…the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s own people and God will be ever with them and will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning crying and pain will be no more… for God says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Book of Revelation, Chapter 21
Dear Alumnae, Parents, and Girls,
These words from scripture reveal a sublime image of an inventive God who assures believers that they are not alone in their suffering. The Book of Revelation was written around the year ninety to the early Christians, who were enduring severe persecution by the Roman emperor Domitian. Despite the lapse of over twenty centuries, the promise of God’s capacity to "make all things new," continues to offer consolation to all of us who now need to navigate lives overshadowed by the threat of the pandemic, and by the urgent necessity of responding to social injustice.
Attending to these two challenges, ensuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff and reaffirming the school’s commitment to being an anti-racist community, has been the work of faculty and staff as we readied the school to welcome back the girls in September.
These efforts were supported by so many of you who responded to the needs of the school through your donations to the Annual Fund, the Relief Fund, and through your many contributions of time, advice and expertise as we planned for safely opening school.
The Relief Fund was established in response to the pandemic and allowed us to make important investments for students, including financial assistance for a number of families experiencing hardship. This fund also supported technological upgrades to strengthen Distance Learning and enabled the school to enroll each faculty member in OneSchoolhouse, an online professional development school. All faculty spent the summer improving their skills in designing their courses for Distance Learning, if needed.
In addition to these enhancements, your generosity has also enabled Facilities and IT teams to upgrade the wiring and Wi-Fi infrastructure to support classroom instruction and to purchase cutting edge technology for virtual and in-person instruction. Additionally, ventilation systems for all areas of the school were upgraded to meet or exceed state pandemic guidelines.
The work of "making all things new" began last March and continued all summer. Several groups of teachers, the Scheduling Team, the Distance Learning Task Force, and the Fall Opening Task Force met twice each week. They were charged with designing our new learning reality. They organized students into cohorts and created 93 instructional spaces allowing for students to remain six feet apart while in class. Undaunted by the complexity of reorganizing every aspect of the school day, the redesign teams responded with alacrity, creating ways of maintaining the hallmarks of a Sacred Heart education, care for the individual girl, high academic standards and a joyful spirit of community.
The girls in grades 5, 8, 9 and 12 are scheduled to arrive on September 8th; those in grades 6, 7, 11 and 10 will arrive on September 9th. Prior to arriving on campus, all students will be tested for the virus. We have partnered with the Broad Institute and the Cambridge Innovation Center to provide weekly COVID testing for all of our students, faculty and staff.
The fifth, sixth and eighth grade will use the Martin Center. The Arches Gym and band room are reserved for seventh grade. The Upper School will be located in the 1925 building. Class schedules and arrival and dismissal times will be staggered to allow for less density as students enter and leave campus. Outdoor relaxation time is built in to every day, and faculty are working to incorporate outdoor class time whenever appropriate.
Every member of our community is required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing while on campus. Keeping everyone in the school community safe will require the cooperation and integrity of all. If a student is not able to cooperate with school norms for safe participation, she will need to move to remote instruction. For the school to continue bringing students to campus, all families and students will need to support the spirit of the COVID guidelines in all their activities, even while not on campus. Engaging in risky behavior jeopardizes the health of all members of the community. Sacred Heart schools were founded on gospel principles which call us to "Love our neighbor as ourselves." This love often constrains doing what one might prefer for the sake of another, and it may require sacrificing convenience and comfort to protect others. The school relies on our families to help the girls accommodate themselves to the requirements of safe in -and- out of school conduct during the pandemic.
Should we find ourselves having to shift to Distance Learning once again, the lessons of the spring coupled with our logistics planning and adaptive class scheduling should provide the girls with a seamless transition and full support. Our FAQ on reopening gives a detailed picture of what students can expect now and as we move forward.
Certainly, while the tasks of ensuring the safety of the school community and reimagining the daily life of the school were serious priorities this summer, in many ways the responsibility to respond to the outcry for racial justice made a greater claim on the school’s need "to make all things new."
In the wake of the violent deaths of so many men and women of color this summer, many of our students and alumnae reached out to the school to express their concern with school policies and practices that were insensitive and exclusionary. Following two very candid Zoom calls with alumnae, the school reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening its stance against racism. In its recent self-study in preparation for its accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Newton Country Day determined to take several steps on behalf of diversity, equity, and inclusion. These steps include, actively recruiting a more diverse faculty, staff and student body; examining the curriculum to ensure representation of a diversity of experience; strengthening opportunities for diverse cultural enrichment; and continuing to provide faculty with professional development in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In response to the alumnae and student concerns expressed this summer, the school is adding anti-racism to our Mission Statement; created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion page for our website; added a position Director of Constituent Relations, with particular attention to the Middle School and their families; participated in a faculty/trustee diversity self-assessment inventory; strengthened the Religious Studies, English, and History curricula to include more opportunities for study and discussion of racism. At the initiative of alumnae, the school plans to inaugurate a mentoring program for students, pairing current students with alumnae of color. These steps are only the beginning of what will be a continuing effort.
The first steps to educate our community on how to openly and productively engage conversations about race involve:
- Faculty, staff, and trustees completed an IDI assessment (Intercultural Development Inventory) in August. As we await the results, we are discussing ways to make the NCDS experience a more equitable one. Based on the results of the assessments, we will design enrichment experiences to meet our faculty and staff where they are and to help guide them along the spectrum towards multicultural understanding.
- This fall, students, faculty and staff will take the National Association of Independent School Assessment on Inclusion and Multiculturalism Survey. This survey is meant to serve as an institutional benchmark for how we can continue to improve the experiences of multicultural students and faculty and staff.
- This year, the AISNE Diversity Conference will be entirely virtual. We are preparing to have a representative group of faculty and students participate to increase awareness of DEI issues among the community of the school. This group will be coordinated by Brittany Borders ’04, who has rejoined our staff as our Director of Constituent Relations. Part of her portfolio is to design and implement Diversity and Equity initiatives specifically for Middle School students and their parents.
- Jacklyn Burgo ’01, our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, coordinates the DEI program for parents and students in the Upper School. She is also working with our Director of Alumnae Relations, Amanda Power ’07, to develop an Alumnae of Color Network that will form the foundation of a mentorship program between current students and working professionals. This will be loosely modeled after the iMentor format and will launch virtually.
Undoing racism, making known the love of the heart of Jesus, and inviting each member of the school community to realize her or his gifts and talents is the work to which we are all called. With the help of our creator God who makes all things, particularly our hearts, new, let us move courageously and confidently into the future.