring these projects to life.
A final note—everyone on campus, including our contractor, is observing strict protocols around distancing, regular disinfecting, and multiple other preventative steps related to COVID-19 transmission. Staying healthy while performing essential functions is our top priority and something we monitor closely.
Of all of the things we can be thankful for during this challenging time, the people who have taken care of our school are at the top of the list. We are grateful for each of them.
Stay healthy and be well!
Dear Westminster Families,
I was reminded of a story from Westminster’s founding that relates in a humorous way to our circumstances today. In his memoir, The Formative Years, founding President Dr. William Pressly recounts moving from Chattanooga to Atlanta to start an independent school that would develop leaders for a city and region on the move. The time was ripe as Atlanta was emerging as a business and cultural powerhouse and, while not yet fully recognized as the capital of the South, had all of the momentum and ambition necessary to claim that title in time.
The new school would incorporate an existing school (North Avenue Presbyterian School (NAPS)), building on its historic reputation but on a new site. Many NAPS faculty and staff would join Westminster but one person in particular would be especially critical—the transportation manager. Being a newcomer, Dr. Pressly did not know Atlanta’s patchwork of neighborhood roads and connecting routes so he relied heavily on the assurances of the NAPS transportation manager that all students would be delivered to campus for the first day of classes, September 6, 1951.
Less than 24 hours before the first bell on the first day, the transportation manager walked into Dr. Pressly’s office and told him that he had enrolled too many students. She abruptly resigned. No amount of begging could persuade her to stay and “she was soon out the door.”
With the help of some native Atlantans, Dr. Pressly and his wife Alice designed pickup routes until 2:00 a.m. for that first day. Just hours later, faculty and administrators “piled into cars and carryall vans like drivers sprinting to their race cars to begin the Monte Carlo grand prix. We zig-zagged in and out of rush hour traffic, looking for shortcuts, squinting at street signs, unraveling our street maps and apologizing to students for arriving to pick them up so late.” Tackling this project without cell phones or Waze seems almost impossible today.
Apparently, many students arrived as much as two hours late for that opening day. Dr. Pressly worried about the damaging effect on the fledgling school’s reputation but apparently most of Westminster’s first constituents were amused by the chaos. Transportation ran smoothly thereafter, although Dr. Pressly does recount a story from 1952 of three young teachers (one of whom was Donn Gabelein, eventually Westminster’s third president) racing student vans to school down Northside Drive. Dr. Pressly summoned these three to his office and issued, in his words, “a cease and desist order.”
Like any living thing, Westminster has DNA that was established in formative moments like this one. On our very first day, the resilience and resourcefulness necessary not only to get our students from home to campus to learn, but now to do the exact opposite, was coded into every member of our school community. We have a few more routes to complete but we can do this.
Dear Westminster Families,
I hope the weekend offered an opportunity for some time and space to take a deep breath and recharge. Random reports from Wildcat Nation suggest that “getting more exercise” and “seeing my neighbors—at a distance” are the two most welcome and unexpected blessings of our current circumstances. Keeping this list of positive surprises up-to-date is like a daily vitamin that fortifies our spirits.
Last week, I noted that we have been thinking through an intermediate plan to take us beyond our initial date of March 27 for virtual learning and suspended campus activities. After careful consideration, we have marked April 30 on the calendar as our next decision point. What this means is that we anticipate sustaining virtual learning through the month ahead and are remaining in a wait-and-see posture regarding the end of the year. This interval allows our families to do some longer-term thinking about practical and sustaining steps to support your children as they learn in this new format.
While you strategize for your family, be assured that we are continuing to monitor, adapt, and innovate in our new virtual space. We know that designing for an experience that connects and enriches our students is our challenge, and we are working to that end daily. We will always keep one eye on Virtual Westminster and the other on longer-term academic outcomes as we move forward.
The month of April contains many significant events in the life of all three divisions. Some, like Prom on April 4, we are postponing—not canceling—with plans to reschedule when it is safe once again to gather in large groups. Our divisions will be sharing more details about other postponements and changes through the Weekly Parent Update. I know this news will bring disappointment and a sense of loss for all of our students and families. It is something we can only bear together while anticipating the joy of gathering again on the other side of our current, daily disruptions.
Of course, we remain eager and ready to restart campus activities should anything change that would make that possible between now and April 30.
Following Saturday’s news regarding a parent of a sixth grader who tested positive for COVID-19, another parent, this time of a tenth grader, has shared that he tested positive on March 20. While we cannot be certain of exposure related to school activities, I share this news with you out of an abundance of caution—and as encouragement to remain vigilant about preventative steps including distancing. Thankfully, the family expects a full recovery.
We are finding our way together into dramatically different patterns of life and daily activity. Sometimes it is in fits and starts, sometimes with newfound conviction, and sometimes even with a little therapeutic complaining. Perhaps the part of that experience we will take with us is captured in a phrase attributed to St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” This is not easy, but if we pay attention, we can continue to find grace and ample reasons to be thankful.
Dear Westminster Families,
We have had an incredibly full week of learning as we wrap the fifth day (sixth if you count the Beta test) of Virtual Westminster. Much of our insight has developed in real time with feedback loops measured in minutes or hours. From technical problems solved on the spot to adjusting workloads and schedules to simply figuring out the best way to engage everyone in virtual space, I am in awe of the power of the collaborative effort that emerged in our school community. We end the week a bit breathless but with new skills and understanding to use next week and, in fact, in any setting.
We also learned a lot about the “everything else” of our current circumstances. With almost no time to prepare, each of us — student, teacher, parent — was asked to carry forward under dramatically changed circumstances against the backdrop of an unfolding emergency. Given those high-speed headwinds, my bet is that you and your family have a lot to be proud of for how it turned out, even if everything was not perfect. Find a way this weekend to recognize that achievement together.
Experts suggest that the next week or two might reveal the direction of the longer-term trajectory of COVID-19, so this may be a good time to reflect on what we have learned personally that we can take into this next phase. I will start with my “top three” and hopefully inspire you to make a list of your own. (As an aside — some research suggests that being mindful of learning in the midst of a highly disruptive change event can lead to a rich period of growth once the event has passed. In other words, creating a top three is good for us.)
Three things I learned:
- Having an intellectual understanding of something is not the same thing as internalizing the reality. Almost daily, it was evident that collectively and individually we are still coming to terms with what this pandemic might mean. But each step of awareness is getting easier.
- Investments made in relationships with family, friends, and colleagues are bearing fruit now more than ever. This is the moment to double down on those commitments.
- Distancing and isolation mean that social support is diminishing just as we all need it most. Second only to stopping the spread of the virus, taking the “social” out of social distancing is the problem to solve. Perhaps we start by thinking of it as “physical distancing” and go from there.
There’s more, but I want to stop there so that you might move on to the fresh air of this weekend and focusing on your family. We will begin again on Monday wiser, more ably equipped for the challenge ahead of us and, as always, appreciative for your support and encouragement.
Have a great weekend and we will “see” you on Monday!
Dear Westminster Families,
The question of the day is an act of defiance in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in: “What’s going well?”
An Upper School student’s survey response: “We are seeing our teachers adapt and adjust in real time — just like they tell us we will have to do.”
A parent-of-several-alums’ response: “I’m having conversations with my young adult children that I know will fortify them for the rest of their lives.”
A Westminster Leadership Team member’s response: “The COVID-19 outbreak has not changed our community into a bunch of heroes — it has just revealed something that was latent during normal times.”
A Middle School student’s reflection under the heading, “Just felt like writing something positive; I love how supportive and calm everyone is, and I feel the teachers/adults are making this transition so much easier! Everyone’s so chill! Even someone like me...is keeping her chill.”
The questions we ask define the challenges that we face and ultimately determine our path through them. “What’s going well?” is another way of asking, “What’s the gift in this?” These questions, and others like them, are resilience-builders for tough times. And, as you can see from the responses above, they are a joy to ask.
We have a new edition of the Weekly Parent Update here loaded with updates and ideas.
Here is a link to a CNN story on Virtual Westminster that is a lot of fun.
And, finally, one of hundreds of great ideas from the past four days:
During a Fifth Grade Morning Meeting, a student who was in charge of the activity for the day proposed a Zoom bed-making challenge “both for fun and as a way to help everyone’s parents who have been pulling their hair out this week.”
In the midst of a world that is changing — and defining a generation — moment to moment, the ties that bind us provide strength and hope as we all grapple with internalizing a new reality. To our more than 12,000 alumni — you won’t be surprised to know that Westminster’s students, parents, faculty, and staff are showing heroic resilience, creativity, and determination in the midst of this unprecedented time.
While everyone has been challenged with difficult decisions, to a person, these decisions have been made with the safety and well-being of our entire community in mind. It has been humbling and awe-inspiring to see the speed at which our faculty have spun up a robust remote learning environment to continue providing not only educational continuity for our students, but also an important source of connection amidst isolation. They have done this while also caring for children, aging parents, and other family members at risk. Our students have also displayed tremendous flexibility while wrestling with the loss of routine and the many things that have come to define their Westminster experience to date. Your words of support and care have bolstered us and reminded us what matters most.
To our alumni who will be celebrating a Reunion this year — thank you for your patience as we have worked diligently to ensure that our students’ immediate needs are met and for giving us the space to work through complex challenges that come with changing the way we teach, learn, and work. Yesterday, we sent an email to alumni celebrating Reunions sharing our difficult decision to postpone our 2020 Reunion Weekend. Given how uncertain our immediate future is, we are not able to provide a definite date at this point, but we will communicate broadly with all alumni once we are able to determine a safe moment for this celebration and others. Additionally, we have decided to cancel several other alumni events/gatherings. Click here for a full listing of these events.
Acknowledging that this is a challenging moment for us all is important, especially as each of our life patterns has been altered in common and unique ways. I recognize that while we are all doing what we can to keep safe — and to keep those around us safe — there is loss in every area of our lives. Thank you for your ongoing patience, understanding, and care for our community and for communities around the world. Doing what is right together is what we do.
There will come a time when we will see each other again. And there’s no other community I’d rather be standing alongside than this one as we face this moment. Our hearts and prayers are with you all. We sincerely look forward to the time we can welcome you back to campus. Until then, stay strong, stay safe, and keep in touch.
VP for Institutional Advancement
Dear Westminster Families,
Yesterday, I offered an overview of the idea that children grow up amidst the interplay between “risk factors” and “protective factors.” The premise is that there are ways that parents and communities can proactively lower the risk that a young person will, for example, experience psychological distress or engage in self-destructive behaviors.
Typically, the dynamic between risk and protective factors is not a matter of speculation but of research that seeks to connect certain conditions in a child’s life to positive outcomes. This research has had both a broad focus across a general band of risk factors and has also been more specific, targeting particular adverse health or well-being outcomes and examining the conditions or attributes that serve as a sort of inoculation.
While this research is interesting and worth a quick Google search, it is the underlying way of thinking that seems helpful in our current circumstances. Using the framework of risk and protective factors gives us a potentially useful way to take positive action now to reduce the risk of negative consequences from all of the new stressors brought on by COVID-19.
I hopped on a Zoom brainstorming session on this topic with Dr. Anna Moore, our Director of Student Support. We quickly acknowledged that there is no research about risk or protective factors related to our current circumstances. So we used background from this field to identify a few possible good directions. These were created with a “do no harm” standard — the benefits will be positive even if they do not hit the target directly.
So here goes a starter list:
- Talk about the future. Our kids do not have an experience of past crises (9/11 or the Great Recession) to see to the other side of the coronavirus epidemic and a world without this threat. But we know that a positive mental image of the future correlates to a number of positive physical and health consequences. Talk regularly about the COVID-19 outbreak as a very difficult time but something we will overcome.
- Emphasize or create traditions and routines. Whether a family meeting or a whole-family Zoom with distant relatives, children will find comfort in a regular schedule of experiences that give them a chance to connect in natural and comfortable ways.
- Seek out opportunities to serve others. There is nothing that gets us “outside of ourselves” like doing something for someone else. This is certainly more challenging in the context of social distancing but with some creativity, the joy of a gesture or small favor is a great antidote to ruminating about our uncertainties.
In tomorrow’s Weekly Parent Update, Anna will elaborate and add to this list with some additional ideas. And of course, use your good parental instincts to make your own additions. If you start with a “do no harm” standard, your efforts can only help.
Last Wednesday, my letter brought the news that many knew was inevitable — especially after the Governor’s announcement — we were transitioning to virtual learning. At that time, we identified an initial two-week period through March 27 for this new format and canceled or postponed all non-academic activities. As we all expected, this pandemic has moved quickly and many members of our community have asked about plans for the remaining weeks of the school year, particularly in light of CDC and White House announcements.
I want you to know that we are thinking through our next steps after March 27 and trying to ensure that we have considered all aspects of this decision. Some events, like alumni reunions that involve travel, we know we can go ahead and postpone. We want to be more comprehensive with other activities and ensure we have a plan in place that will decrease rather than increase uncertainty and ambiguity. Thanks for your patience with us and know that this is top of mind for our leadership.
Finally, I encourage all of our parents to follow professional guidance around social distancing with your children. As we have some unevenness in this practice among our families, we add to the stressors already in play and, importantly, run the risk of extending this crisis. Anything we can do that is preventative at this point will help in the long run.
I’ll be back in touch tomorrow. In the meantime, be well and stay safe.
Dear Westminster Alumni Celebrating a Reunion in 2020,
With our ever-evolving understanding of the COVID-19 crisis and its reach, we have come to the difficult conclusion that we must postpone our 2020 Reunion Weekend, scheduled for April 24-25. This has created an unprecedented challenge for our school community with a rapid change required in the way we teach, learn, and work. For giving us the space to ensure that we are meeting the immediate needs of our 1,870 students, and for your patience as we navigated multiple needs across campus, thank you.
We promise to identify a time — when it is safe and feasible to do so — to celebrate these important milestones on campus. We know that our faithful alumni volunteers and leaders have worked tirelessly to plan a memorable experience for all, and we thank you. We also recognize that you all want to come home, and we sincerely look forward to welcoming you back as soon as possible. Given how uncertain our immediate future is, we are not able to provide a definite date at this point, but promise to communicate broadly with you once we are able to determine a safe moment for this celebration and others.
We hope that you and your families are well and remain healthy. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and all those throughout the world whose lives are impacted by this global crisis. Please know the Wildcat community is here for you. There’s no other community I’d rather be standing alongside than this one as we face this moment together.
VP for Institutional Advancement
Dear Westminster Families,
Many of the technical issues that frustrated our students and teachers on Day One of Virtual Westminster appear to have been resolved for Day Two. I feel pretty certain that our parents are owed a big shoutout for troubleshooting, so thank you! Don’t ever let your kids doubt your skills in a digital environment! We still have technical problems here and there and are also aware that service providers and network loads can change anything at a moment’s notice, so stay in touch with us as we work together to keep Virtual Westminster up and running.
Two days in, we are learning a lot about how to sustain virtual learning from the angle of the student experience. We have gathered broad feedback both formally and informally and have begun to identify pressure points, missing pieces, and opportunities to retool. We have used the jargon of software developers to name milestones in the process starting with a Beta test, Version 1.0, etc. intentionally. We chose that language because we are defining success not in terms of an effective launch but rather our ongoing ability to adapt to the needs of our community of students and teachers as time passes, user needs evolve, and the environment changes. Beyond the basics, we also imagine Virtual Westminster as a platform for creativity and innovation. All that to say, stay tuned for all manner of fixes, recalibrations, changes, and modifications designed to support and sustain learning, connection, and community.
Yesterday, I suggested trying out family “business” meetings as a way of creating a time to work through the newness, uncertainty, and potential conflicts brought on by the whole family suddenly social distancing together. A way that parents might think beyond family meetings to “what else?” is to identify a short, targeted list of “protective factors.” A protective factor is exactly what it sounds like - a proactive way to mitigate or eliminate the risk brought on by stressful events.
Protective factors are usually thought of broadly and generally and are understood as a counterbalance to “risk factors” which are the things we are trying to protect against. So, under any circumstance, strong social connections or parental resilience would be protective factors that would lessen the chance of a child experiencing risk factors — emotional distress or abusing alcohol or other drugs for example.
There is also a way to think of protective and risk factors specific to any given set of circumstances. In our current situation, the stressors of COVID-19 potentially create unique risk factors brought on by isolation, illness, grief over the loss of a pattern of life or an anticipated future event, and others. My encouragement to each of our parents is that you make time for a conversation with your spouse, partner, or trusted friend to think about risk factors for your child that are suddenly real or are possible in the future. Tomorrow, I’ll bring forward some thoughts on protective factors and how we can act now to keep our kids safe and healthy through the COVID-19 outbreak.
Best wishes and keep the faith! I have never quoted Bob Marley before, but he said it best, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread, Westminster has announced that Summer School registration for rising ninth through twelfth grade will be postponed as the School focuses its resources on supporting the virtual learning operation. Updated plans will be posted in a future Weekly Parent Update, in Wildcat Web for Westminster families, and on the COVID-19 web page for non-Westminster families.
Dear Westminster Families,
Day One of Virtual Westminster included adjustments, troubleshooting, and victories of all kinds. What follows are some practical tips and an experiment to consider as you and your family settle into new circumstances.
If Zoom or WiFi connections were problematic in your home, check this link to find a list of strategies that should improve the performance of video and audio connections. While I know technical problems can provoke worry in our students, please know our teachers will work to ensure a Zoom crash or audio problem does not come along with an academic consequence.
We are likely in a period of time where learning how to best manage bandwidth in our homes will require some trial and error. Likewise, service providers are also going to be responding to a surge in home-based work and school. We will all feel smarter about this each day and can rely on our faculty to help with anything academic that is missed.
Being home with your child all day may present some new challenges to manage. For example, some parents are getting a closer look at their children’s organizational strategies and are dismayed by what they are seeing. Others are finding that their house suddenly seems much smaller when it has to accommodate four, five, or even six workspaces for work-at-home parents and virtual learning students. Still others are concerned that online school screen time appears to layer on top of a normally heavy screen-time diet to make for a supersized dose of screen time.
At the risk of using the #1 COVID-19 cliche, we are in “uncharted waters,” so there are no handbooks — and not even much expert advice yet — to help navigate these unknown seas. An experiment to try, conducted with good results in the Evans family in less turbulent times, is to schedule regular family “business” meetings. These are booked with lots of advance notice and conducted with good team norms (no blaming, attack the problem not the person, stick to the time limit, etc.). Agenda items are solicited in advance. You might even try rotating leadership of the meeting to give your kids a chance to practice being “chairperson for the day.”
If nothing else, a regular family meeting can be a safe place to air uncertainties and an intentionally chosen moment to reinforce that “our family is in this together.” It can also be helpful to let everyone feel like they can exert some influence over their circumstances. A regular meeting can accomplish those purposes while providing a way to connect and work out problems in a cool, rather than hot, format.
Best wishes, and be assured that we will continue to refine our virtual techniques and strategies hour to hour. Thanks for your support and encouragement.
Dear Westminster Families,
Virtual Westminster 1.0 launches tomorrow morning for our first “regular” school day. Friday’s Beta version has been thoroughly examined for every fix or improvement after considering each comment from hundreds of students, faculty, and parents. We have worked to create solutions that will improve Monday’s experience in meaningful ways and, while we may still have some distance to go to get to “perfect,” we are on the path and committed to pushing forward to version 2.0 and beyond. We will continue to need everyone’s observations and ideas, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you see something that is getting in the way.
As much as we might all like to think that making the adjustments needed after Friday’s Beta test will allow us to go on autopilot, the reality is that at least two other important factors will come to bear on our virtual learning experience. First, we know that the novelty of Zoom and going to class at your kitchen table will give way to a sense of routine and a more complete accounting of what is missing by not coming to campus each day. Second, our country is taking ever more impactful steps daily to create social distancing as a norm that can interrupt the COVID-19 outbreak and lessen its most lethal consequences. This change will affect us all in ways we can predict and some we cannot but, minimally, it will make our students potentially vulnerable to a sense of isolation and loss.
Our ongoing objective is to anticipate dynamics like these and to proactively adapt and innovate in response. Having tackled some of the practical and technical issues of virtual learning, we will remain focused on staying connected, building community, being responsive to our students’ well-being beyond their academic progress, and working to support you as parents through the challenges ahead. Likewise, I encourage you to stay connected to your child’s experience and remain vigilant for signs of stress or distress. We stand ready to be a resource and partner through every version to come.
Onward to Virtual Westminster 1.0 and a great first week! We’re going to try to have some fun in the midst of our difficulties and hope you will join us. Best wishes, and enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
Dear Westminster Families,
Today’s distance learning Beta test was a success not because everything went perfectly, but because it revealed glitches, fixes, and adjustments to be made across the system. We know what those are now. Our Beta test also served as an assessment of the core concept of how the system will operate and whether it will serve as a resource for innovation. Thankfully, we confirmed that our strategy is the right one and, with targeted interventions, we will have a robust online platform to continue our academic progress.
Of course, virtual school still has a lot in common with regular school. We had a few tardies, we celebrated some birthdays, and overall, there was a lot of laughter, just as you might find in a Westminster classroom or hallway on any day. My student quote of the day from their feedback — offered with no apparent sense of irony — was, “I think that it worked pretty well for everyone! In general, it’s easy to function and the teachers seem to understand it very well!” A digital native endorsement if ever there was one! All of today’s feedback makes us confident for launching a regular, virtual school day after a weekend to recharge. Look for a message from your child’s division head later today with more details for Monday.
I have not yet recognized the all-star effort of our Information Technology team for the essential role they have played in getting us launched. They are exceptional, and we are grateful!
And, importantly, thank you for the support you offered from home whether in the form of encouragement or actual technical troubleshooting. We had a good day and appreciate your support of this effort.
One special note: Westminster’s campus is closed for student activity including informal gatherings on a field or accessing a building. We are a skeletal crew on campus and do not have the resources to either supervise or address any emergency needs that might arise from students being here. Please redirect your kids if you hear of a plan to come to Westminster.
Finally, it is one thing to meet normal parenting challenges presented by children who are navigating expected bumps on the path to growing up. It is quite another when we as parents are experiencing the same challenges they are in real time and responding to our children while managing our own concerns and worry. Do not feel alone in this struggle. Being a virtual school does not mean our student support muscles no longer work. In fact, our team of counselors, chaplains, nurses, and learning specialists will be in touch with your kids daily checking in and offering a variety of resources. Likewise, they are available to you as well through the normal channels to offer any help possible — all of us are.
Of everything that might be said about the COVID-19 outbreak, one sure thing is that it is an opportunity to build resilience in our children that will serve them throughout their lives. We might have chosen a different opportunity, but this is the one we have. If we lock arms in mutual support, we will see growth that will surprise us all.
Best wishes for a great weekend!
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread, Westminster has announced that classes are moving online, and all on- and off-campus activities will be canceled beginning Friday, March 13 through Friday, March 27. Given these uncertain times, we will suspend Reunion registration until further notice. You should receive, if you have not already, your invitation to Reunion Weekend via mail. The invitation directs you to a registration page, which is not accessible at this time. We are hopeful that this situation will improve in the coming weeks so we can welcome you all back to campus on April 24-25.
Thank you for your patience and understanding. As new information becomes available about Reunion Weekend and related activities, we will communicate broadly to all Westminster alumni celebrating a reunion. To remain abreast of the School’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, check our COVID-19 web page, which will be updated with new information as it becomes available.
We hope that you and your families are well and remain healthy. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those throughout the world whose lives are impacted during these uncertain times.
Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Dear Westminster Families,
As predicted, the COVID-19 outbreak has continued to impact our nation and our community on an accelerating trajectory. The circumstances we understood yesterday look different today, especially in light of Governor Kemp’s guidance this afternoon that all schools should consider closing for two weeks. The reality he is responding to — which has also caused cancellations and closures of all kinds in the past couple days — is that for our nation to move beyond this outbreak, we need to interrupt the transmission of the virus.
We believe that now is the right moment to heed the advice of the governor and an increasing number of public health and school officials, to transition our classes online and cancel on- and off-campus student activities and athletics starting Friday, March 13, for at least two weeks through Friday, March 27. While this is clearly a moment we have prepared for, it is still disappointing and unsettling. Rest assured, the work we have completed this week will be important to maintaining academic progress and sustaining a sense of community — albeit in a different setting — among our students and their teachers.
Friday’s Beta test is all the more important in light of this development. It will be a chance for all of us — teachers and students — to be doubly sure of our preparation and learn from our practice. I will be back in touch with an update and some results of Friday’s distance learning tomorrow afternoon. A special edition of the Weekly Parent Update will also be sent out this evening to help you prepare for tomorrow.
Today was a day for a can-do spirit and the joy that comes from building something that will serve our students for a long time to come. While this afternoon’s news tempers that spirit, it will be important for all of us to carry forward a sense of optimism, knowing that necessary steps taken today will allow us to return to the more familiar and beloved Westminster in the not-too-distant future.
Dear Westminster Families,
As you know from my messages over the past few days, our campus community — students, faculty, and staff — has been studying how to teach and learn effectively in a virtual environment in the event that our classes are interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. In our faculty meetings this morning, we assessed our progress and identified the remaining steps necessary to move forward with confidence should this shift become necessary. We agreed that two essential tasks remain to be accomplished:
- coordination of our teachers’ individual efforts to create sufficient consistency in students’ online academic experience and,
- a test of the process, an opportunity to gather feedback, and resolution of any technical glitches or gaps in skills.
We approach these next steps with a sense of urgency due to the disruptions created by the COVID-19 virus around the country and world. For that reason, we will use Thursday, March 12, as a professional development day for faculty — no regular classes, students do not report to school — focused exclusively on virtual learning. On Friday, March 13, we will conduct a digital learning day and Beta test our process with all students learning online from home. Friday will be a first for Westminster although, above all else, we will always value the community created on campus through personal connections. Virtual learning is a complementary tool for us but not an ambition under normal circumstances. Nevertheless, breaking this new ground may prove critical to managing through the coronavirus outbreak in the near term, while also providing a way to continue academic progress through adverse weather or other campus emergencies in the future.
You will find details about any extracurricular schedule changes for this Thursday and Friday on the COVID-19 Updates and Support page in Wildcat Web. A special edition of the Weekly Parent Update will be sent out tomorrow afternoon with all the necessary information you will need to support your child during the Beta test on Friday as well as a listing of extracurricular schedule changes beyond this Friday. Faculty are also working directly with students today to ensure they are prepared for Friday’s digital learning day.
Beyond establishing virtual learning as a strategy for continuing our academic program, we are in an ongoing effort to consider how we can mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We are evaluating large-group gatherings and other school events on a case-by-case basis, doing our best to create a coherent approach while understanding that the variety of activities at Westminster does not allow simple categorizations. We are also trying to anticipate future scenarios and contingencies but not get ahead of ourselves. All of this means that preserving the most important aspects of the student experience at Westminster will continue to require responsiveness, flexibility, and more of the agility we have been practicing this year as a campus under construction. The grace that we offer each other and that binds Westminster together is never more important than at times like these when uncertainty prevails. I am humbled to have seen this grace in every corner of our community over these past few days and hope that it is a source of inspiration to you and your family.
Dear Westminster Families,
You are likely aware of the decision by Fulton County to close for a day due to a COVID-19 exposure in several schools yesterday. While this incident had no direct bearing on Westminster, it did illustrate how quickly the coronavirus outbreak can disrupt daily routines and leave longer-term questions to answer. Among several interconnected priorities that we established in our response to COVID-19, creating a virtual learning process in the case of an interruption of classes has been second only to ensuring the safety and health of our community. Fulton County’s closure today illustrates the importance of that initiative.
Over Spring Break, we had an opportunity to begin the design work on a virtual learning process, to take an inventory of our resources — especially technological — and to fill in any gaps. Over the past two days, our faculty has ably fulfilled their usual teaching responsibilities while planning age-appropriate online teaching strategies and developing skills with new digital tools. Their dedication and hard work has been inspiring and we owe them our appreciation and gratitude.
On Wednesday morning, the Middle and Upper Schools have a normally scheduled late arrival that provides an opportunity for the entire divisional faculties to meet and plan without conflicts from athletics or other activities. The Lower School will create this same opportunity during planning periods. In these meetings, we will be taking stock of our progress and thinking together about a schedule for the remaining days of this week that advances our ability to successfully teach and learn online.
I plan to be back in touch with our families mid-morning on Wednesday with the conclusions of these conversations. My request of our parents is that you remain flexible, understanding that the quality of our students’ learning experience in the event of an interruption in classes depends on the quality of our planning and coordination at this critical stage. Thank you for your patience with this process and for your goodwill as we take on this challenge. It has already made us a stronger school and community.
Dear Westminster Families,
We enjoyed welcoming students back to campus this morning and have worked to re-establish routines even in the midst of conversations about issues and plans related to COVID-19. Given the daily—and sometimes hourly—changes in the news about the coronavirus outbreak, we are creating a virtual learning experience in the event that we need to cancel classes and activities for any length of time.
To that end, please follow this link to Wildcat Web for an overview of our remote learning plans and a checklist of preparations to ensure our students will be able to fully engage from the first day should closing be necessary. While many to-do’s on the checklist are important for creating a productive learning environment at home under normal circumstances, we will also provide unique resources and practices that support virtual learning. Please review the list and watch for more details soon about what to expect from online Westminster teaching and learning.
As always, we are grateful for your partnership and the confidence it inspires that we will successfully navigate these challenging times together!
Dear Westminster Families,
I hope this letter reaches you at the end of a relaxing and refreshing Spring Break. Our week off has seen many predicted — and some unpredicted — developments in the global COVID-19 outbreak. In preparation for resuming classes and activities on Monday, below are some details about steps Westminster has taken to be ready for the return of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as our longer-term plans for various scenarios should the virus spread as expected.
During the Week of Spring Break
- We took the opportunity afforded by empty buildings during the Break to thoroughly clean and disinfect every space and surface used by students, faculty, or staff. This process was undertaken out of an abundance of caution and also as preparation for future similar campuswide cleanings.
- We routinely monitored all public health advisories in order to be up-to-date in our procedures and preparation for the return of students.
- We reviewed and refined plans for distance learning should that become necessary and made plans to fully prepare faculty in the week ahead should school close for any period of time. This effort included an audit of our digital resources, which will be critical to uninterrupted learning in the event of a temporary or longer-term closing.
Preparing for Monday
- We are asking for our families’ cooperation with two important strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our school community. First, if your child or any member of your household exhibits any symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, please keep your child at home and access the advice of your family’s physician. We will likewise monitor students closely for COVID-19 symptoms and be in touch immediately should any of our students appear at risk. Second, if your Spring Break travel plans included a visit to any of the countries experiencing a CDC Level Three Warning — currently China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran — please self-quarantine for 14 days in keeping with CDC guidelines for schools. Be in touch as soon as possible with your child’s division head to make plans for academic support during this period of absence from school activities. I know this protocol presents a burden to families who are returning from one of these countries. Self-quarantining offers an important tool to maintaining a healthy campus and one that has been employed by many academic institutions in keeping with recommendations from public health officials.
- Several parents have asked about keeping a child at home as a preventative measure, especially when the child may have a health condition that could create more serious consequences from a COVID-19 infection. Please know that we will support your family’s decision in such cases and provide academic support as we would in any absence from class.
- We will review recommended preventative steps with our students in the week ahead and ask that you do likewise before Monday morning. These include:
- washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throwing the tissue in the trash and washing your hands.
Contingency Plans for the Future
- Both globally and in several areas of the United States, schools have closed for anywhere from a day or two to up to two weeks. While closing does not seem imminent for Atlanta area schools, we will be prepared in the event that cancelling classes and activities would be effective in slowing an outbreak. We will rely heavily on our substantial digital resources at all grade levels and expect students to remain engaged in completing assignments to ensure a smooth resumption of classes. As these plans are finalized with the return of our faculty in the week ahead, we will share details with students — as age appropriate — and likewise make them available to parents so everyone can be ready in case of a closure.
- We are in the process of assessing all international travel and reaching out to partner schools regarding plans — including exchange students coming to Westminster — for this spring and summer. Once that process is complete, we will announce final plans. Be assured that we will rely on recommendations from public health officials in determining the right course of action.
We will keep you updated as our response to this situation evolves. For now, I thank you for your support and cooperation as we work together to keep the Westminster community healthy.