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Private schools off to smooth start for new year
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Private schools off to smooth start for new year

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Allen Academy, Brazos Christian School and St. Joseph Catholic School all saw problem-free starts to the school year, despite additional procedures and protocols to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

All three heads of school attributed the solid start to clear communication with parents and students.

St. Joseph Catholic School System President Jim Rike said last week it was possibly the smoothest start to any school year he’s had.

“Everybody, I think, is approaching this year much differently than we have ever in the past,” he said. About 85% of students are learning on campus at St. Joseph Catholic School, and the rest are learning virtually, he said.

Mike Notaro, head of school at Allen Academy, took over as head of the school over the summer and said the administrators and teachers put in a lot of work prior to the Aug. 19 start of school.

While there are a few students with special circumstances at Allen Academy who are learning online, Notaro said, the majority of students are back in their classrooms.

“I’m extremely pleased with the faculty, and I’m even more pleased with the kids,” he said. “The kids have adapted and done exactly what they needed to do, and they are just so diligent about following the instructions and following the rules and staying, as best they can, social distancing.”

When Brazos Christian School began classes Aug. 12, Headmaster Jeff McMaster said, all students returned to in-person learning. The school has plans in place to move the entire campus to online learning if necessary. If a student has to quarantine, the family will work with the student’s teachers to provide education for those two weeks when they are at home.

“Overall, I feel like we’re settling into the routine and working out any of the little details, tweaks or adjustments, that we need to make to make it work well,” he said. “At this point in time, it’s working well for us.”

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All three school leaders acknowledged it is inevitable that someone in the campus community will test positive for COVID-19 or have to quarantine after being in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m sure it’s going to happen at some point because I don’t think there’s any way we can get around it,” McMaster said.

Students at all three private schools are required to wear masks or face coverings — fourth grade and older at Allen Academy and Brazos Christian School and first grade and older at St. Joseph — and clear, plastic desk dividers are in place, especially at the younger grade levels to minimize the spread.

“Masks are worn anytime you’re in a common area, anytime you’re in the hallway or you’re passing anybody,” Rike said. “You enter the rooms with your mask on. Only then, when you are seated at your desk that is six feet apart in the high school and junior high, then the teacher can tell you it’s safe to take off your mask or it’s not safe to take off your mask. In the elementary, we’ve got barriers if you can’t be 6 feet apart.”

The smaller size of all three schools has helped allow them to spread students out in classrooms and change lunch schedules to allow for social distancing. Allen Academy also has implemented directional hallways and designated entrances and exits for classrooms, Notaro said.

In addition to asking parents to self-screen their children at home, students at Allen Academy and St. Joseph are given a temperature scan before being admitted into the building. Anyone with a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms will be sent home. At Brazos Christian School, parents and school staff members are expected to take their temperature at home and stay home if they have a fever or any other symptoms.

Each campus is also limiting visitors to help slow the spread and allow students and teachers to get used to the procedures.

“Everyone has to adjust and adapt, and that just takes a little bit of time for people to adapt and start to feel like we’re OK,” McMaster said.

Rike said as the school year continues, it could become difficult to differentiate between seasonal colds, flu and COVID-19 and treat each situation appropriately.

“That’s why we’ve got the guidelines in place, and we’ve got to follow them, and we’ve made it very clear to our parents that this is what we’ve got to do,” he said. “So far, they have they have accepted everything that we’re doing as far as the differences and willing to work with us.”

Notaro said many of the protocols are common sense based on the dangers and what is known about the coronavirus.

“I feel extremely good about the environment that we have created here to keep it as safe as we possibly can,” he said.

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