This is a virtual event.
Visit https://www.thejoyschool.org/tours for more information.
The Joy School is closely following the progression of COVID-19 in the Houston area. Our first priority is keeping our students, families and The Joy School community safe. With that in mind, our goal is to provide timely updates on this page in regard to this evolving situation.
To learn more about The Joy School COVID-19 Opening Matrix, please click here.
I hope everyone had a wonderful long weekend! We are looking forward to six (hopefully) uninterrupted weeks until Thanksgiving break, and my sincerest hope is that everyone stays healthy so we remain in school!
While we loved having Nurse Rachel with us for a couple of weeks, we are thrilled to have Nurse Mary back on campus!
As you probably know, Houston COVID numbers continue to trend downward, and we are delighted to share that we are moving into our yellow zone starting Monday. The decrease in risk because of lower community spread enables us to loosen up a few, but not all restrictions and protocols. Keep in mind these are based on information we have today and could change at any time if conditions warrant. We recognize these changes do not exactly match our original matrix plans, but are based on our current analysis of the overall situation and what the Task Force believes is appropriate at this time.
Ex. Middle school students will now all eat and have recess at the same time outside instead of being separated into A and B groups. Their instructional groups and schedules will remain the same.
Ex. Academic support teachers will now be able to support students in all classes within a cohort rather than being limited to a subcohort of 2-3 classes.
As we continue to encounter unique situations that don’t fit into black and white protocols, we also continue to update our protocols to support our school community's physical and mental health. The most notable change includes a required Covid test within 24 hours if your child has been at school after exposure to a confirmed positive case. This enables us to either reassure parents and teachers that your child was negative at the time they were last in school OR move to quarantine anyone in contact with your child the last time they were on campus. These policies apply to adults in our community, as well. Please continue to report all absences to Mrs. Tracei or Nurse Mary as well as classroom teachers.
There are no calendar changes expected for the rest of the semester.
The following dates are still reserved for FLEX DAYS and/or Teacher Work Days---please do not make travel plans for these days! Students may or may not have school on these days, depending on how the year unfolds. We will make final decisions for each of these sets of dates one month ahead of time.
February 8, 9, & 10
May 5 & 6
On behalf of the entire Joy School community, I would like to strongly encourage everyone (parents AND students) to get a flu shot this year. I know we all now appreciate the value of face to face class time more than ever before, and this is one more step we can each take to ensure that we can have as many regular school days as possible in such an unpredictable year.
Lastly, I want to send a huge virtual hug and thank you to the parents who put together an incredible selection of individually packaged snacks to stock our kitchen and coffee bars for faculty and staff. There isn’t much I can do to make this year easier on them, but knowing they can have access to ready to eat snacks and treats at least helps me know they won’t go hungry on the craziest of days! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me show my incredible team how much we appreciate them.
Have a wonderful week!
We are thrilled to have almost all of our students on campus with us finally! It has been a great week for us, and we hope everyone stays healthy so we can stay like this! We only have a few reminders for this week, so I will keep things short and sweet.
October 5, 6, 7 are regular school days
October 8 & 9 are holidays
October 12 is a regular school day
Please report all absences to Mrs. Tracei at the front desk, as during these times, we must keep track of any students with possible COVID symptoms. We also are required to report all cases to the health department and have made a commitment to families and faculty to report all cases in our community, so please report any symptoms as soon as possible. Contact tracing is a crucial aspect of preventing community spread, so please remember how important your participation is if you are on the end of a contact tracing phone call. We are fortunate to have had ZERO reported cases in our community in the four weeks we have been on campus and hope that trend continues for a very long time. We greatly appreciate everyone’s cooperation and open communication thus far!
Zooming into Classrooms
As I mentioned last week, while we have the capability of allowing students at home to zoom into live classrooms, we do not believe it is always the best course of action as it creates a situation where teachers are having to provide two different modes of instruction and almost certainly decreases the level of effectiveness of that instruction for all parties. We obviously are prepared to use this option if necessary for kids having to quarantine for extended periods, but if a child is out for a day or two, we would rather allow the child that day to rest, and we will catch them up later. At a minimum, teachers will need a day’s notice to prepare for zooming the next school day.
Updates to Opening Plan
There are no changes this week in the Opening Plan, but you can always find the latest version on the COVID-19 page on our website.
Enjoy the beautiful weather this week!
By this time next week, we will have all students and teachers back on campus. While I had hoped to speed up the timeline a tad, it was just not feasible given the infinite number of variables. It has been a very long journey with more challenges than I ever could have anticipated, but the time has finally come. Thank you to everyone for your flexibility and patience!
Of course, the greatest challenge now is to keep everyone healthy so we can continue to have in-person learning for all. Please remember that back to school does not mean back to normal, and we will need to continue to be vigilant with all health and safety protocols in place. On that note, our 2020-2021 parent handbook is now available, for your review, on the parent portal along with an acknowledgment signature form and addendum for COVID-19 based policies. Please click here to sign the addendum form by October 1.
As all students return to campus, it is more important than ever that health and safety protocols are followed consistently. We have further simplified our flow charts and policies for potential exposures, and these are available in our Opening Plan, located on the COVID-19 webpage, under General Information. To follow our protocols with fidelity, communication between parents and the School is crucial regarding any potential exposure or symptoms that may be related to COVID-19. Please report symptoms or exposures to us as soon as possible so we can provide guidance and take precautions.
Now that we can focus on running one school instead of two, we are finalizing details for how we will pivot if a student, teacher, class, or cohort must quarantine. This is an easier process for older students than it is for younger ones, and easier to plan for groups than it is for individuals. As such, plans will vary based on the needs of that particular individual or group. The default plan will be for quarantined or ill individuals to participate in class via zoom if they feel well enough to participate. All classrooms have dedicated iPads to be able to live stream to students at home. We must acknowledge, however, that this scenario is less than ideal for all parties involved as the teacher’s attention has to be divided between in-class learners and those at home. Therefore, the option to zoom into classrooms will be reserved only for students who are quarantining for health reasons, not for those who might miss a day or two for appointments or travel. Additionally, teachers are not planning to zoom from classrooms every day unless absolutely necessary. Therefore, if your child wakes up ill and has to begin quarantine, there may be a one day delay before zoom instruction can begin.
I want to remind everyone that just because we are able to provide remote instruction doesn’t mean that remote instruction is always the right thing to do. If a student or teacher is ill, we want them to take the time they need to rest and recover, rather than feeling pressured to log into zoom. Rest assured, we will always prioritize face to face instruction over remote instruction when we can do so.
Reminders for all families:
Arrival and dismissal times are staggered by cohort to prevent crossover of students in different cohorts. Please do not arrive earlier or later than your scheduled window.
Monday, September 28, is a holiday for all students and staff. We will see you on Tuesday.
October 5, 6, and 7 are school days.
October 8 & 9 are holidays for students and staff.
Reminders for Middle School Families:
Download and practice using the Magnus App before Tuesday morning.
Bring back all supplies and laptops.
Bring at least 2 masks each day.
Bring lunch, snacks, and water.
We do not have hot lunch, microwaves, or pizza Fridays at this time.
Wednesday dismissal: 12:30-12:45
I hope everyone has a great week, and I am super excited to see everyone next week!
By the time you receive this, we will have all of our K-3rd grade cohort back on campus with us and look forward to welcoming everyone else in the next two weeks. I am pleased to report that the TMC data continues to trend in the right direction with positivity rates below 5% for the last 14 days, the R(t) value below 1 for the previous five days and the average number of new cases in a given week continues to drop. This is all great news and allows us to focus less on tracking data and more on the logistics of getting kids back to school safely. Because the number of cases is still high, we remain in the orange level on our Joy School Opening Matrix, located under COVID-19 General Information.
I want to address some of the frustration we have heard about our phased return to campus. While all schools are doing things slightly differently based on what works for them, I recognize that our timeline is slightly longer than some schools. The reasons for this are many, and I want to highlight some of those factors that may not be obvious to all.
First, as has been true for the last several years, space is a very limited commodity at The Joy School. Our building was designed for our very small student body, and there is no overflow or community space to speak of. This makes maintaining a distance of six feet between students and cohorts challenging at all times that students are not sitting still. Every trip to the restroom, every transition from morning drop off, to recess, to dismissal, requires careful orchestration and monitoring to teach and promote social distancing. If we could simply tie students to their chairs, things would be easier…but alas, this methodology is generally frowned upon. 😉
Secondly, our population of students, especially our youngest ones, require repeated, direct instruction and lots of practice. Attention difficulties, language difficulties, and weak executive functioning skills, which are all very common among our students, play a huge role in how quickly things are getting settled. It has been all hands on deck at all times and even with every administrator available, there have been ongoing challenges.
We know that many families are very anxious for kids to get back on campus as soon as possible. We are as well. However, the last week has proven that our conservative timeline is what our community needs at this time. If we get to a point where we are confident in our ability to manage a faster timeline, we will let you know as soon as possible. Please remember to communicate with your child’s teachers and/or the Dean Team if your child is struggling in any way so we can figure out a way to support you regardless of the mode of instruction.
Return to Campus Reminders
Covid Case Reporting
A Note About our Teachers
The last six months have challenged teachers across the country in unprecedented ways. From my perspective, the challenges have only continued to grow as we have moved first to emergency online teaching to potentially long term online teaching, and now back to on-campus teaching. As much as we are happy to be back in our building, the challenges are not over. The combination of learning new protocols, wearing masks all day long, adding ongoing health and safety instruction to already busy days, not being able to relax with colleagues at lunchtime, not being able to meet in person, etc. is A LOT to adjust to while simultaneously trying to build relationships with kids and determine how best to meet their needs. Many teachers understandably also have concerns about their health. I am so grateful for the families who have acknowledged this challenging climate and have expressed their appreciation directly to individual teachers or publicly via our social media pages. Your words mean a lot! I am so proud of our amazing teachers who have handled all that 2020 has thrown at them with such grace and flexibility. It has not been easy for anyone, but their ability to attack problems optimistically in the face of so many challenges is what makes them Joy School teachers. I am so ready to be able to see ALL of their faces every day!
Have a great week,
After months of seeing our beautiful building stay too clean and too quiet, we are very excited to start welcoming students back to campus next week. We are ready to implement our plans based on the orange level of our opening matrix. As promised, here is the TENTATIVE timeline for each group of students to return. There are already a few changes since last week, so please read carefully. Like everything else during this time, this plan is subject to change based on positive or negative trends in the spread of COVID-19, either on campus or off.
September 8 Ms. Kate and Mrs. Troche/Mrs. Flowers kids return
September 9 Ms. Matthews and Mrs. Medina’s kids return
September 16 Mrs. Negrin, Mrs. Anastasia, and Mrs. Motal’s kids return
September 21 All 4th and 5th grade classes may return
September 28 All middle school students may return
We know that while some families will be rejoicing that we are opening campus, others will have concerns and may choose not to have their child return right away. We are ready to make plans for those students and families, but we must know as soon as possible to whom this situation applies. Please contact your child’s teacher(s) or the Dean Team, Laura Gray or Stephanie Malveaux, ASAP if you are planning to have your child continue with #JoyfromAfar after we open campus.
Again, this plan is TENTATIVE based on the mostly positive downward trends of the data related to community spread of COVID-19. It is important to note that the data DOES NOT indicate that things can get back to normal. One of the reasons we are transitioning cohorts slowly back to campus is because the data is not quite where we would ideally like for it to be for us to have normal school. The last 48 hours have shown a slight bump the wrong way and we are hoping that is just a fluke and not a trend. We must continue to be vigilant! In fact, as our school and others begin to open, it is more critical than ever that families re-commit to masking, frequent hand washing, and social distancing outside of school so that schools can stay open. More than ever before, our individual actions directly impact the health of the community at large, and with faculty, staff, and kids coming back to campus, we all must do our part to keep our entire community healthy.
It is important to understand that we are in the orange level at this time, and this requires strict protocols to ensure everyone’s safety. While we can do our part within the building, it is critical for all families to do their part before and after school. In addition to the general precautions listed above, it is especially important to keep kids home if they exhibit any possible Covid related symptoms. You can find our updated protocols for handling illness in our Opening Plan, located on our COVID-19 webpage. If everyone stays home when they are even slightly under the weather, it will help all of us stay healthy and keep our campus open.
There are several logistics to share with you as we prepare to welcome students back. Some of these are changes from our original plans based on new research and guidance from outside professionals, so please read carefully. I am going to keep things simple for the sake of this email, but please refer to our Opening Plan on our COVID-19 webpage for more details.
Only faculty, staff, and students will be allowed inside the building when we are open. Don’t worry—the friendly zoom faces will be at the front ready to greet your kiddos and get them where they need to be. Later this week, we will also be sending home a short video so you and your kids can see what drop off and health screening will look like.
ALL students will be required to wear masks at ALL times except when eating. This now includes our youngest students. Mask breaks will be allowed if needed, but only if the child is by themselves significantly distanced from others. We will have several mask break chairs on the playground to serve as visual reminders that if you need a mask break, you have to be off by yourself. Students will need to bring at least two masks each day. Masks will be changed after lunch and recess, or any time it gets wet or dirty. Please read the mask guidelines and procedure updates very carefully, as certain face coverings will not be allowed based on the latest research. This info will also be added to our Opening Plan.
After School Programs
Because of the need to keep cohorts separated, there will be no on campus after school classes for the month of September. Virtual after school classes will continue as normal. Remember that sign up ends at noon on Friday.
There will be no hot lunch/catered option or pizza Fridays for lunch in the month of September. Students need to bring at least one snack and a lunch complete with drink. Water fountains will be closed, but bottle filling stations will still be available. Microwaves will not be available for the time being. Please make sure everything is labeled with your child’s name!
Magnus App for Health Screening
Each family will need to download the magnus health app in order to complete the daily health screening for their child. The screening should be completed at home prior to traveling to school. During morning drop off, you will be asked to show that the app has given you a green light indicating that your child is free from Covid-19 symptoms. Additionally, each child will have their temperature taken before exiting the car. Please see attachment for details. This info will also be added to our Opening Plan.
Arrival and Dismissal Times
In order to maintain physical distancing and to avoid cohort crossover, arrival and dismissal times are different this year for the time being.
In normal times, we encourage carpooling as it makes things easier on everyone. This year, please carefully consider how and if you carpool with other families, especially if they have children in other cohorts. Our goal is to keep cohorts from crossing over with one another so that if we have a case we do not have to quarantine the entire school. If you choose to carpool with other families, we strongly recommend wearing masks in the car to and from school.
Virtual hangouts will continue through September as planned. Please visit the parent portal to find links and passwords.
Your Back to School To Do List
We are very excited if not a little nervous about having kids back on campus. We are confident our protocols and new arrangements are in line with best practices and we are ready to face the challenge. We cannot wait for our building to come to life again!
For those of you who were not able to attend or were not able to join the Town Hall Webinar Monday night, August 17th, please log into the parent portal to view the video. We apologize for any inconvenience in logging into the Zoom session. We had more people than our account could contain! If you have questions or have not completed the parent survey, please click here to view and enter your responses.
Thank you so much!
This week we have several updates as well as homework for you! 😊
First, we are SO EXCITED to finally be kicking off the school year next week! We can’t wait to see you and your kids during our Pick Up Parade on Monday and in #JoyFromAfar on Wednesday! We also want to invite you to attend a virtual Town Hall meeting on Monday at 7:00 pm. More info in the homework section below. By the end of this week, all students should have schedule information. If you have not heard from your child’s teacher(s) by Thursday afternoon, please contact Laura Gray or Stephanie Malveaux, our Dean Team. To simplify things and ensure everyone gets off on the right foot, all information will be on our website so you can always find the latest updates in one place without having to figure out which email or attachment is most current. On our website, the Quick Links at the top of the page will get you to both the #JoyfromAfar page, which will provide all academic and programming updates, and our COVID-19 page, which will include any operational updates. The most important document is the Opening Plan, which we have included on both pages for your convenience.
We also continue to plan for a return to campus after Labor Day (hopefully September 8th). The good news is that the metrics we are tracking have been moving in the right direction for the last few days. We need this to continue, so please do your part by wearing your masks and staying home as much as possible! Our goal is to have students return on September 8th, but that is dependent on the community spread data continuing to decline.
On that note, we have had several questions about the metrics we are using to determine the level of community spread and make decisions about moving from stage to stage in our opening matrix. We have updated our Opening Plan to include a new flowchart so you can track the data along with us. You will find the flowchart in the Health and Safety section.
As we return to campus, we will inevitably face a possible exposure, suspected case, or confirmed case of COVID-19. It is important for all families to understand the protocols we will be following to protect our entire school community. In short, the reality is that yes, every fever, cough, etc. will have to be assumed to be COVID until proven otherwise, at least while we are in the orange zone. In the Health and Safety section of the Opening Plan, you will also find a flowchart that outlines how this will affect students and teachers, depending on the specific circumstances. Please review these protocols carefully, as I anticipate a challenging year of rolling closures and extended absences for students and teachers. We will need everyone to understand what the protocols are and to be prepared for unexpected closures and required quarantine. We know this will be difficult for everyone, especially working parents. We are counting on everyone to be flexible, optimistic, and full of grace this year, as there are simply no easy answers to any of this.
On a positive note, we are thrilled to report that our daily health screenings will be able to be completed via the Magnus health app, simplifying the process for everyone and keeping morning drop off as efficient as possible. More details on this will be provided as the time nears.
1. Please be sure you are up to date on the Opening Plan, which includes the new flowcharts for decision making about moving from zone to zone and health screening. This is available on our website via the #JoyFromAfar Hub webpage.
2. As mentioned above, we will be hosting a Live Town Hall Meeting Monday at 7:00 pm. Part two of your homework this week is to submit any questions you may have via this survey link. We will collect questions and organize them into categories to be addressed by members of our COVID-19 Task Force during the meeting. All parents are encouraged to attend. A zoom link invitation and a reminder will be sent Sunday evening, but please mark your calendars today.
3. Part three of your homework will also be completed via the same survey link. We know that even when we move to the orange stage, there will be some families who will want to continue to keep their children at home. Now that we are close to a reopening date, we need to know who those families are so we can plan accordingly. We will be conducting this same survey with faculty and staff as well. Like everything else we do at The Joy School, plans for accommodating those choosing to stay home will depend on the needs of the kids, so there will not be a one size fits all plan. What may work for middle school may not work for a first-grader, for example. Or if five out of six children in a class choose to stay home, we may have to regroup students or cohorts to make things work for all.
As always, we cannot thank you enough for your patience, understanding, and support during this time.
Enjoy your last few days of summer!
This week was bittersweet as we officially welcomed teachers back to work for the 2020-2021 school year, but had to do so without the usual celebratory kickoff. While we have to be physically separated and our smiles are hidden behind masks, as I toured the building yesterday, I was happy to see that teachers are in great spirits and ready to tackle the complex challenges of this new normal. Their classrooms are almost all ready to go for both teaching from afar and welcoming kids back to campus. I was relieved to see that they still look warm and inviting, despite the minimalism teachers have had to embrace to accommodate six-foot distancing. Teachers and teams are putting together student school supply kits and materials in preparation for our Pick Up Parade on August 17. All in all, while it was a very different first day back, seeing everyone prepping for the school year helped me feel like life is moving forward as opposed to feeling in limbo for months. We are ready to get going!
We do not have any major announcements this week, so I will keep this short. Our current plan is to launch the 2020-2021 school year via #JoyFromAfar on Wednesday, August 19. #JoyFromAfar will continue until at least September 8. The most important thing for parents to know right now is that there will be multiple events happening in the next couple of weeks to make sure the year gets off to a smooth start. As I mentioned last week, our This Week in Joy weekly email has resumed, and it’s the best place to keep track of all coming events. I want to apologize that we missed a couple of moving up events in last week’s update, but we will make those up for those who missed out. We also heard that some people were not able to see the Opening School Plan link. Please go to our COVID-19 webpage, where you will find the plan under General Information. It should take you to the website for easier viewing. By now, if your child is in lower school, you should have heard from your child’s teacher(s) introducing themselves. Cohorts are in the process of establishing schedules and will be sharing those as soon as possible. If you have questions or feel like you have missed something, please reach out to the Dean Team (Stephanie Malveaux and Laura Gray).
While teachers and the academic admin team focus on the details of getting the year started virtually, the COVID-19 Task Force continues its work on the many protocols that need to be in place for on-campus learning. Nearly every aspect of the school day has to be reconfigured, from classroom furniture, to lunch tables, to community areas. Even restrooms have new rules! Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing those with you so that everyone knows what to expect when we return to campus. For now, we want you to focus on the information, tools, and training your family will need for a successful launch of #JoyFromAfar. The Task Force is continuing to monitor the feedback form on the COVID-19 webpage, so please do not hesitate to keep your questions coming. We are also monitoring the TJS Parent Facebook page as well to keep up with what folks are wondering, so if you haven’t joined, please do! The best way to stay informed and feel “in the loop” is to read our This Week in Joy email every Thursday afternoon. Still, the parent Facebook group is a great community for answers to quick questions, idea sharing, and the occasional “we all can relate” post.
We may or may not have an update for you next week other than our This Week in Joy email. I don’t anticipate any major changes to our plans between now and August 19, and I don’t want to distract anyone with anything unrelated to the start of #JoyFromAfar. Of course, if anything does change, we will certainly let you know. For now, I hope everyone has a calm week and feels the positive energy about the school year starting soon. It was definitely palpable in the building this week. We are more than ready to see our kiddos again. It’s been a REAAALLLY long “spring break”!
I hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy!
We have two important announcements in addition to sharing our Opening Plan as promised.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the Harris County Health Department has ordered that all public and non-religious private schools remain closed to on-campus instruction until September 8. While we are aware there is some debate about the legality of this order, the spirit of the order is intended to give our Houston area virus spread a few more weeks to move in a positive direction so that opening campus is safer for everyone. The Joy School will be following the order as it aligns with our Task Force’s assessment of the current risk level to our students, faculty, staff, and the entire community. Therefore, the school year will begin remotely via #JoyFromAfar and remain online until at least September 8. It is too early at this point to give a timeline for when decisions will be made for after September 8. Still, as promised, we will aim to give parents as much notice as possible while at the same time, not delaying the return to campus any longer than necessary.
Schools are not ordered to delay their start dates for online instruction, and if you had asked me a week ago, I would have said we have no intention of changing our start date. Unfortunately, we have run into supply chain challenges with our laptop and iPad orders that have forced my hand. Despite having placed these orders in June, and pulling all strings possible, we will not have all of the tech devices needed until after our revised start date. Therefore, we will be updating our calendar to reflect a RETURN TO OUR ORIGINAL START DATE OF AUGUST 19, 2020. We have updated the calendars with this change. As of now, that is the ONLY calendar change we will make for August and September. All other dates remain in place.
As promised, we have attached our official Opening Plans for your review. Please keep this document for your reference so you and your child will know what to expect, whether we are on campus or in #JoyfromAfar. Given the ever-changing nature of this situation, this document may be revised over time. As revisions are made, we will send them via email and post the most up to date version in the parent portal and on the COVID-19 Information page.
Beginning this week, we will reinstate publication of our This Week in JOY weekly email to share important dates and reminders with our school community. The weekly memo will give you one place to keep track of social events, parent meetings, etc. This Week in JOY is sent on Thursday afternoons. From now on, my updates will focus on more global planning, particularly as it relates to responding to the COVID-19 situation. Hopefully, I will also get to share some fun stuff soon!
Now that we know the school year will begin in #JoyfromAfar mode, we are in the process of reimagining our traditional beginning of the school year events to fit into the constraints of this situation. Information about events like our New Parent Coffee, Parent Orientation Nights, etc. will be available soon and shared via the This Week in JOY weekly email.
One date we would love for you to put on your calendar now is Monday, August 17, when we will have a PICK UP PARADE for students to pick up their tech devices, school supplies, new spirit shirts, and learning materials. A schedule for each cohort will be shared next week.
We have had a couple of families reach out to us in the hopes of connecting with other families who might be interested in sharing childcare/supervision duties while we are in #JoyfromAfar mode. While we can’t provide this service directly, we would love to help families connect to share resources and ideas. We believe the easiest way to do this is to join our private TJS Parents Facebook page and let people know what you need and/or how you can help others. It is our intent to provide any and all necessary academic support our students and parents may need during this time, so it is our sincerest hope that no family will feel the need to hire a private tutor or teacher. However, we recognize that some families will need childcare/supervision of their children in order for them to continue working and we are hopeful that families will come together as they did after Harvey to support one another during this challenging time.
Once again, I want to thank all of those who have sent comments, asked questions, made suggestions, etc. Even as I refer your emails and phone calls to members of my team to ensure parents receive a timely and thorough response, I want to be clear that I read (listen to) ALL of them and take ALL of them into consideration in our planning. Please continue reaching out; we truly value your input and appreciate the opportunity to explain things more thoroughly when there is confusion.
Finally, I want to close by acknowledging that beginning the school year online was not anyone’s first choice, and there is plenty of disappointment to go around. However, during our Houston Heads meeting this week, Mark Carleton, my colleague at Presbyterian School, shared a perspective about online learning that I hadn’t considered, but I now believe to be so very true. One of the positive aspects about starting online is that as teachers and students get to know each other as individuals and begin to establish themselves as a class, they will be doing so with the ability to see FULL FRIENDLY FACES and SMILES! It may not be the same as hugs and high fives, but it certainly feels better than greeting new students from behind a mask and trying to read kiddos’ emotions behind masks while we are trying to establish new relationships. I hope that positive perspective helps you as much as it did me!
Thank you for your time and attention!
Our next update will be August 5.
Head of School
Thank you for being understanding with my delayed message update. Please see this week's update in the video link below. Along with the video link, you will also find the following links to provide additional information or a place to share feedback.
COVID-19 Response Section
Summer Social Events
Stay safe and well. We miss you all!
SUBJECT: TJS COVID-19 School Opening Update
As promised, I would like to share an update on our Opening/Closing Plans for the 2020-2021 school year.
Unfortunately, the optimism that I felt in early June about starting the school year on campus has diminished considerably given the ever increasing number of positive cases in the Houston area. I know the burning question on everyone’s mind is “Will we start school on campus in August?", followed by an infinite number of questions about the details depending on whether that answer is yes or no.
While I am still confident that we will have kids on campus sometime this fall, I am not optimistic they will be able to return to campus in August. The next question is, “When will we know?!” We will make a final decision about how we will start school no later than August 1.
In this email, you will find a color coded matrix – the TJS COVID-19 Opening Matrix - that will guide our decisions over the next few months and enable you to know what to expect at each stage. Our plan mirrors the Harris County Public Health Risk Level System with red, orange, yellow, and green levels.
The Joy School COVID-19 Opening Matrix is based on data from:
• Texas Medical Center Community Transmission: Percentage Positive Trend
• Texas Medical Center (TMC) Capacity Status
• Harris County Public Health Risk Level
As I am sure you are aware, Harris County is currently in the red zone, the highest level of risk. After a tremendous amount of research, debate, and consultations with medical professionals, we have decided campus will remain closed for students as long as Harris County is in the red zone.
The Joy School Faculty and Staff have been hard at work planning for both on-campus instruction as well as continuation of our #JoyfromAfar online instruction. We will be ready either way. Of course, our greatest hope is that the community situation will improve rapidly so that we can move to the orange zone and begin bringing kids back to campus as soon as possible. We will continue to watch the Harris County risk level as well as our other sources to determine when The Joy School COVID-19 Opening Matrix will move to the orange zone.
With a move to the orange zone, we will publish a schedule for a gradual, systematic return to campus for students. All students will not return at the same time, but once students do return to campus, they will be on campus full time. Our plans for the 2020-2021 school year involve having students at home full time or at school full time; parents will not have to worry about hybrid schedules. For those families with high risk situations, #JoyfromAfar will be an option through red, orange, and yellow zones.
Of course, even with a return to campus, we will not be returning to business as usual. The Health and Safety Committee of our COVID-19 Task Force has been working nonstop to acquire necessary equipment for health and safety, finalize policies, procedures and protocols, and provide guidance to teachers about how to facilitate physical distancing in classrooms and common areas. Our TJS COVID-19 Opening Matrix highlights some of these guidelines such as mask requirements and daily symptom screenings.
Next week, we will share with you details for both our #JoyfromAfar plans as well as our on-campus plans, with specifics for each grade level regarding cohorts, synchronous (live) instructional minutes, tentative schedules, and health and safety protocols. In the meantime, in addition to the matrix attached, we have included several additional resources below.
Click here for the final school year calendar.
Click here to see our newly enhanced COVID-19 response page and our new feedback button. This page contains all of the previous updates regarding COVID-19, as well as these new resources, and a NEW COVID-19 Feedback button. This is now a central location to express all COVID-19 related concerns, questions, or ideas. This feedback will be reviewed by our COVID-19 Task Force leader, Rob Wise, and shared with the group. Use of this format will prevent your email from getting lost in someone’s inbox.
Finally, we heard your desire for more social opportunities for your children! As such, the Connections Committee of our COVID-19 Task Force has developed a July social calendar for students in all grade levels. The purpose of these events is to provide our kiddos with social opportunities to see their friends. These are not instructional times, but it will be our fabulous faculty hosting the events so there will certainly be guidance!
I encourage you to try out the COVID-19 Feedback button this week so we can do our best to address your questions in next week’s update. You can expect the update to arrive in your inbox July 22.
During these turbulent few months, we have missed being able to see each other, our students, and you, our parents. One truth that has emerged above all others is the inherent need for us to take care of each other more than anything else. We believe we have developed a system that will ensure we can mitigate the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus while simultaneously delivering the best Joy School experience in any circumstance. Our plans for re-opening and averting risk of contagion are on-going and fluid but always with our students, families, faculty, and staff in mind. We appreciate your patience now and through this next school year.
Until we see you again, please stay healthy!
Wear your masks, wash your hands, and stay home as much as possible so we can see our kids in person soon!
I REAAAALLLY miss them.
I am writing to share with you where we are in terms of planning for the fall. While there are still many unanswered questions, and all of our plans are dependent on the pandemic’s effect in August, we have made some tentative decisions that may help you plan and envision what school may look like.
It’s Up to Us!
First, I feel obligated to do my part to emphasize how important it is to wear masks in public and continue to practice social distancing. The bottom line is, our ability to open schools is 100% dependent on covid-19 cases staying at a manageable level so that stay at home orders are not required. As we all become more and more antsy being stuck at home, it is still important to limit our in-person socializing to very small numbers within our personal networks. As a mom of 3 very active girls and probably the world’s most extroverted husband, I know how hard this is and I’m not claiming to be doing a stellar job. However, if we want to be back on campus altogether in August, we all have a part to play in the spread of the virus. Stay strong!
In an effort to coordinate efforts across logistical, academic, and communication domains, we have put together a Task Force of administrators to facilitate smaller committees of faculty, staff, and parents to develop plans for our “new normal” You can read more about this Task Force in the attached document.
Thank you for responding to our survey about the proposed calendar. Interestingly, most comments were not related to the calendar, but related to the idea of hybrid schedules that would create challenges for working parents. More to come on that in a minute. For now, please see the final calendar attached to this email. We have aligned our weeks off with HISD, Alief, Spring and Humble school districts. Our first day will be August 12th. The calendar is color coded to show which days are simply off and good for making travel plans (blue) and which ones are professional days for teachers and may be used for make up days if necessary (yellow). Our last day will be June 4th unless we have to use the second week in June for makeup days. Please do not make non-refundable travel plans for yellow dates on the calendar.
I’m nervous to even type this out because everything could change on a dime, but based on the guidelines for summer programs, I am reasonably confident that we will be able to have all kids on campus every day (assuming everyone stays well). Currently, the guidelines require students be spaced six feet apart within classrooms; classrooms to provide at least 45 sq ft per person; and no groups larger than 22 regardless of classroom size. For our classes that are capped at six students, these guidelines are fairly easy to implement. For our classes that have 7 or 8 students, we are having to be more creative with our use of space and scheduling. While we are close to a solution, we are awaiting the governor’s fall reopening guidelines (expected this week) before we finalize anything. On that note, we are also holding off on finalizing and sharing class lists and schedules until we know our plans work within the guidelines.
Masks vs Shields
We are continuing to research and test various types of face coverings that would enable us to keep everyone safe and comfortable. A few parents have tried clear masks made by individuals with no luck, and the medical grade clear mask I tested last week has too many fatal flaws to warrant the cost. Some parents and teachers have asked about face shields instead of masks. Thus far, I can only find one study that supports the use of face shields as being as effective as masks, but I am cautiously optimistic. I would love to have some parents try them with their kids to see if they are any less frustrating than masks. I would also welcome input from any parents in the medical field who would be willing to share their professional opinions on the subject. Don’t worry—I can keep your identity under wraps! All that to say, I want to strongly encourage families to practice mask wearing this summer, especially for our kiddos with sensory issues. And if you find something that works well, please share!
Protocols for Closures and Illness
Our health and safety committee of our task force is focusing on acquiring personal protection equipment for now and will soon be focusing on policies and procedures for how we will handle illness and closures if necessary. These policies will be vetted by a small group of medical professionals before finalizing and will be shared in mid to late July. For now, know that are goal is to have students on campus as much as possible while doing everything we can to prevent the spread of illness. By limiting the number of students and teachers within a given cohort, we hope to be able to limit mandatory closures to the cohort affected rather than requiring the whole school to close for one case. Fortunately, mandatory closure requirements appear to have been shortened from 14 days down to 2-5 days.
While we are feeling more confident about how to do school during a pandemic, I know not all families will have the same level of comfort about returning to campus. It is important to us to be aware of families’ individual circumstances while we make plans for the whole school. On that note, please reach out to us if your child or someone in your household has an underlying health condition that would impact your child’s ability to return to campus in the fall.
In a recent webinar hosted by Houston epidemiologists, schools were actually encouraged to start having students back on campus for short periods in order to practice all of the new protocols that will be required. That advice, coupled with our desire to help families connect and reconnect after so many months away, had our Connection committee of our Task Force working on ideas for several small group social events for mid to late July. Since our traditional registration day will likely have to be reimagined, we are starting with “meet the teacher” events for our lower school students. Dates will be finalized in early July and invites will be sent via email. Middle school students will also have events, but will be focused on kids hanging out with each other.
Moving Up Meetings
Our fabulous Deans of Student and Family Support will be putting together virtual moving up meetings for parents in July. These meetings will help parents learn what to expect not only academically, but also developmentally for the upcoming year. We may know that 4th grade girls love drama, but if you’re not prepared for it, you could get sucked in yourself! Oh, and 3rd grade boys love bathroom humor, just FYI. Tune in for more sneak peeks into what’s coming your way this school year!
Online Learning Plans
Our Programming committee of our Task Force has been working hard with teachers and our tech team to ensure our teachers and students have what they need in case we have to go back to online learning. Laptops are being upgraded for students in 4th-8th grade, and iPads are being upgraded for students in K-3rd grade. Headsets have been ordered for all students. Document cameras have been ordered for all teachers who needed them. Teachers and administrators have been collaborating regarding lessons learned this spring, as well as participating in many virtual training programs to learn more about best practices in distance learning. Based on your feedback in surveys and casual conversations, we have compiled a list of guidelines for teachers and cohorts to implement for the fall which will hopefully make any necessary closures as seamless as possible.
The Joy School will be officially closed until July 6th. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any emergency, but know that I am encouraging all faculty and staff to take this much needed break time while we can, because July and August are going to be extremely busy with finalizing plans.
We Embrace Differences
Before I close, I want to be clear on our commitment to ensuring that all families at The Joy School are equally welcomed, respected, supported, and understood. While our entire school is built upon the premise that differences are meant to be embraced, I have no doubt that we have missed the mark on occasion, and for that, I am deeply sorry. While I cannot promise perfection, I can promise to work tirelessly to nurture a community that always seeks to understand rather than to judge, and never stops listening and learning. Along those lines, I would like to share two resources that I personally have found helpful in keeping my commitment front and center and not allowing the most recent Black Lives Matter protests to be once again silenced with the passage of time. The first is a webinar about talking with kids about race and racism recommended by our own Coach Lyttle. The second is a 21-day challenge of readings and videos for adults to do one thing every day for 21 days to further their understanding of race and racism. I would love for you to join me on this challenge!
Thank you for continuous support and patience during these uncertain times. Please enjoy the next few weeks of summer and we will try to do the same.
Our administrative team will be back on July 6th to continue our work and will plan to have an update for you by July 15th.
Subject: Joy From Afar #4
Subject: Joy From Afar #3
Subject: Joy From Afar #2
We survived the first week of online learning! Congratulations to all of you, and to our amazing students and teachers!
REFLECTIONS ON THE WEEK
Like so many schools that started this journey before us, this first week was one of much trial and error. One of the analogies I heard another school leader use last week was the idea of building a plane while we’re flying it. That is a great descriptor of how things feel to teachers! We are trying to continue a school year while simultaneously building a completely new model of instruction. We are learning on the fly and adjusting as we go, all the while trying to stay as true to our mission as possible. As you know, each class and grouping at TJS is based on the unique instructional needs of the students in that particular grouping. Unlike traditional schools, we can't just pull generic grade level activities and post them for all students. We are committed to being as intentional with our online instruction as we are with decisions for on campus learning. One way parents can help our online learning go smoothly is by encouraging students to log on to their classes at the beginning of the posted time, especially those middle school students who are more self-sufficient. Late arrivals to online class miss important information which disrupts learning for all.
As we continue down this unmapped journey, we depend on and welcome your feedback about how things are working for your child and your family. However, please remember that your child’s experience is unique to your child. What may be too much work for your child may be too little for another. Our teachers are masterful at dealing with that level of variability, but continuing group instruction and providing individual support takes significantly more time remotely than it does in the classroom. Please allow teachers the extra time needed to process your feedback and determine how to meet your family’s needs. And, please remember that while you ask for one thing, another parent may be requesting the exact opposite.
A related challenge that teachers are facing during these unusual times is that our students who might normally be a wonderfully cohesive group in the classroom are suddenly having wildly different experiences via online learning. Some families are bored and anxious for kids to have more things to keep them busy. Other families are busier than ever before because the parents are working in the medical field. Some families have lost jobs and are under extreme stress. Some families are ill with the virus. Some families have devices for everyone in the family and fast enough internet that everyone can be online at the same time. Some families have one device to share among four children. I share this perspective because teachers are no longer just trying to accommodate different skillsets of their students; they are now trying to accommodate an infinite number of variables that our students may be facing because they are trying to learn from home - not in the classroom together.
I want to sincerely thank the many people who have reached out to express their appreciation for what our teachers are doing, whether that has been directly to them or to me. There have been many tears shed in the last couple of weeks, as these are extraordinarily stressful times for teachers. They don’t have all of their materials; they can’t accurately assess how students are comprehending; they are trying to teach with their own families at home vying for their attention; they are running into technology difficulties; they may be having to homeschool their own children; they may be living alone and feeling particularly isolated; they may be worried about aging parents; they may be having to work around nap times to find time to work; they are tasked with determining not only what is most important but also how best to deliver that remotely. Most difficult, however, is the incredible emotional load that teachers are carrying. Not only are teachers facing their own rollercoaster of emotions related to the isolation, dangers of the virus, economic stressors, and future of our country, but they also carry the burden of worrying about their students, the families of their students, and their colleagues. When people ask me what I look for when hiring, my answer is two important qualities: compassion and analytical ability. Right now The Joy School team is putting these two qualities to work like never before, and the encouragement that has come their way is truly appreciated!
I also want to give a huge shout out to parents for what you are doing at home. My own children started online learning last week, and I am very grateful that my children are older and relatively independent because I cannot imagine how I would work from home with young children. Whatever it looks like at your house right now as it relates to school, I want you to know IT IS PERFECTLY FINE. There will be no awards for super star homeschooler moms and dads when this is over, so if there are days that you confiscate all devices because the kids are driving you crazy and they can’t do school at all, I support you! We are all in survival mode. None of what we are doing is normal. We are continuing schooling to provide a critical sense of normalcy for students, but nothing is normal right now! In the end, the most important things are everyone’s physical and mental health. On that note, if you are trying to work with your child and yelling or crying is involved (yours or theirs), it is actually BETTER to stop. There is a ton of research about anxiety and learning which I can sum up in one sentence. NO ONE CAN LEARN WHILE THEY ARE UPSET. Not kids, not adults. Another sentence to hammer it home: WHEN PEOPLE ARE YELLING, NO ONE CAN HEAR ANYTHING. Your relationship with your child, and most importantly, your child’s sense of security and comfort during these uncertain times, is more important than any academic skill. REALLY. I was on a zoom meeting with K-8 Heads from all over Texas this morning and we ALL feel the same way. We are all much more concerned about our kids’ mental health than we are about their academic progress. We can catch up on academic progress later if we have to, but it’s much harder to fix anxiety issues. Grace is the word of the year…for yourselves, and for your kids!
MORE JOY FROM AFAR OPPORTUNITIES
Now that our first week is behind us, we are continuing to build our online programs and opportunities for students that go beyond the basic academics. Our Program Director, Mrs. Trusell, has been hard at work with a team of people who have come up with creative offerings for students to be able to connect socially outside of their instructional time. Check out this video* to learn how to access these programs and look forward to new additions coming soon!
GENERAL UPDATES AND REMINDERS
As students spend more time online and have more free time, we want to remind everyone that the stringent firewall protections we have for students on campus do not work for computers off campus. For parents who need help with setting up appropriate controls at home, Mr. Stites is a great resource. firstname.lastname@example.org
Per our previously published calendar, we will not be having online school on Friday, April 10 and Monday, April 13. Please use this time to enjoy some non-school activities with your family. Our new hope for returning to campus is May 4, as mandated by the state. We will let you know if anything changes. For now, we are planning to run summer programs as normal.
Some of our kids have expressed concern about missing out on the traditional spring activities that make school fun. While many things will not be able to be rescheduled, one of things we want to promise is that we WILL celebrate our kiddos who are graduating and moving on this year. We may not be able to do it on the original date planned, but we won’t let our kids leave without an appropriate celebration and goodbye!
I hope everyone has a great week. Please continue to reach out if you need support in any way. We are all in this together!
Head of School
*Video link has been removed due to security reasons.
Subject: Joy from Afar
Subject: TJS Update March 16
I hope everyone in our school community has remained healthy!
There are hundreds of questions flying around, and while we don’t have answers to many of them, I want to share what I have.
For ease of reading and timely dissemination of information, I am going to be as brief as possible, but will be working on a more explanatory email for later in the week.
To say these are challenging, confusing times would be an understatement. However, I am incredibly proud of our teachers and administrative staff who have shifted their focus from a week of sleeping in or traveling for spring break to two weeks of research, collaborating, creativity, and problem solving. I can’t imagine a more dedicated team to ensuring we are doing our absolute best for students and families under extraordinary circumstances. I know we are sure to have a bumpy road ahead, but I am confident our teachers will shine in ways we don’t yet expect. And I know our kids will as well.
For now, enjoy your kids—I know the days are long, but the years really are short! Ultimately, our kids will not remember how many days schools were closed or what events were cancelled. They will remember how all of a sudden our families were given the unexpected gift of time and how we were able to rest, and stay in pjs for days on end, and play games, and get creative because of boredom. They will remember how it felt to not be rushed, to not be overscheduled, to not be busy all the time. They will remember how it felt to be “hunkered down” with the people who love them most. And hopefully, they will remember how the community (and maybe the country!) came together to protect our most vulnerable and that by staying home, they got to be part of saving lives.
Hugs and love to all of you!
Subject line: Q&A Joy School Coronavirus Exposure
Dear Joy School Community,
Thank you for your patience as we continue our work around coronavirus.
I appreciate the many questions that have come my way, as they have helped craft today’s response.
I am going to list the most common questions for ease of reading.
As promised, we will continue to update as we have more information. At this point, I do not anticipate having an update tomorrow, but that could change. Please continue to check emails over the break, and stay informed about the community spread to make informed decisions for your family.
Head of School
Subject: Following Up to My Video Message
I know there is tremendous stress in our community at this moment. Please bear with us as we continue to gather as much information as possible and communicate that to you as appropriate.
We still have several unanswered questions about timing of exposure, etc. I will continue working on that data collection and will share with you what I can as soon as I can.
The only thing I am 100% confident about at this moment is that closing school is the most prudent action we can take given the information we have.
As a non medical professional, I am not nearly as confident about the appropriate course of action for individual members of our community. While self quarantining is the clear advice for someone with direct exposure to a confirmed case, advice for people with potential exposure or second and third hand removed exposure is very unclear. In my video, I used the term self quarantining as one possible step your family can take. However, self monitoring may be a more appropriate course of action.
Again, as I learn more, I will share with you. The best I can do for the moment is to let you know what we know and make decisions that protect our whole school community until we know more.
Please make decisions for your family based on your own research and your own doctor recommendations. We will continue to share with you what we know and any direct guidance we receive.
In the mean time, I’m sorry for the stress and limited information. I know this is not easy!
SUBJECT: School Coordination and Response to COVID-19
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave a press conference on Tuesday, updating the country on the current status of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and what steps should be taken moving forward. Obviously, our first priority at The Joy School is keeping children safe. With that in mind we've been following closely the progression of this virus, specifically checking in regularly on the resources provided by Harris County Public Health.
As the CDC emphasized, there is not currently a coronavirus pandemic in the United States. A pandemic occurs when a disease is spreading from a variety of sources across a large region, and the number of cases across the U.S. is still small. However, given how quickly the global situation is evolving, we are monitoring new developments and will continue to reevaluate our steps and actions daily.
Our school is in good company with the other independent schools in Houston, sharing resources and information on all aspects of student and campus safety.
Every involved agency is reinforcing that the most effective way to stay healthy and minimize the spread of infectious disease is to follow basic health best practices, such as:
My colleagues and I are prepared to alter our procedures and planning should the situation change. That includes the potential for employing remote learning strategies should voluntary or mandatory school closures become necessary. We will continue to proactively monitor the situation and communicate again should any changes become necessary.
We have been reminded that handling the spread of a serious contagion like the coronavirus is primarily a task for public health agencies. Any directives from the World Health Organization, CDC, or local governmental organizations should be followed by all of us.
When there is more information to provide, we will be in touch. In the meantime, please follow the list of preventative measures I've noted above, consistent across all platforms with regard to the recommendations for avoiding all manner of illness, specifically the flu.
If you have any questions specific to your child or family, please reach out to me or Nurse Mary. Thank you.
Lara Leigh Bergoon
Assistant Head of School
Following the best practices below, you can help prevent the spread of germs.