The 2020-2021 school year has begun and while we are excited to have our students back on campus, we will continue to evolve our planning in response to the constantly changing landscape of COVID-19. To be sure, we are making the best decisions for our school community. Fulfilling our mission while keeping our community safe remains our highest priorities, and although our campus will look and feel different this fall, we know that our students, faculty, staff, and families will respond to the challenge in inspiring ways. We will seek to engage our core value of ceaseless devotion to a mighty task, which calls on us to nurture the desire to dream, the courage to persevere, and the will to achieve, as we continue to make decisions with the following goals as our guiding principles:
We will continue to make decisions with the following goals:
The fall will be a different experience, changing how we learn and engage with each other. By committing to the mighty tasks in front of us, we can ensure a safe, successful, and sustained return to campus. At Mercersburg, we’re all in this together, and we will make the sacrifices necessary to live and learn as one community. Our promises:
All students will have access to an incredible educational experience, regardless of whether or not they are able to physically be on campus with us.
Our faculty are trained and prepared to offer online courses that build off the success of the spring’s Virtual ’Burg, ensuring that we are offering the best online academic experiences for our students, when and if we need it.
Should we be forced to go virtual for a period of time equivalent to one term, we will be prepared to offer tuition credits/refunds in alignment to the tuition announced for our online learning option.
Fully Remote Learning Option
We have remained committed to providing remote learning for any student who is limited from being on campus due to travel restrictions or medical reasons. While most families have sent their child(ren) back to campus, we acknowledge that for a limited number of families, virtual may be a preferred option for one term or even for the entire academic year. Mercersburg Academy is offering all families the option for their student(s) to engage with our program fully online. This option is offered on a per-term basis and will allow families to pay a reduced tuition by term. Details of that option can be found in the Academic Plan section.
Academic Plan 2020-2021
We are excited to announce that we have adjusted our class schedule in order to make the best use of time during the 2020-2021 school year, allowing students deep and meaningful learning, the opportunity to earn more credits, and the convenience of being able to select in-person or virtual learning by term.
As noted, Mercersburg is offering a full online learning option, Virtual ’Burg 2.0, for the 2020-2021 academic year for students that are unable to attend in-person (due to visas, travel restrictions, etc.) or for whom in-person learning is deemed by the family to be unsafe or undesirable. Families have the choice of having their child(ren) attend Mercersburg in person or virtually for each of the three academic terms (fall, winter, and spring).
Health and Safety Expectations
Because the landscape for COVID-19 is variable by region, the school is developing on-campus health and safety levels.
Mercersburg Academy launched Storm Watch, a safe campus initiative, at the beginning of the pandemic. Throughout the spring and early summer, this group was fully immersed in the planning of a safe return to campus for students in the fall. The primary role of this group is to examine, research, and analyze proactive and reactive opportunities for protecting the Mercersburg Academy community in the face of invasive contagions on our campus (like COVID-19), and how to most effectively prepare for and manage these threats if and when they occur. Storm Watch completed their recommendations in early July and implementation teams across campus have been working to ensure that the campus is ready for our students.
Relaxed Mitigation Practices
Risk of transmission is no longer a threat and the pandemic is over. Campus is open for in-person learning and activities, and health and safety protocols are lifted.
Low Mitigation Practices
Risk of transmission is low, isolated or at seasonal only levels. Campus is open for in-person learning and activities, and offers an online learning option for students. Health and safety protocols are lifted with certain exceptions.
Strictest Mitigation Practices
Risk of transmission is at its highest level. Campus is closed, students return home, and the school implements its virtual learning protocols.
*Levels are determined in part by mandates from national, regional, and local officials.
SCHOOL REOPENING AND HEALTH AND SAFETY PLAN
Academics: Jen Smith ’97, Dean of Academics
Alumni campus visits/regional events: Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations
Health/wellness/counseling: Rutherford Health and Wellness Center
Student and residential life: Chris Howes, Assistant Head of School for Student Life and Culture
Tuition, enrollment, and the application process: Anna Crouch, Director of Admission
Visa and international travel: Michelle Shuman, Admission Operations Coordinator
Other: Julie Maurer ’90, Associate Head of School for School Life
NATIONAL AND STATE UPDATES
Dear parents and students,
We are so excited to welcome you back in the coming days. We know you have received a lot of communications from us, but we did want to directly address the logistics of our move-in days on September 9, 10, and 11.
For returning families, this process will look very different and we appreciate your patience and flexibility as we lay out what we feel is the safest path. To assist you with this new process, we have included a campus map that shows the route to take when you enter campus. You will be given a card upon arrival that will be stamped at each stop listed below. These stamps help our faculty and staff confirm that you have completed each stop before students are allowed to enter the dormitories.
Before coming to campus:
- Please complete pre-arrival forms (School Policy, Magnus, COVID-19 Waiver) found on the parent portal.
- Students: please fill out the Daily Health Check in the AUXS Safety app.
- Parents: please also fill out the Daily Health Check at this link.
- Please do not come to campus without completing all the forms or if you or anyone in your family is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
When you arrive on campus, you will drive to each stop. Please note that families will remain in their vehicle at all times, unless otherwise directed to exit.
- -All families and students will enter campus at the Academy Drive entrance off Pennsylvania Route 16 (Buchanan Trail West) and check in at the new Visitor Check-In on Sycamore Lane.
- -At the Visitor Check-In, families will identify themselves and be given information on the flow of traffic and steps to take before entering the dormitories.
- -Day students will receive a welcome bag at this stop.
- -Students living abroad will drop off I-20 forms.
- -Tip: If anyone in your vehicle needs to use the restroom, be sure to pull off by the Hale Field House and use the restrooms in the lobby before proceeding to Stop 2.
- -All families will proceed to the Hale Field House parking lot and follow the path in this map.
- -During this stop, families will visit three tents:
- IT Tent: Students will be asked if they have downloaded the two school health and safety apps (TRACE and AUXS).
- Health Center Tent: Meet our Health and Wellness Center staff, including new Director of Health and Wellness Services Dr. Laura Nickerson!
- Document Drop-off Tent: Students may hand in any other forms the school needs.
- -All families will proceed to the Lloyd Aquatic Center loop.
- -At the Aquatic Center, students only will exit their vehicles and receive their COVID-19 test.
- -Families with medications to drop off should proceed to the front of the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center to drop off medications with staff members in front of the building. All other vehicles will proceed forward to their student’s dormitory.
- -Once tested, boarding students will get back in their vehicle and proceed around the loop to their assigned dorm. Day students will return to their vehicle and exit campus.
Stop 4 (Dormitory):
- -We ask that parents remain in their vehicle during dormitory drop-off. We understand this is an inconvenience, but after much consideration and consultation with health experts, we feel this is the safest plan for re-entry.
- -We will have faculty and staff on hand ready to help move student belongings into dorms.
- -Room and dresser keys, plus a welcome bag, will be in student rooms upon arrival. New students’ Blue Cards will also be available in their dorm room.
- -Once your student is moved in, please exit campus.
Please note that parents may use the restrooms in the Hale Field House if needed. Additionally, if families have questions or concerns, faculty and staff throughout the route will assist you.
Again, we thank you for your patience and flexibility as we navigate this very difficult time. We are trying to do our best in upholding Mercersburg’s warm and friendly environment while adhering to health and safety recommendations.
Take care and we look forward to seeing you soon,
Christopher M. Howes
Assistant Head of School for Student Life and Culture
Dear parents and students,
As we have mentioned in our previous communications, as part of our back to school COVID-19 protocol, all students will enroll and install two COVID-19 related smartphone apps that will assist in the health and safety of everyone in our community. The apps run on all Apple and Android smartphones.
The first app is School Safety App by AUXS. This app will be used twice daily by all students to record a health check of any possible symptoms they may have related to COVID-19. Students are expected to complete the form in the app once in the morning and once again at evening check-in. It is a quick and easy process to complete each time.
The second app, TRACE, is a private electronic proximity contact tracing system. TRACE Innovations has partnered with Dartmouth College to build a tool that private organizations like Mercersburg can utilize. It requires no user intervention after installation other than making sure it is running on the device. The app uses Bluetooth technology to log when any Mercersburg Academy community member is six feet away or less from another for 15 minutes or more (in accordance with CDC guidelines as of August 25 which define a "Contact"). The data collected is held in a database for 14 days before being deleted. If any community member tests positive or is symptomatic, the Health and Wellness Center will be able to see who was in "contact" with the individual.
TRACE is a very basic system that only tracks contact with others nearby and at what date/time the contact was made. No other information is recorded or accessed from the device.
In the coming days, the invitation to join the AUXS Safety App and instructions on how to install the TRACE contact app will be sent to the student's Mercersburg email account. Parents, please take a moment to help them install both apps. Students should start completing the AUXS health check form before coming to campus so they can familiarize themselves with how it works.
On the day of registration, students should first complete the health check form that morning and then turn the TRACE app on. Lastly, students with international phone numbers should consider swapping their SIM cards to a U.S. number once in the U.S. The Office of Student Life can assist students with this when they arrive on campus.
If you have any questions about the apps, please contact the Office of Technology at email@example.com.
Director of Information Technology
The conversation about the reopening of schools is a news headline heard around the world as the global outbreak continues to threaten the traditional educational landscape of the United States and beyond. The safe return to learning for young people and the adults that support them, while critical for so many reasons, has proven to be a great challenge in all communities, including at Mercersburg Academy. The distinct culture, environment, geography, and strength of resources at Mercersburg, however, have uniquely positioned the school to respond differently than many other educational institutions that are also navigating these uncharted waters.
After conducting its spring 2020 academic term entirely online, Mercersburg Academy has spent the last five months partnering with public-health and medical experts and community members to formulate detailed plans for the hopeful return of the student body to campus. Mercersburg is excited to announce that it will welcome students back for in-person learning at the start of the fall 2020 term.
“I am incredibly proud of our faculty, staff, alumni, and members of our Board of Regents, who have been working and planning for months to develop a healthy and safe environment for our students to return to,” says Head of School Katie Titus. “The pandemic is not something any of us predicted, and while it’s been challenging making decisions as the landscape of understanding of the virus continues to evolve, I am confident we have done everything we can to create safe spaces for our faculty to teach, our students to learn, and our community to come together. We are devoted to this mighty task and will continue to evaluate, shift, and prioritize for as long as we need to.”
Classes are scheduled to begin Monday, September 14. Of the 438 students enrolled, 65 students have either chosen to remain home, or have been forced to learn from afar because of visa issues and international travel restrictions, and attend classes online for the fall term through an enhanced distance learning program known as Virtual ’Burg. The school has shaped its academic calendar to include the flexibility to confront the many different potential circumstances of the year ahead—including the launch of a new academic program, the Mercersburg Intensive, which is a structured four-week academic experience with a variety of course offerings centered around the school’s 2020-2021 theme of “Making a Difference.”
Along with having an entire term of teaching virtually under their belts, the school’s faculty and staff have also engaged in a number of professional-development opportunities related to online learning, including extensive training for all teachers with Katie Martin of Altitude Learning on the optimal design of course delivery enhanced for distance learning. Additionally, a number of faculty attended two different online courses from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education: “Designing Virtual Learning Environments” and the “New School Models Design Lab,” and a large group of faculty and staff have pursued an examination of bias, equity, and justice in specialized sessions facilitated by Jen Cort Educational Consulting.
As Mercersburg confidently faces the wild storm waves ahead, it will remain vigilant in monitoring all local, regional, and national trends, as well as new developments related to the pandemic, to ensure it is anticipating and appropriately responding to whatever the coming months may bring. Although it is exciting to signal the school’s plans to reopen to in-person learning, Mercersburg also recognizes that any number of external factors could force the school to move entirely online. Should that need arise, along with any other challenges, Mercersburg will also rise and leverage the tireless work of its community to provide the meaningful and transformative experience it has delivered to students for 127 years.
More information about the school’s opening is on the school’s website as well as the school’s Reopening Health and Safety Plan that was submitted to the State of Pennsylvania for review.
Dear parents and guardians,
We hope this letter finds you and your family healthy and ready for your child's return to campus. We are all in agreement that ensuring your child's safety is–and continues to be–the overarching goal for the 2020-2021 academic year.
To that end, we know you may have questions regarding the COVID-19 test and we hope this communication will help answer those questions. First, it will be required that all students who are returning to learn on campus (as well as faculty and staff) obtain a nasal or oral pharyngeal swab PCR test for COVID-19 within 10-14 days before your child’s arrival date to campus. Please note, we encourage families to try and get the test done within five days of returning to school for most accurate results. This test is the most reliable compared to a rapid or antigen test (which is currently estimated to be only 40 percent reliable) or an antibody blood test (which detects past history of COVID-19 infection). The required PCR test will help us to identify current COVID-19 infections and institute risk mitigation measures to prevent and/or contain the spread of positive cases in our community.
There are two ways in which to receive a PCR test.
- Health Care Provider
You may work with your health care provider or an Urgent Care center to obtain an order for the PCR test. Results from the test typically take 7-10 days from the date of the test. Please ask your health care provider to complete the form attached to this email (if they do not have their own form) with the results of the test and other important information. Once you have this information, you will need to upload the form to the Magnus Electronic Medical Record located in the parent portal before your child returns to campus. If your child's test is positive, you will need to call the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center at 717-328-6136 to speak with a nurse who will work directly with you to determine a safe plan for return to school.
* If you are a day student, you have an option to receive a test from our medical partner, Meritus Medical Center, through their drive-thru testing area. The best time to drive-thru the testing area is Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You will need to sign up for the My Chart patient portal to access your test results and upload that information to the Magnus Electronic Medical Record located in the parent portal before your child returns to campus.
** If you are an international or domestic student who plans to quarantine on campus prior to September 4, we will pre-test you here on campus using the QualiTox kits.
- Mailed Test Kit
For families that are having trouble locating a test in their area, the school can provide a test kit. The school has partnered with Physician Core Care and QualiTox Laboratories of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to provide an accurate and trusted method for PCR testing of our students for COVID-19. If you choose this option, please email the health center at firstname.lastname@example.org before August 20 and provide the address to which we will mail the kit. A kit containing all of the forms and supplies you will need will be sent to that address along with instructions.
*If you are an international student arriving in the U.S. and quarantining for 14 days at a friend or relative’s home or a hotel, please provide the mailing address, email, and the dates you will be at that location when you respond to the health center so we can mail the kit to that address. Please provide an email address also. Kits can not be mailed internationally.
Thank you for your continued support as we navigate the evolving nature of the pandemic. We look forward to reopening campus safely and seeing you soon.
Rita Barone, BSN, RN, NCSN
Health and Wellness Center Director
As announced in last week’s parent sessions, dorms will be open for families to drop off items in student rooms from Saturday, August 15, to Thursday, August 20. If you are able to drive to campus and back home in a day's time, please consider this option to drop items off ahead of registration to help manage densification on those days.
Please use the following links to sign-up for a time to bring your items to campus:
New students are able to view their dorm assignments in their Veracross student portal. If you have specific questions about your housing assignments, contact Coleman Weibley, assistant dean of students, at email@example.com.
Guidelines for dropping off belongings:
- -Please be sure that you come to campus symptom-free and healthy in order to help keep your family and Mercersburg employees healthy. If you or your helpers answer yes to any of the following, you should stay home and reschedule:
- Have you been in close contact with anyone with confirmed COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
- Are you currently experiencing or have you experienced any of these symptoms in the last 14 days?
- Fever greater than 100.4°
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent dry cough
- -Please wear your own face covering (e.g, mask or bandana) when in the buildings.
- -We ask that you bring a maximum of three people to campus with you (i.e., student and two parents) and that you follow physical-distancing guidelines (maintain a distance of 6 feet) between you and other families or faculty when you are here.
- -If you need assistance on the day of your scheduled drop-off, contact the Dean on Duty at 717-860-0488.
Thank you for helping us to keep our community healthy and safe, and for your flexibility as we open school for the fall.
Assistant Head of School for Student Life and Culture
Dear parents and students:
With the 2020-2021 school year on the horizon, we continue to evolve our planning in response to the constantly changing landscape of COVID-19. Fulfilling our mission while keeping our community safe remains our highest priority, and although our campus will look and feel different this fall, we know that our students, faculty, staff, and families will respond to the challenge in inspiring ways. We will seek to engage our core value of ceaseless devotion to a mighty task, which calls on us to nurture the desire to dream, the courage to persevere, and the will to achieve, as we continue to make decisions with the following goals as our guiding principles:
- - To maximize the extraordinary benefits of our unique mission as a boarding and day school during a global pandemic;
- - To minimize the health risks for our community during a pandemic that poses serious risk for some members of our school family; and
- - To promote a fair and equitable experience for all students that aligns fully with our school values.
With these goals in mind, today we are communicating two important developments in our planning for the year ahead:
- The school will offer a fully online option, Virtual ’Burg 2.0, term by term, for any student who cannot travel to campus or whose family determines that the health risks of coming to campus are too great. All families will be required to notify the school of their plans for the fall by Monday, July 27, via this questionnaire found on the parent portal on Veracross.
- Option A: Maintain current enrollment and tuition for on-campus learning.
- Option B: Choose to enroll in the school’s distance learning program, Virtual ’Burg 2.0, for the fall term. For students who choose a term of Virtual ’Burg, full boarding tuition will be reduced by $7,000 per term and day tuition will be reduced by $2,000 per term, with appropriate adjustments to reflect financial-aid awards. Any student who elects to enroll in Virtual ’Burg 2.0 for a term will not be allowed to visit campus during the duration of the term. These tuition adjustments reflect that families will be paying 66 percent of boarding tuition and 84 percent of day tuition when electing the virtual learning experience. Should the school be forced to pivot to virtual learning for all students at any point during the year, we will use these tuition reductions to guide our tuition credits for families.
To provide as much flexibility as possible for our families, we will allow you to determine your learning choice—on-campus or distance learning, term by term. The current dates by which families must indicate their choice for the winter and spring terms are October 15 and January 15, respectively.
- We are excited to announce that we will implement a block schedule, divided into three terms, for the coming year. The 2-1-2-2 plan means that students will complete:
- 2 courses in the fall term,
- 1 Mercersburg Intensive course from November 16 to December 16,
- 2 courses in the winter, and
- 2 courses in the spring term.
This adjusted class schedule will optimize our goal of providing a highly flexible, deep learning program while supporting both on-campus and distance learning. From a health perspective, it will also help us minimize the exposure any community member might have in a given school day, helping us to better control the spread of germs.
Our Return to Campus website has been updated to help you find and sort through important information. But as always, do not hesitate to be in touch with us on campus to seek guidance on your specific circumstances.
We remain hopeful that we will see many of you in a little over a month. In the meantime, be well.
With gratitude for your continued support and partnership,
Katie Titus P ’20 ’23
Head of School
First, thank you for taking the time to complete the family survey after our July 1 communication. As you know, we are working very hard to be sure that we are making the best decisions for our school community while navigating an evolving landscape. I want you to know that all of our decisions are working toward the following goals:
- To maximize the extraordinary benefits of our unique mission as a boarding school during a global pandemic;
- To minimize the health risks for our community during a pandemic that poses serious risk for some members of our school family;
- To promote a fair and equitable experience for all students that aligns fully with our school values.
With that in mind, today's communication is designed to respond to the most pressing and consistent questions that relate to the fall and next year, especially in light of tuition payments being due on Wednesday, July 15. While most of our domestic students and families indicate high confidence in returning to on-campus learning, we recognize that our international students are faced with complexities that are layered and distinctive, and with recent immigration policies being renewed or established, even the process of travel to the United States may be impossible for some. I encourage you to read this letter carefully, and to review the FAQs on our website.
As a parent—with one child headed to her first year of college, and a day student returning to Mercersburg Academy—I can fully relate to the uncertainties we all have about our children's educational experience next year. You will not hear from me overconfident platitudes about how wonderful it will be to return to on-campus learning in the fall. Are we excited to see our students? Yes! Do I believe that being back together is better than the alternative? Absolutely! But, will it be different and hard in other ways? It will. Will we be able to deliver on our unique mission? I am confident that we will.
I believe that our students and our community are capable of making the sacrifices that are necessary for us to have the privilege of living and learning together. I also believe that our community will ensure that for any student who is limited from being on campus for travel or health reasons, our community will work even harder to ensure that their experience is one of exceptional value. Below are our promises to all of you:
- All students will have access to an incredible educational experience, regardless of whether or not they are able to physically be on campus with us. In addition, we continue to explore the viability of offering a fully online option for those who prefer that option for a term or, potentially, the full year. We will communicate a decision about a fully online option by next week. Parents who wish to await final word on this option may request an extension on tuition payment by emailing Lori Cooper.
- We already know that we will be engaged in fully online learning between the Thanksgiving and December holiday breaks. Our faculty are training throughout the summer and more intensely in the three weeks leading to the start of school to be prepared to offer online courses that build off the success of the spring's Virtual 'Burg, ensuring that we are offering the best online academic experiences for our students. Should we be forced to go virtual for any other portion of the school year, our program will be designed to deliver on our educational promise.
- Should we be forced to go virtual for a period of time equivalent to a term, we will be prepared to offer tuition credits/refunds, at a minimum, in alignment to what we offered this year.
Below are a few new details we would like to highlight today. If you have a question that is not reflected here, please see our FAQs. If your question is more specific to your individual family situation, please contact one of the following people to schedule a conversation.
- -Visa and international travel questions: Michelle Faust, Admissions Operations Coordinator
- -Student and residential life/Health: Chris Howes, Assistant Head of School for Student Life and Culture
- -Academics: Jen Smith, Dean of Academics
- -Tuition and enrollment: Anna Crouch, Director of Admission
- -Other: Julie Maurer, Associate Head of School for School Life
In closing, we know this continues to be a difficult time for many. We continue to be committed to partnering with our families to deliver on our three primary goals: to deliver on our mission, protect those in our community who are most vulnerable, and live our values through our decisions. We hope you will join us for our family webinars next week so that we can answer more of your questions.
With great faith,
Katie Titus P '20, '23
Head of School
Dear parents and students,
From the outset of this pandemic, we have been determined to make the best decisions for our school community with the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding COVID-19. We continue to monitor the information provided by the State of Pennsylvania, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and our community experts. Every day, as states across the country are adjusting restrictions, we continue to learn more about what is necessary to keep our community safe. Our top priority remains the health of our students, faculty, and staff, while also focusing on how to return to campus learning this fall. While we recognize that at any time circumstances outside of our control could dictate a different plan of action, today we announce our current plan to fully welcome all students to on-campus learning this fall. We are prepared to provide responses to only the most critical questions at this time, knowing that the coming weeks will continue to inform our planning. Between now and the start of school, we will send updates every two weeks.
While for many of you, this current decision to return to on-campus learning is welcome news and may bring a sense of relief at a time of uncertainty, I also want to acknowledge that some of you will have lingering concerns. If we are going to open campus to our students, we must see this opportunity as a privilege, and with that privilege will come newfound responsibility. We will all need to embrace our responsibility to our school family with a willingness to alter our behaviors, making personal social sacrifices in order to protect our privilege of living and learning together. I know this is something that our community is prepared to do and I am confident in our ability to meet that challenge together.
After you review the information on our website, we are asking all families to complete one questionnaire that will be emailed to you separately from this letter. We need to hear from you to understand your additional questions so that we can be sure that we are addressing your needs in the coming weeks. Our next communication Monday, July 13, will convey our next set of decisions and respond to additional questions.
We remain grateful to our families for your continued support, patience, and trust. At Mercersburg, we are committed to helping our students to “develop a determination to lead and serve the world.” Never before has our promise been more important than in the current climate of our world today. Our students give me hope in the future, and Mercersburg Academy is determined to lead in this unique educational moment to ensure our students have what they need to meet the challenges ahead.
With Mercersburg’s Great Faith - faith in self; faith in others; faith in the future,
Katie Titus P ’20, ’23
Head of School