June 30, 2020

Dear Riverbend Community,

First of all, thank you for your patience as we develop plans for Riverbend. This is first in a series of communications about how the School is planning on safely reopening in the fall. We have reviewed the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) document “Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance”  that was released on Thursday, June 25th. DESE is stressing that these are initial guidelines and that they will provide further updates and guidance in mid-July. Below is an integration of DESE guidance and our research and planning to date.

Here are the areas we are investigating and planning, and some of our early thoughts:

Personal Protective Equipment (Based on current guidelines)

  • Masks are required for all adults in the community.

  • Toddlers: masks are optional.

  • Primary students: strongly encouraged.

  • LE-MS students: masks are required. The DESE is requiring mask/face covering for students in grades two and above. Because of our student groupings in LE we will extend this requirement to 1st graders.

  • As of this time, face shields have not been approved as a face-covering. The school sees this option as viable if they are approved.

  • Mask breaks are recommended throughout the day when students are outside or in a large open indoor space. DESE will supply further information on mask breaks including frequency and duration.

  • Families must provide their own masks. The School is planning to have a backup supply and also “cool” masks designed for Riverbend.

Student Groupings

  • Physical distancing requirements: to the extent possible students should remain six feet apart.

  • DESE has issued no “required maximums on cohorts or group sizes so long as schools adhere to the physical distance requirements”.

  • We are examining all of our learning spaces to reflect social distancing protocols

  • As of this writing the school will institute groupings as follows: In Children’s House we will adhere as closely as possible to the 1:10 ratio as originally suggested by the state for summer programs. In Lower El, Upper El, based on the square footage and staffing, we will create three groups to keep group sizes manageable. In Middle School we will create two groups.

  • Lunch time-the plan at this time is to eat lunch outside weather permitting. When the weather is inclement students will eat in their classrooms with their cohort in a socially distanced manner.

  • Students are safest when they stay in small consistent groups and the number of adults they interact with is minimized. This reduces the risk of transmission and allows for specific cohorts to quarantine in the event of an infection without requiring the entire school to close.

  • Specialists schedules will be altered to reduce the number of children they interact with daily. The plan for specials is still being developed. At this time we are planning on holding all specials, albeit in altered forms in some cases. PE will operate in the gym and outside with appropriate protocols in place. Specialists will travel to the children where feasible, and some specials will be virtual. Again, we will release more details by division.

Quarantine and Contact Tracing

  • It is vital for parents to be transparent about their travel history and the health of their immediate contacts.

  • All members of the Riverbend community have a shared responsibility to keep our campus safe.

  • The School will adhere to all federal, state and local health issued orders.

  • If someone in your family or close contacts tests positive, it is imperative that you contact Riverbend’s School Nurse, Lisa Slotnick, immediately.

  • Based on the circumstances of the exposure, your child may be asked to stay home for up to 14 days.

  • If there is a case identified at Riverbend, staff or student, the cohort they are a part of will be asked to stay home until further notice and guidance from Natick Board of Health (NBH) will be sought.

  • In the event of an exposure, the School will work closely with the NBH.

  • Lisa Slotnick and several administrators will be trained on how to implement contact tracing procedures.

Logistics and Outdoor Education

  • I have asked faculty members and outdoor education specialists Heather Vinci and Janey Fryer to present the School with a plan for educating all students outdoors on a daily basis. When this is finalized, we will forward details to each division. The goal is to have every division spend some part of their day outside. Exact percentages and schedules are being developed

  • Each building on campus will be its own separate “campus.” Students from other divisions will not be allowed to enter a building in which they do not reside.  

  • There will be no field trips other than to Elm Bank.

  • No outside visitors will be allowed to enter the school unless they have been screened.

  • No group gatherings, including all staff meetings.

  • The School has purchased cameras that will allow lessons to be viewed by students who are not in attendance when school is in session.

  • Children will be asked to bring materials to school that they cannot share such as supplies of pencils, pens, markers, etc. Sharing of materials in the classroom will be limited.

  • There will be daily reminders to the students about hygiene, hand washing and proximity

  • All staff and students will be required to exercise hand hygiene upon arrival at school, before eating, before putting on and taking off masks, after recess and lunch, and before dismissal. 

  • Hand sanitizer will be placed at key locations around the school and in each classroom.

  • The Children’s House conference room will be headquarters for the school nurse. The adjoining office will be the isolation space for any staff or student with symptoms

  • The School is developing an increased cleaning schedule and protocols. Bathrooms will have a specific daily cleaning schedule.

Plans in Development

  • Establishment of specific communications channels with parents, health officials.

  • Once school is reopened, establish a consistent pattern of communication to reinforce safety protocols.

  • Exact pick-up and drop-off scenarios are still in development. We are waiting to see how the new campus will be integrated into these procedures.

  • Plans for early care and aftercare are still being developed. Again we are trying to limit the number of different adults and children each group comes into contact with.

  • Temperature taking protocols: at this time the state is not recommending taking temperatures due to preponderance of false positives. The School does have a supply of thermal thermometers and we will consider if/how best to leverage them.

  • Symptoms (non-Covid) that require students  to be absent from school.

  • Lunch and recess protocols: early thinking here is that much of this will be outside or in the gym with cohorts maintaining the same schedule and time each day for these activities.

Next Steps

  • The School will continue to monitor state, town and trusted health guidelines.

  • We will continue to communicate throughout the summer.

  • Communications will become more granular as information becomes more established.

  • Each division will start to receive specific information about their age group.

We will need the understanding and commitment of the Riverbend Community to get through these times as there will not be a perfect solution. Thanks for your attention to these matters.

Best, Whitney and the RSTF

June 19, 2020 – Board of Directors Update

On behalf of Riverbend’s Board of Directors, we hope that you and your families are safe and well.  We write to you today to offer some reflections and gratitude, and to update you on our current work to ensure that we have learned from this past spring and that we are optimizing to deliver the safest and best possible education for your children next year. 

This past school year began with students joyfully learning and playing together in the classrooms, forest, fields, and farm.  However, our entire community – students, teachers, administrators, parents – has been tested this spring, confronting challenges that are unprecedented for our generation. While facing these challenges, though, the strength of a Riverbend education did shine through. We smiled at stories from parents who described their children making makeshift rugs for their “works” or making schedules for when they would do their “works” each day.  A Montessori education is purposefully designed to develop independent, intrinsically motivated students, and although virtual schooling presented obvious challenges, it did allow students, especially our older students, to apply their independent learning skills. It was a delight to witness the quality of work displayed at virtual presentations such as the Upper Elementary’s Bioscrapbooks and Expert Projects and the Middle School’s Science Fair.

Looking forward to the next academic year, the Riverbend administration, faculty, and Board of Directors will be working closely together, though in different roles.  The administration and teachers concentrate on the operational (“on the ground”) work; school has now been over for two weeks, but they continue to work on progress reports and are shifting into planning for all scenarios that might play out during the next academic year.  The Board’s role is to set “big picture” strategy, and we have created a Strategic Response Group which will meet weekly all summer to ensure that our actions during this pandemic are consistent with our Mission, Philosophy, and Strategic Plan, which can be found here and which were drafted recently with extensive input from parents, teachers, and staff.  Riverbend must take mission-aligned actions that make our school stronger on the other side of the pandemic and that take full advantage of the unique pedagogical tenants of a Montessori education, our small class sizes, our uniquely designed (new!) buildings, and our outdoor spaces. 

We are grateful to parents for their patience this spring throughout the transition to online learning. The school will provide logistical updates as soon as possible, though we ask for continued patience; state guidelines continue to be released and the school must be thoughtful in planning a Montessori education that works within new regulations and for a variety of possible fall scenarios.  

We also want to thank our teachers for their flexibility and dedication. Maria Montessori observed long ago that “what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.” Our school’s Mission is to “develop curious, self-confident, and independent lifelong learners by using Montessori principles to help each child flourish socially and thrive academically.”  Pursuing this mission over the past many weeks required new strategies, which will continue to be honed, but the love from our teachers, and their work to continue to encourage our students’ curiosity and independence, was felt in living rooms across Metrowest. 

Until our next update, thank you for reading, and we wish you a safe and rejuvenating summer!

Sincerely,

The Riverbend Board of Directors Strategic Response Group

Shana Salzano (Board Chair)
Jessica Bauer
Miguel Camargo 
Sarah Spence Adams
Michael Tauer
Elizabeth Milewski
Jane Ventrone 
John Rowe
Whitney Slade (Head of School)

 

June 3, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

As this is the last Wednesday Update the information is an eclectic mix covering a broad range of topics.

First, I want to recognize our graduating Class of 2020. Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. there will be a virtual ceremony followed by an “in-person” presentation of their diplomas. These nine young people are an extraordinary group. They represent our future. I am impressed by their ability to remain close and supportive despite the challenges of being apart since March. In addition, their sense of social justice is well-honed. That characteristic, now more than ever, is essential. The entire Riverbend Community wishes our graduates all the best.

As an educational institution, Riverbend is committed to the concepts of peace, justice, inclusion, and diversity. The school is practicing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) education and training. And, in light of the recent injustices perpetrated around our country, DEI work needs to continue in full force. This year the Riverbend faculty and staff started this journey. The School wrote a Diversity and Inclusion statement (see below), and is working to weave DEI into the everyday fabric of our school and with our children.

During the week of 6/8, the School will conduct a “State of the School” virtual meeting. Our Board Chair, Shana Salzano, CFO Donna Volpe Strouse, and I will present to the community the overall financial picture of the School and be available for any questions. Please watch for details. In addition, please anticipate announcements about next year to Children’s House and Upper School families by the end of the week.

It is with a tinge of sadness that I announce that Alan Cohen will not be returning to the classroom next fall. This does not mean that Alan will be a complete stranger to our campus, as his many talents make him a likely participant in the fabric of school life.

Alan started his career at Eliot Montessori in January of 2001. Since then he has been a staple in the Lower Elementary Community. Countless students and graduates have had the pleasure of being in Alan’s classrooms. Whether cajoling students with his wit and humor, playing music, or making sure their reading skills were first-rate, Alan has always had deep connections with his charges. Alan’s insights into their learning styles and their emotional well-being make him a teacher of whom his students will always have fond memories. In a short span of time, I have come to see Alan as a kind and gentle soul who embodies everything that is good about Montessori education. Alan, thank you for your years of service to Riverbend. We look forward to honoring Alan more formally when we can gather in the fall.

 

Words almost fail me when it comes to how to summarize these past twelve weeks. A world cascading along was dragged asunder by a pandemic, economic collapse, and social unrest. Beautiful children who graced our campus each and every day disappeared across the veneer of a screen. Parents who gleefully dropped their kids off each day to be educated by wonderful Montessorians now became educators within their four walls. The future is uncertain.

But, what I do know is that Riverbend is resilient. Our school is thoughtful and committed. We are seeing opportunities next year. We see two extraordinary new buildings ready to be integrated into our campus. We are planning to keep children healthy, and attend to their academic, social, and emotional welfare. We see our ability to provide education both in and out of school. In short, we are anticipating the uncertainty and preparing for the best. 

Please enjoy the weather of summer, practice good health, and stay tuned for a steady stream of information throughout the summer.

All the best,

Whitney

Riverbend Diversity/Inclusion Statement

Riverbend School believes in the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice in our community. By embracing differences, valuing multiple perspectives, and developing a profound appreciation for our humanity, we hope to ensure that our campus spaces are safe and respectful for all children, families, and employees.  Riverbend School strives to:

  • Create and sustain a diverse community of faculty, staff, students and families

  • Root our Montessori curriculum in developing the whole child, through practicing grace and courtesy, peace education, and multiculturalism

  • Develop our awareness of implicit bias by rejecting stereotypes and prejudice  

  • Promote anti-bias educational practices

  • Appreciate difference and interconnection

  • Guide children to become global citizens who stand up for social justice

May 27, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

The last Wednesday Update will be June 3rd, however it will not be the last messaging  from the School, as we anticipate a steady stream of communication throughout the summer.

Now that the school year is winding down we are already in planning mode for the fall. One priority will be the analysis of the online curriculum. We have interpreted the results of the parent surveys, had many conversations about the strengths and challenges, and we are starting to solicit faculty feedback. The goal is to publish an overview of our findings and what additions will be made in the event we need to return to virtual learning again next year.

We would like to use the month of August to begin to invite students (in the appropriately sized groups), both new and current, back to campus to become reacquainted with their classmates and teachers. We will also have a new traffic flow on campus with the majority of students now in our new buildings on the east side of Rt. 16.

Once we know the size of gatherings allowed, we will communicate a schedule. For current students, August will be the fifth month that they have not seen peers/teachers or been on campus. This time will be well used to reintroduce them to their school, and for many students their new classrooms.

The School is monitoring the health crisis carefully. We have already developed plans for what next year will potentially look like, and we will spend the summer fine-tuning these plans. The goal is to have a comprehensive first draft of the plan that we will release to the Riverbend Community by the end of June.

It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the disruption we have experienced over the last twelve weeks. It has tested everyone’s tolerance for uncertainty. The state mandated the shutdown of schools on March 13th, and no one was prepared for the length of the closure. Next year I anticipate that closing schools will not be as sudden or as prolonged, as we are developing plans to stay open and keep people safe and healthy. The guidelines are not suggesting extended shutdowns.

I will not pretend to be a prognosticator about what the future brings, but I will say that we are preparing for every eventuality by doing our research, remaining flexible, and always striving to improve.

Best, Whitney

May 20, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

As the end of the school year approaches there are loose ends that will require communication and clarification from the School. Communication from this point forward will be targeted and specific to decisions the School is making. Here is the timeline moving forward for our decision making: 

  • Summer Program – Yesterday’s announcement from Gov. Baker about a phased reopening did little to clarify the status of summer programming. We entered Phase 1 yesterday. Decisions by the state about camps will come no sooner than June 8th when at the earliest Phase 2 would start.  The School will make a definitive decision about opening a summer program by the end of next week (May 29th).

  • Closure Response – The School is preparing as if there will be intermittent closures next year. We understand that online programming for younger children is not developmentally appropriate. Riverbend will provide specific plans on how to mitigate the lost time by the end of the first week of June (June 5th).

  • Student Health and Safety – The School is currently assembling our “Reopening of School Task Force” (RSTF). The plan is to meet twice in the coming month to begin to formulate plans for how to safely reopen the school based on the guidelines from the state and other health agencies. Expect more specific information by the end of June (June 26th). 

Between now and the end of school (June 4th) we are planning multiple virtual events, both academic and celebratory. In the Middle School, students are presenting their Science projects where they articulate and defend their hypothesis. In Upper Elementary, sixth grade students will present their Expert Projects over the next three weeks. These presentations represent each student’s year-long research on a chosen topic. On May 28th we will hold our virtual Spring Concert. Planning for each division’s year-end recognitions are underway and details will be forwarded. And lastly Graduation for the Class of 2020 will take place on June 4th.

It is unfortunate that these time-honored traditions will not be witnessed in-person, as they are emblematic of the importance of recognizing transitions, talents, and accomplishments. Yet, the fact we are replicating them virtually shows the respect the School has for our students and their hard work. 

Best, Whitney

 

May 13, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

The weather has finally started to cooperate and actually match the date on the calendar. The sun’s position is the same sun as we experience in August—great warmth and anticipation of a new school year.

Yes, it is that anticipation that gives me hope. Hope that we will be able to welcome your children back to our nurturing spaces, even if we have to practice the new normal guidelines; hope that science will continue to guide our recovery and a cure; hope that school once again becomes the glue that unites our communities. As a perpetual optimist, I do know that in partnership with faculty, parents, and our students, Riverbend will emerge from this crisis with renewed vigor and purpose.

The School continues to plan for next year. As of now, I cannot provide additional specifics, but we are looking at the end of the month as a crucial decision-making point. 

We continue to gather myriad resources to help guide us in what a reopening looks like. These resources will help guide summer camp decisions as well. I am confident, based on the early analysis, that the School has the capacity to keep your children safe and healthy and to deliver on their education.

As I am sure you can tell, this communication is more about cheerleading and raising spirits. I have been buoyed by the quality and engagement of the parent body during our virtual town meetings; the continued commitment of the faculty to provide the best online experience for your children; and the focus and commitment of the administration and Board of Trustees to make decisions that are in the best interest of our community.

Stay well,

Whitney

 

May 6, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

I want to thank the families from Children’s House and Lower Elementary for participating in the virtual Town Meetings. Grace and I appreciated your candor and thoughtful engagement. Upper Elementary and Middle School Town Meetings will take place tomorrow and Friday. Please let us know if you need dial-in information (in Currents May 4th). All the sessions are being recorded and will be forwarded to the community.

Based on the input from those meetings and the evolving information we are receiving from our local and state agencies, the School is determining the correct responses to various divisions of the school. We are mindful of the differences between families of young children and families that have children who are more developmentally self-reliant, and are able to learn in a virtual environment.

With that in mind we continue to work in two parallel directions. The first direction is to determine the balance between families’ needs based on the age of their children, and the fiscal realities of the School. This balance looks different depending on where your child resides at Riverbend. The School has taken a serious look at amending the academic calendar to make up for lost time due to closures. That equation is essentially complete. We are also working on other creative responses, especially for families who need high-quality childcare.

The second direction we are working on is the School’s obligation to keep children safe and healthy, thus we are in the process of creating a “Reopening of School Task Force” (RSTF). This group will consist of members of the school administration, representative(s) from the Board of Directors, medical professionals, and other experts who are familiar with implementing protocols and systems. We are anticipating a new culture of safety when school reopens. Potential new requirements include:

  • Augmented hygiene and cleaning 
  • Screening and prevention protocols such as use of masks and daily temperature checks
  • Social distancing at all age levels, with specific group size ratios
  • Staggered drop off/pick up procedures
  • Protocols for a confirmed case of or exposure to COVID-19

It will be the responsibility of the task force to publish clear and effective guidelines and responses that will be communicated to all members of the community.

We understand that families need clarity about how Riverbend plans to move forward in the event that there are closures next year, as well as a better understanding of what the school will look like in an environment that still faces the threat of illness. We are proceeding vigilantly in our planning and will provide more information in the coming weeks. We recognize the importance of providing this information and, as always, appreciate your patience and understanding.

Best, Whitney

April 29, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

The “new normal” is upon us. Now that Governor Baker has decided that we will be closed for the remainder of the school year, we are shifting into high gear to continue to augment the distance learning program, and begin to prepare for the 20-21 school year.

Phase Three of the online learning program is being introduced this week. Monday in Currents Distance Learning Hubs were rolled out for each division of the School. They contain schedules, resources (both academic and wellness), and learning platforms for all subject areas and specials. The Learning Hubs will continue to be augmented throughout the spring. These hubs are the focal point of the distance learning program for students and parents. Please spend some time looking at the depth of offerings.

The School applied for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan relief and we have received a loan in the amount of just under six hundred thousand dollars. I would like to thank Donna Volpe Strouse and Fadia Brangwynne for their diligence in assembling the numbers for our SBA provider, Wellesley Bank, as we were one of the first institutions to receive their funds. The PPP is for expenses—primarily payroll—and for the eight weeks of any potential disruption small businesses incur. The purpose of these monies is to prevent layoffs as a result of the pandemic. It is the School’s obligation to maintain our workforce and commitment to our faculty and staff. Riverbend made that decision early in this process, as we feel the faculty and staff are the backbone of our program and school community. While the bulk of the funds received must be used for expenses experienced from 4/21/20-6/21/20, it does provide us some flexibility for the 20-21 school year.

Plans for 20-21 School Year
There is a great deal of uncertainty about the trajectory of the virus as we approach the fall. It is probable that next school year we will continue to experience closures of varying lengths and degrees, and this plan reflects that reality. If permitted by the state, Riverbend will open on Thursday, September 3rd. If we are allowed to assemble in-person we will, if not, we will welcome the children virtually. 

Riverbend is preparing to toggle back and forth between teaching children in the building when school is open, and reverting back to our online program when campus is closed. The timing and length of these closures is anyone’s guess.

For Children’s House we will continue to provide online programming. We cannot continue to offer online learning as our only option for parents, so we will need to be creative in how we respond. Responses may include adjusting the school calendar, holding school (if we are open) during February and April break, and/or extending school into the summer months. 

In the Upper School (1-8), where the online program is more robust, we would offer school when we are in session and immediately revert to the online curriculum during closures. Depending on the length of closure we will consider lengthening the school day, hold school during February and April breaks, and if necessary extend school further into June. 

The School recognizes that this format presents different equations for each of the divisions in the School. These details will be spelled out in more specificity under separate cover the week of 5/4.

The School anticipates that there will be an increased demand for financial aid. If this is the case please reach out to Lynn Shevory

We are in the process of developing a School Safety Plan and a School Response Plan to outline Riverbend’s plan to maintain safety within the community, as well as actions the School will take in the event of a recurrence of the virus. These plans will be modeled upon multiple resources including the CDC, our independent school associations, and state and local guidelines. These plans will be published well in advance of the children entering the school buildings.

A series of Virtual Town Meetings will be held during the week of May 4th. The schedule is as follows: 

Children’s House Tuesday, May 5th at noon
Lower Elementary Wednesday, May 6th at noon
Upper Elementary Thursday, May 7th  at noon
Middle School Friday, May 8th at noon

Questions can be asked in advance of the meetings by submitting emails to myself or Grace Yannakakis. We will focus on the trajectory of the online program based on some of the feedback we received from the surveys. In addition, we will do our best to answer questions about summer and 20-21 school year plans. Further instructions on how to participate in the Town Meetings will be sent out Monday in Currents. Until then stay safe.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School


April 22, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

As I am sure most of you know, the Governor has closed schools for the remainder of the academic year (June 29). While most of us anticipated this, the reality of the announcement was tough to swallow. The fact that school will be closed until June signals a new phase in our school year. 

I am saddened, disappointed, but ultimately resigned to make the remainder of the year the best it can be. This is a true test of resilience for all of us. We need to remember our health is the number one priority during these upcoming weeks. 

I actually drove by the school today as I was bringing food to a relative who is unable to leave the house. It is heartbreaking not to see children on campus, the buildings shuttered, and the campus quiet. On a brighter note, the building project continues to make stunning progress, and no one on Rte. 16 was grumpy when the blinking light asked people to stop. It is strange the things we miss.

When school starts on Monday, April 27 we will begin phase three of our online learning curriculum, and will be developing expectations and learning outcomes for the remaining six weeks. Please stay tuned for updates/topics coming out the week of the 27th for our upcoming Town Meetings, and detailed plans for the 2020-21 school year.

The Governor’s announcement stated schools would be closed until the end of the school year, June 29. We are researching what this means for summer camp programming, and assuming that this means summer camp will not start as scheduled on June 15. We will confirm when we have more accurate information.

The very definition of resilience is the ability to recover from a setback. We will get over our disappointment of school being closed, and we will come back renewed and approach the next six weeks with vigor and a positive outlook. Beyond that, I can only see better things for our school—health, joyful children, and the prospect of our community coming together to celebrate our reopening.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School


April 15, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

I hope folks did not lose power for too long. Yes, nature continues to do its thing no matter what else is going on in the world. Again, please take care of yourselves and your families. We are entering a peak time in the trajectory of the virus. There is a silver lining—after a peak, there is always a decline.

Spring break starts next week (April 20-24), and I understand that there may be some questions about why we’re taking a break in this situation. The School closed March 13th, and within several days the faculty began implementation of online programming. Since then, the weeks have been busy, thus I felt the break was necessary.

Upon return from break, Grace and I will be holding a series of virtual Town Meetings with each division of the School. These meetings are a chance for families to learn more about our current thinking, and get responses to common questions.  You will receive details on how to ask your  questions in advance of the meetings. 

The School continues to sift through information about what the future holds. Many of the decisions about school reopening and reentry into our work lives will be dictated by the state. 

Within the next month, the School will put forth a definitive plan for how we will operate, regardless of when we will be allowed to open. This plan will address every aspect of how the School will function. It will include:

  • What a school year looks like if there are further disruptions
  • A differentiation of plans for Children’s House and the Upper School, as the impact of distance learning is different for each population
  • An outline of the steps the School is considering and planning for to keep your children safe

While we hope to see your smiling children’s faces (there will be lots of smiles all around) very soon, the School is practicing prudent risk management. Optimism without a plan is folly. I anticipate an announcement by the State of Massachusetts about the remainder of the school year sometime in the next ten days. 

The School continues to provide resources and opportunities to “socialize” and to give back to the greater community. Please avail yourselves of these opportunities as they fit your capacity to participate. We understand that this health crisis has brought forth many  unforeseen complications, and each family has different circumstances. 

Stay well, try to unplug, as we should all do during  a “normal” vacation week, and practice resilience. My next update will be Wednesday, April 29th.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School


April 8, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

This update continues to evolve as we move into our fourth week. Some of the news is like “Groundhog Day” (great movie if you have not seen it), it does not change, as we look to the end of the month for news about how Massachusetts is going to move forward beyond May 4th. The other aspect of the update is to maintain a healthy outlook with regard to how we keep ourselves healthy, fed, and in a good place, mentally. 

Over the past week we have expanded our outreach to the broader community. The link to the google site on Currents this week is a treasure trove of resources for all our families. In addition, we have started to think beyond our own community to reach out to others in need. Small acts of kindness in these times have an exponential impact. We are looking for ways to connect with our own in big and small ways. Classroom Room Parents have done a nice job of thinking about how to recognize and appreciate our staff, and how to connect with their classrooms, parents, and children.

A huge thank you to our community for the generosity exhibited during our Big Night In online auction. The classroom artwork was particularly poignant, and served as a reminder that we will come together again to create meaningful work. An additional feel good moment was the donation to the Natick Service Council to help support their critical mission. 

Attached you will find a document entitled “RVBS Online Curriculum Engagement.” This document provides an overview of the framework and guiding principles of the online learning program, and the pedagogical approach and learning tools for each level, from Toddler through Middle School.

During the week of April 20th the School will observe the scheduled school vacation. This time will provide some needed downtime for the children, parents, and faculty/staff. With all that everyone is juggling, it will be a respite from the one aspect of the new normal.

The building project continues with minimal delays. The school building is coming together nicely on the inside (with sheet rock on two floors), and siding nearly complete on the exterior. We continue to believe the project will be complete this summer and ready for the start of school in the fall (yes, that will happen).

In closing the week four update, I want to emphasize the School’s commitment to the entire community. While the education of your children is our paramount mission, this health situation has heightened the importance of wellness. For years schools have understood the importance of being ready and able to teach, but often it has not been seen as a necessity. Now we know, wellness is the number one priority. Until next week, be safe.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School


April 1, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

This is week three. The School continues to abide by the state edict to remain closed  until May 4th, and we are  ready to open near to that date if the closure is lifted. We are also continuing to invest in online programs in the event that we remain closed beyond that date.

I have tasked our school nurse, Lisa Slotnick, to remain current on the latest thinking/research about the trajectory of the virus. This information, while still speculative at this point, is beginning to take on some predictive nature that was missing even a week ago. This information will be crucial in anticipating what the School will do once we know when we can reopen. We need to be nimble in our responses due to the changing nature of information.

The Board of Directors has met several times to discuss these matters, in concert with the administration, on how best to move forward. We are looking at every division of the School and devising plans on how to forge ahead. Some of those plans include looking into the summer months and how the School can best support Riverbend families. 

The Board agreed to support the administration’s request to continue to pay our teachers and staff through the remainder of the school year. This is a testament to the vital role the faculty and staff plays in keeping the engine that is Riverbend fully stoked and functioning. 

I have “sat in” on every divisional teacher meeting the past two weeks and I continue to be impressed with how well our teachers know your children. This is an unprecedented situation, but our teachers continue to provide the level of care—and an appreciation of the inner workings of children and their families—to best understand how to support your children. While the classroom does not have walls, the virtual landscape has not deterred our teachers from continuing to nurture and educate all Riverbend children. We recognize that having your children at home is not an optimal scenario, and we appreciate families’ situations as we move through this unsettling space.

In next week’s Wednesday Update we will provide a detailed overview of the current state of the online program. The School has increased designated funds to support teachers in their efforts to add depth and longevity to the online curriculum.

In the coming weeks, I anticipate more concrete responses to families who have reached out with questions about the plans moving forward. I appreciate the community’s patience at this time. The School needs to be thoughtful and we must be sure we have specific plans and complete answers before proceeding, in an effort to remain transparent.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School


March 25, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

As we enter week two of the “new normal” I am struck by how abnormal this is, but I am also beginning to find a routine within this new reality. This week has been a time of reframing one’s thoughts and working to make the most out of each and every day.

As of this writing, the school is still closed until April 7th. I suspect there will be an announcement from the state in the next few days that will extend the closure.  We are operating under the assumption that there is a strong possibility we will be closed until June. We continue to monitor updates from the state and the CDC.

If you have driven by the school in recent days it is a silent place. But behind the scenes, there is a lot going on. 

  • Teachers continue to provide work to their students and continue to develop online platforms. 
  • A platform called Seesaw was implemented this week for our youngest students. 
  • We will be rolling out a program called Learning Ally which provides leveled reading resources for students kindergarten through grade 8. 

The goal of online learning is to provide work over the long term that looks to advance (vs. maintain) the curriculum at a pace that is conducive to the online environment and the needs of the individual child.

The school administration continues to meet twice weekly as a group, and I maintain check-ins with individual administrators, and also conference into teacher workgroups. In addition, I maintain contact with the Board of Directors and their various committees. We continue to follow the evolving situation and will continue to provide timely information as it comes available. 

The building project proceeds under the new state guidelines. 

  • Inspectors from the town continue to work with us to move the project forward. 
  • The MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) rough-ins continue on all three floors of the school building. 
  • The third floor is now ready for sheetrock. 
  • On the outside, the siding is moving quickly. 
  • The gym is weathertight and the preparation for the siding has begun. Our hope is that the project can be completed without interruption.

As the cases of the virus continue to increase, I suspect people in our community will be affected. The school, as per DPH, will not be notified if there is a case in our community. The BOH/DPH will deal directly with the affected case. If a family wishes to let us know please reach out to Lisa Slotnick or me. Our aim is to be supportive, not intrusive.

The majority of our students are working online. The teachers will be reminding their students that they should maintain proper online etiquette when engaging with their classmates. The expectations of online behavior are the same as in school behavior. We expect students to be respectful and kind at all times. Parents please reinforce this with your child(ren).  

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, this is certainly a test of that phrase. During my series of meetings this week with teachers, administrators, and parents, I am struck by how much I miss our school, and especially the children. I hear tales of teachers and their interactions with their children and how those interactions are good for the soul-theirs and ours. We are living in unique times and will need novel thinking to get where we need to go-a strong and resilient Riverbend.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School


March 18, 2020 Update

Dear Riverbend Community,

First and foremost I want to extend our wishes that your families are staying healthy. These are unprecedented times, but one thing we need to keep in mind are the basic values of humanity that we hold dear: the health of our family, support for friends and community, our faith and positive outlook.

We will continue to update the community each Wednesday (more frequently if necessary) as we established last week.

Even since Friday, things have changed rapidly, and I suspect they will continue to evolve. Families are looking to the School for answers: When will we reopen? How long can we educate children remotely and effectively? What does the School plan to do, should the closure extend beyond the current mandate? These are all good questions. Our plan at this point is to operate on two planes.

The first is to continue to roll out and augment the online learning platforms. This will be effective as long as folks stay healthy on both ends of that equation. We feel online learning does two things: it maintains a sense of normalcy and makes it easier for families to abide by social distancing mandates. This week the teachers have participated in several professional development opportunities to get up to speed on platforms that target their specific age groups. 

The second plane the School is operating on is trying to anticipate the effect of a possible prolonged closure. The estimates of how long vary from six weeks to the remainder of the year. This is something the School is monitoring closely, and our responses will vary based on the length of closure. There are a host of ideas on the table, from the short term of cancelling April Break if we are open, to extending the School into the summer. Contingencies are being developed for all possible outcomes. Today, I cannot be definitive on these scenarios, but the School will be transparent with the community as we formulate plans.

We are looking into ways to allow the community to stay connected. The obvious choice is social media. The administration is in daily contact and meets twice weekly as a whole to look at short- and long-term planning. Communication is a topic that is front and center.

In the beginning of February, Riverbend unveiled plans for a new parent volunteer structure aptly titled the “Power of Community.” This sentiment is more powerful than ever. We have families from over twenty communities, and it may be some time before we convene again in-person. Please be a part of your communities in ways that make you feel strong. The School is making efforts to stay strong and we hope to be a beacon for you and your children.

Best,
Whitney Slade, Head of School

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