To the Chewonki community,
I write today to share information about our return to in-person learning in September 2020. This letter does not contain all the details of the plan, but it offers a summary that will be elaborated on in program and staff-specific communications. At all times, we need to be aware that conditions could change and cause elements of this plan to change as well.
Since March 13 our campus has been devoid of in-person learning while we have prioritized the health and safety of our community. Although our educators have been heroic in their remote learning design and delivery through the school year and summer, we are all eager to return to safe and meaningful in-person learning on Chewonki Neck.
In recent months we have learned more about Covid-19 and the strategies to minimize its transmission. The State of Maine has implemented careful and sustained efforts to limit cases, which has been especially successful in Lincoln and neighboring Sagadahoc counties where there has been no community spread to date.
Meanwhile, at Chewonki we have been deep in learning, researching, and planning for reopening. In early June we hired a consulting group to conduct a thorough, multi-phase Health and Wellness Assessment of Chewonki. We also created an internal Covid-19 Coordination Center with seven staff working groups to study and outline reopening criteria and needs.
Our plan principles include:
- Prioritize student, staff, and community health and wellness.
- Maximize the quality and substance of the educational experiences of participants.
- Safeguard the long-term strength of Chewonki and its financial resources.
- Balance the best of what we know with the willingness to Integrate new, innovative thinking into our planning and programs.
The plan and the summary here were only possible due to the work of our Covid-19 Coordination Center team and working group leaders who have been focused, dedicated, and always willing to learn through this uncertain time.
Our Context for Reopening
We are mindful that we continue to live with a novel infectious disease (Covid-19) that does not have a definitive treatment or vaccine, and which is spreading rapidly around the world. The number one concern must be the health and safety of our community members.
However, Maine has a low-density population and thus far a low Covid-19 caseload (see New York Times data). Also as of today, Lincoln County, where Chewonki is located, had not yet experienced confirmed community spread of Covid-19 among the 31 total cases recorded.
The Federal CDC, State of Maine, State of Maine CDC, and the State of Maine Department of Education (DOE) have each published increasingly detailed and helpful guidance for education institutions to reopen to in person learning. Maine DOE has emphasized local control over reopening decisions in its guidance document.
In April 2020, we established organizational safety criteria for a return to in-person programming, which have been updated this summer to include the following.
- Widespread access to Covid-19 testing, contact tracing, isolation strategies, and treatments.
- Our ability to comply with state and federal guidelines for accepted practices that reduce the risk of transmission within a school community.
- Acceptable capacity within Chewonki and local medical resources to respond to medical incidents, including Covid-19 cases.
- Approval by Chewonki’s medical and legal counsel and insurance agent.
It is in this context, with official guidance, that we have created the following phased reopening plan with associated health and safety protocols.
Summary of Phased Return to In-Person Programming
Our programming will resume in phases based upon official guidance, our four plan principles, and our revised safety criteria as cited above, as well as the individual decisions of our family and school partners. At all times, we will track pandemic conditions that could impact this timeline.
- Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki will welcome students to campus on September 5th for a term that concludes on December 5th (without breaks).
- Chewonki Elementary and Middle School students will begin their school year on September 8th.
- Camp Chewonki will begin no-commitment Save My Space reservations on August 15 for Summer ‘21.
- Traveling Natural History Programs have been redesigned for online delivery and will continue in that format until schools welcome guest instructors and it is safe to regularly convene community gatherings across the state.
- Chewonki will collaborate with RSU1 officials to determine when to return to in-person learning with Waypoint students.
- Maine Coast Semester will begin the spring semester on February 13th and conclude on May 15th (without breaks).
- Outdoor Classroom will begin a gradual reopening for school groups as early as April 2021.
- Camp Chewonki will resume in-person programming in early summer 2021.
This plan could adjust at any time due to changes in any of the factors cited at the start of this section. In particular, community spread of Covid-19 in our local area or on campus could significantly impact plans, programs, and operations.
Strategies to Mitigate Covid-19 Risk at Chewonki
We are implementing an array of Covid-19 transmission mitigation strategies and tactics to support in-person learning this fall.
- Maine Coast Semester students will
- Self-quarantine 14 days prior to arrival
- Test for Covid-19 prior to arrival
- Test for Covid-19 after arrival
- Limit close contact to cabin groups for the first 7 days
- Complete daily health screening for symptoms
- Continue testing and isolation as needed
- Elementary and Middle School students and faculty will
- Complete daily health screening for symptoms
- Test, quarantine, and isolate at home as needed
- Commuting and other support staff and residents will
- Complete daily health screening for symptoms
- Test, quarantine, and isolate at home as needed
- Restrict movement on campus to designated areas
- Maine Coast Semester students will
- Chewonki will use the household or “cohort” (small group) concept to inform lower-risk programming. For example, Maine Coast Semester will begin the semester with outdoor programming by cabin families only.
- Maine Coast Semester and Elementary and Middle School will use separate buildings and maintain tightly restricted communities to limit intersecting on campus.
- All administrative staff that can work remotely will do so through at least summer 2021.
- One administrative building, the Farmhouse, will be restricted to non-program staff who need to access on-campus resources during the academic year.
- Special efforts will be made to foster the community values of our mission for both work-away and on-site staff.
- Elementary Middle School class groups will avoid intersection and have designated indoor, outdoor, and bathroom spaces.
- Maine Coast Semester students will not have a break or family weekend, or allow visitors to campus during their semester.
- Off-campus trips for Maine Coast Semester students will be limited to prioritized learning experiences, e.g. science field labs, etc.
- Elementary Middle School class groups will not leave campus on field trips until further notice.
- Learning and activity will take place outside whenever possible.
- Face coverings will be worn in shared indoor spaces, and outdoors as required by the activity to maintain health and safety.
- Handwashing and hand sanitizer stations will be prevalent across campus.
- Physical distancing will be observed.
- Plexiglass barriers will be added as needed.
- Natural ventilation of buildings will be used whenever possible.
- Mechanical ventilation will be improved for classrooms, offices, and residential spaces.
- Accommodations will be made for staff and students with pre-existing conditions.
- Classrooms are being outfitted with additional technology to allow for simultaneous in-person and remote learning.
- Physical spaces are being reconfigured for physical distancing.
- Additional handwashing sinks are being added.
- Increasing frequency and standard of cleaning indoor spaces.
- Hygiene and physical distancing and other expectations for students, families, faculty and staff will be communicated clearly.
- All faculty, staff, students, and families will be trained in safety protocols.
- We will revisit expectations and protocols with faculty, staff, and students regularly.
- Health and safety signage will be posted throughout campus.
- Updates will be readily available online for faculty, staff, students, and families.
Campus Health Services
Because medical and epidemiological considerations are the priority for reopening of in-person programming, we are prioritizing improvements in health services, which include:
- A two-phase Health and Wellness Assessment conducted by an outside consulting team.
- Phase 1: focused advice for staffing and facility in the Covid-19 context
- Phase 2: comprehensive recommendations for health and wellness program, protocols, staffing, and facility for all of Chewonki (due by end of 2020)
- We are hiring additional clinical and administrative staff to provide care and support for students, families, faculty, and staff, as well as increased mental health care services.
- Renovations to our existing Health Center and additional isolation facilities will be ready for reopening in September.
- A longer-term project is now underway to build a new permanent, comprehensive health and wellness center designed to meet year-round needs, including our largest participant and staff populations.
Hybrid Instruction Preparedness
Although our plan is to return to in-person programming in September, there are many reasons why we need to be prepared for a hybrid scenario (in-person and remote learning) for the coming school year. If we encounter individual Covid-19 cases, or if the local community experiences an outbreak, we may need to deploy remote learning in part or in full at different times. Decisions about instruction may differ between our boarding and day school communities. To be prepared for hybrid instruction, we are taking the following steps:
- Upgrading laptops as needed for all faculty, staff, and students
- Upgrading our campus network and WiFi infrastructure as needed
- Improving all classroom instructional technology
- Beginning faculty preparation earlier than normal in August
- Strengthening the staff technology integration team to support all faculty and staff
- Increasing support and guidance for online software use by all faculty and staff
- Developing new platforms and work processes to support online and remote learning
- Providing professional development as needed for our faculty and staff
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Considerations
Throughout our research and collaboration, staff have been asking equity-based questions to inform reopening plans. Examples of work underway for equity include:
- An 18-month collaboration with an outside consulting team to support our organizational development with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens
- Increased financial aid to support all enrolled students to attend regardless of changing circumstances during the pandemic
- Developing an alumni of color mentor group to support students of color attending Maine Coast Semester
- A pre-arrival orientation program to support the social-emotional health and inclusion of Maine Coast Semester students as they return to school after five and a half months of pandemic living
- Supporting staff and student affinity groups
- Increased health services resources for physical and social-emotional health needs of all students
- A one-to-one laptop program in place for all Maine Coast Semester and Middle School students
- Significant pre-arrival orientation by phone and online to support all students and families with readiness to succeed in a new and adapted learning environment
Frequently Asked Questions
Please visit the Covid-19 information page of the Chewonki website for continuous updates to frequently asked questions.
Will learning at Chewonki really be the same?
The short answer is “yes and no.” The “magic” of Chewonki is in small groups of young people learning safely together in community and nature, guided by expert, caring adults. We are confident that will be happening on Chewonki Neck this fall based upon the plans outlined here. That said, those small groups will be called upon to think even more strategically about community health and safety, face coverings and other precautions will be ubiquitous, and the scope of activities (such as off-campus travel) will be responsive to external conditions. Furthermore, the calendar, schedules, and curriculum are being modified to facilitate health and safety.
We are very optimistic about what is planned and we expect that some of the innovations from this time will be retained even after the pandemic when we see the advantages over past practice.
What is the Financial Outlook for Chewonki?
Before the pandemic hit, we had been on a growth trajectory and 2019 was our most successful year ever in terms of fundraising and annual financial results. However, the pandemic is causing a financial strain for Chewonki like none experienced in our 105-year history. We currently project a net tuition loss of more than $3 million between April 2020 and August 2021 (compared to annual operating expenses of approximately $7.5 million).
We will weather this storm and emerge stronger on the other side thanks to a remarkable faculty and staff, committed Trustees, wise advisors, and generous donors. In April we received a significant forgivable loan as part of the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program, and more recently we received a Small Business Association Emergency Injury Disaster Loan for Covid-19 expenses. We have also secured an increase in available credit from Bath Savings Institution, our long-time community banking partner. Generous donor support with unrestricted giving has also helped build the financial bridge through this time.
That said, we have implemented conservative spending protocols where we can. Program closures have resulted in lower seasonal staffing and we have shared the burden pain among faculty and staff, including a temporary graduated salary reduction for those earning over $50,000 per year, and temporary reduction in hours for some positions.
The painful irony of this challenge is that operating in a pandemic takes more time, effort, and expertise than usual. We need professionals to adapt and be resilient. We also need to spend more than before in areas such as facility modifications, health services, information technology, and cleaning services (this is not a complete list). There are no easy or short-term solutions for what may be our most significant operating deficits ever.
Staff and Trustees together have developed a multi-year financing plan based upon phased reopening, use of credit, cost containment, philanthropy, and the resilience of our assets, including our endowment, to ensure Chewonki remains successful and strong through the pandemic.
Are Parents or Visitors allowed on Campus?
For the safety of the community, we are heavily restricting access to the campus by parents and visitors while programs are in session. Program-specific details will be available soon on our Covid-19 status pages.
What will happen if someone at Chewonki becomes ill with Covid-19?
We are currently developing three protocols that will be shared with all families before the start of fall programming:
- A student, faculty, or staff member is a suspected Covid-19 case
- A student, faculty, or staff member is a confirmed Covid-19 case
- There is widespread transmission of Covid-19 in the surrounding region
In all instances, our priorities are to protect the health & well-being of the individual involved, prevent any spread of Covid-19, and quickly inform all members of the community. Thank you for your patience on receiving this guidance, the level of detail is substantial.
Flexibility and Uncertainty
Over the past four months we have been forced to become more comfortable with uncertainty, new information and adaptation. Even as we share this plan, it is important to remember that it is subject to changing circumstances and new information.
For example, if local hospital capacity to treat Covid-19 is overwhelmed, or if a new government mandate were put in place, we may have to change our plans and that could impact our ability to offer in-person learning on campus, perhaps requiring us to pivot to distance learning.
However, we believe that both now and on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic outdoor and place-based learning will be more important than ever. We are eager for the time when children are back on Chewonki Neck with caring, expert adults, learning together about how to shape our shared future for the better. This is why the effort to reopen safely is so important to us.
Questions and Keeping in Touch
We expect that many in our community and micro-communities will have questions about our plans. The contents of this email, as well as program-specific details are available on our Chewonki Covid-19 Status page. That page will be updated regularly with any changes to our Covid-related policies or procedures. In addition, families enrolled in an active program can expect to receive regular email updates.
Live Online Q&A Sessions:
We are holding a series of Zoom “town hall” meetings in late July and August.
- Chewonki Faculty & Staff: Each Monday and Wednesday
- Chewonki Board & Trustees: July 24, 2020
- Maine Coast Semester: The week of August 3-7, 2020 (multiple)
- Chewonki Elementary and Middle School: August 10 & 12, 2020
The times and instructions for joining these sessions will be sent separately to each group.
Finally, thank you for your patience and understanding as we have worked together to solve novel problems while looking out for each other. I am immensely proud of our staff and faculty who continue to meet the demands of Covid-19. Our shared effort to provide life-changing learning in nature for young people is worth all this effort, and much more.