Mercersburg Academy's winter term will be held virtually until March 6. We look forward to having our students back on campus for in-person learning in the spring.
As we move through the 2020-2021 school year, we are continuing to evolve our planning in response to the constantly changing landscape of COVID-19 and making the best decisions for our school community. Fulfilling our mission while keeping our community safe remains our highest priorities, and although our campus may look and feel different at times, 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:
This year 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. 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, 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 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 has developed 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.
*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,
I know that our return to on-campus learning is on the minds of our families, as we watch COVID-19 rates continue to rise around the world. On one hand, we all want our students to return to in-person learning so that they can benefit from the exceptional opportunities afforded by the boarding-school experience. With that said, we also worry about the health—both physical and mental—of our entire community as we imagine the limiting environment that would be required in the winter to create a safe and healthy school given the current COVID-19 landscape. So, it is with a heavy but confident heart that I share with you today our decision to begin the winter term virtually for the first six weeks of the nine-week term, delaying the return of students for on-campus learning to March 6.
After reviewing multiple options with the Board of Regents, school leadership, and results from faculty and staff surveys, we believe that this new plan will help us maximize in-person learning while prioritizing the health of our community. In addition, we knew that any decision would need to provide some sense of certainty for our families, seeking to create as much clarity for the balance of the year as possible while continuing to navigate a highly unpredictable pandemic.
Please allow me to explain the new schedule so you can begin your planning, and then give you more insight on how we came to this decision as well as information on a Q&A session for families scheduled for Monday, December 21.
January 11: Winter term begins virtually for all students
January 11-February 19: Classes will remain virtual during the first six weeks of the nine-week winter term.
February 20-March 5: Spring Break
*March 6-7: All students will return to campus for the remaining three weeks of the winter term and a 10-week spring term; receive their first on-campus COVID-19 test; and begin the quarantine period in their dorms.
March 8-12: Students will learn virtually while in quarantine and receive their second COVID-19 test at the end of the week.
March 15-March 26: In-person classes will begin for the final two weeks of the winter term.
March 30: Spring term begins
June 3: Last day of the spring term
June 4: All students in grades 9, 10, and 11 depart campus
June 5: Commencement for seniors and families
*By February 1, 2021, all families must indicate to the school whether their child will return to campus on March 6-7 or remain virtual for the balance of the academic year. (We will send out a survey in a future email.)
The decision to delay our return ultimately came from the advice of our medical experts and our director of health and wellness services. While another spike in the virus is forecasted to hit the country in late January and early February, we are also getting feedback from our local testing partners that they will not be able to deliver the 24-48-hour turnaround in testing as they did in the fall. In addition, area hospitals are already reaching maximum capacity, which could impact our community if we were to need emergency or general care.
But, most importantly, this decision was made in regard to the mental health of our community. Given the rates in Franklin County, the likelihood of COVID-19 cases on our campus this winter is high. Therefore, the need to quarantine multiple times, isolate more, and cancel activities because of cases would also be high. While our protocols and health and safety measures were a success in the fall, the statistics and climate will be different this winter. Opening our school knowing we will be in a constant state of fluctuation is mentally exhausting and impedes upon the overall Mercersburg experience that we promised to you and your child.
Some of the benefits of the schedule outlined above include:
- - Families will have more certainty in our school calendar for planning purposes. We don’t anticipate any major changes, and will continue to communicate in a timely manner if or when something needs to be adjusted due to unforeseen circumstances.
- - Students will only need to re-enter campus once, limiting the all-school quarantine and testing protocols to one time instead of coming to campus in January, leaving for Spring Break, and returning to quarantine and test again.
- - March brings the start of daylight saving time (March 14) and increasing temperatures which will improve the amount of outside time.
- - We are seeking to maximize in-person learning for all students. By moving Spring Break earlier, into the winter term, we gain three weeks of on-campus time together.
- - We have extended the nine-week spring term to 10 weeks so that we can build in important breaks for the community through the spring term, to include Irving-Marshall competitions and other celebrations.
Our medical experts are confident that the virus landscape will look very different in March and our entire community will be working to make sure the spring term is unforgettable for our students, especially our seniors.
What are the next steps? By Friday afternoon, you will receive additional information regarding tuition credits, the academic schedule for Virtual ’Burg, and other FAQs. In addition, there will be a Q&A session on Zoom held Monday, December 21, at 7 p.m. ET for families.
The year has certainly challenged us as individuals and communities. The sense of loss can be staggering at times, and is amplified by the ongoing lack of control we all feel. My deepest hope for our school family is that we can see this decision as a way for us to gain back some control, to know exactly what to expect for the balance of this unique year, and to embrace the power that this decision can offer. We can now focus fully on building community virtually for six weeks while planning for an amazing 13 weeks on campus filled with all of the traditions and special moments that we love about our school. At a moment when we might easily fall into sadness for yet another loss, let us instead choose our Mercersburg full hearts for what we have, and ring in 2021 with loud swelling cheers for what is possible.
With great faith,
Katie Titus P ’20, ’23
Head of School
COVID-19 numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate in our region. Just before noon today, the PCR percent positivity rate for the past seven days in Franklin County was reported at 15.1%, and local hospitals are showing a significant increase in COVID-19 patients. While we have been grateful to have such a successful fall term, we do not want to push our luck and risk an outbreak this close to the end of our on-campus learning. Starting today, Friday, November 13 at 7 p.m., we will be making important changes to the on-campus experience in order to ensure that we continue to keep our community safe, and specifically to protect our students who must fly home next week and for whom getting sick now would pose an impediment to arriving home safely. We also recognize that our students are returning to your homes and local communities, and we have an obligation to ensure that we are responsible for keeping them healthy.
Starting at the end of the day today, Friday, November 13, we will return to a modified quarantine state of Level 3. Below are the guidelines which we will institute at the end of the day, and will remain in effect until all students safely depart campus by Thursday, November 19.
- - All Mercersburg Intensive courses will be held virtually next week.
- - Boarding students, who remain on campus, will be quarantined to their dorms, starting at 7 p.m., Friday, November 13. Circles in the dorms will be full-dorm, not by floor or wing.
- - All day students should plan to leave campus at the completion of PGAs today, Friday, November 13, and should remain off campus through next week.
- - Dorms will be assigned times to retrieve food from the dining hall.
- - Dorms will be assigned times to be out of the dorm to engage in physical activity but must remain within their dorm circles.
- - As a reminder, students must complete a leave form to depart campus. If as a result of today’s decisions, your original travel plans will change and a form has already been completed, one of two things must occur:
- Students can submit a new form, should their departure be a day other than today.
- If a student is leaving today and their current form does not indicate that, please call the Dean on Duty at 717-860-0488.
- When students leave campus we are asking them to do a virtual check out on their Veracross student portal, top right tab "Virtual Check-In/Out."
It is imperative that all community members continue to adhere to the One Promise protocols to help prevent any potential risk of infection by continuing to wear masks, practice physical distancing, and wash and sanitize your hands frequently.
We remain grateful to you for your flexibility and understanding as we work through these challenges to maintain our success, and hope that you will enjoy having your families back together for the coming weeks. If you should have any questions, please contact the Office of Student Life.
Assistant Head of School for Student Life and Culture
As a follow-up to Parent News this week, we wanted to keep you informed of our concerns regarding the increasing COVID-19 positivity rates in our region. Please read this letter in its entirety as there is important break travel information included.
Today, we received word that the positivity rate in Franklin County, Pennsylvania has climbed to 12.3%, which represents a 2% increase over last week. While we are dismayed to see a continued escalation in the numbers, this increase is not enough to warrant a significant alteration of our current policies and protocols, especially given that we continue to have no COVID-19 cases in our student and faculty population, nor any sign of respiratory illness on campus. For now, day students can continue to learn on campus and in person and we will continue to rely on them and their families for their continued commitment to the One Mercersburg Promise, both on and off of our campus.
In addition, we have made the following changes to our practices to further mitigate risk:
- - All community members must wear masks at all times when on campus. The only exception is when students are in their own dorm rooms.
- - We will refrain from close contact in PGA activities in these final days, especially when indoors.
- - We are reevaluating all on-campus weekend activities to ensure that they promote healthy physical distancing.
- - We have eliminated having any non-essential vendors on campus and will delay all non-essential work in the dorms until after the students depart campus.
- - Lastly, and most importantly, we will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 rates regionally and flu-like symptoms on campus, which to date have been minimal.
With the fall term ending officially next Friday, November 19, we have also decided to allow boarding students the option to make plans to depart campus early, following their last academic commitments on Friday, November 13. If regional cases continue to rise at this current rate, we may need to consider returning to Level 3 restrictions, which would mean all programming would be delivered virtually, even for those residing on campus.
I encourage families to consider the option of an early departure if reasonably possible, making arrangements to pick up your children as early as next weekend. All changes to travel plans should be communicated to the school by having your child submit a new break travel request via Veracross. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Student Life.
I remain so proud of our school family. While the fall term has certainly looked different, it has been a tremendous success due to the sacrifices made by all. Thank you for your continued support and partnership at this tumultuous time. Let us remain committed to the mighty task together!
Katie Titus P ’20, ’23
Head of School
Thank you to those of you who were able to join us last night for the “School Leadership Update for Parents” event as part of our Mercersburg@Home series. A recording can be found here; I encourage you to listen as we give updates on the fall term as well as information on our plans for the winter term.
Seven months ago, I wrote to our community with the words of our alma mater: “...she’s faced the wild storm waves of years, and bravely she faces them still.” As head of school and a current parent, I can certainly relate to the many uncertainties and challenges that our families have faced in order to help us open school to on-campus and in-person learning. We have all made tremendous sacrifices. And yet, when I reflect back on the past eight weeks, it is not the sacrifices that I see, but rather the incredible achievements. The experience may look different, but it has been a tremendous success. Now it’s time to shift our thinking and planning to the winter, which will bring additional challenges for us to consider and for which to plan.
While I have every expectation that the program we will deliver on campus will be robust, challenging, and fulfilling, I also acknowledge that the cold weather and shorter days will have an impact on our individual and collective mental health. We want every family to seriously consider their options and make the best decision for their student given the information we have today. The school will continue to monitor the changing COVID-19 landscape in the coming weeks and months as we consider the merits of opening campus in January. While at this time I have no reason to believe that current plans to open campus will change, I am also well aware of the possible implications of a global pandemic that could force us to make a different decision.
In the meantime, the document attached should provide you with the necessary context to make an informed decision for the winter term; we will be updating our website to reflect this new information soon. After November 4, we will begin building the academic schedule and making arrangements to best accommodate our community, both on campus and virtually.
For those of you who have yet to complete the Winter Term Survey (which officially declares whether your child will return to campus or elect to join our Virtual ’Burg program), please do so before November 4. Thank you for partnering with us during this complex time and for entrusting us with the joys of the education of your children.
With Mercersburg’s Great Faith - faith in self; faith in others; faith in the future,
Katie Titus P ’20, ’23
Head of School
It is hard to believe that we have already reached that point in the fall when we are planning for the winter. While this email will feel heavy with content, we want to assure you that all information contained within is critical in nature and should be read thoroughly.
You will recall from our summer communications that we intend to allow families to make enrollment decisions by term. Given the instability of a global pandemic, we want our families to have the choice of sending their student to campus or having their student learn online through our Virtual ’Burg program. We have been in ongoing reflection on our opening plan, taking note of what has worked and making adjustments to areas that need improvement. While things have not been perfect, we are finding our rhythm, and our new norms and behaviors feel like routine. As I said to the students in our first all-school, in-person meeting, we are all making sacrifices for the privilege of living and learning together on our beautiful campus, and we look forward to continuing that plan throughout the year.
Today, we need your help to align our planning with yours. For your planning purposes, we...
- - have shared our January schedule and protocols (see below).
- - are asking all families to complete a winter term questionnaire, similar to the one you filled out in July, that will indicate to us your child’s plan for the winter term.
- - included an attachment with important information for you to review, including details on Day Student Boarding Options, Flu Shot Requirement, Students Living Abroad, and Spring Break.
January Return to School Schedule
- - We have changed our return date in January to January 9–10, and the dates for Spring Break to March 12–27, 2021.
- - All students must have a PCR COVID-19 test that is negative prior to arriving on campus. Those test results must be submitted to the Health and Wellness Center between January 1–7.
- - All students have been offered a flu shot this month via our on-campus flu clinic. If your student does not receive one at this time, or has not already received the vaccine, they will be required to have a flu shot prior to arriving on campus in January. This is a new requirement and more information is in the document attached to this email.
January 9–10: Level 3: Students will arrive on campus at their assigned arrival times; all students, including day students, will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival.
January 9–15: Level 3: Students will quarantine in their dormitories (boarding students) or at home (day students); classes continue virtually.
January 14: All students will receive their second COVID-19 test.
January 15-16: Based on the second set of testing, quarantine may be lifted and classes will begin in person (Level 2 transition).
While our efforts in planning for the fall term have been successful, a lot can happen in a global pandemic and our current plans are subject to change due to health and safety concerns or local and state mandates. As a reminder, our calendar-at-a-glance is a good resource to help in future planning and our COVID-19 Response website also continues to be updated to help you find and sort through important information. We will continue to keep you informed and, as always, do not hesitate to be in touch with us on campus to seek guidance on your specific circumstances.
We also want to recognize that this winter term will be hard for some students. We will need to quarantine again, there will be less daylight for outdoor activities, and it will be cold. But we will work together to create a balance for our students, both emotionally and socially, to make sure their experience at our school is in keeping with our mission and core values. I have great faith in our community and in you, our parents. Together, we will rise and take on this next phase as One Mercersburg.
With gratitude for your continued support and partnership,
Katie Titus P ’20, ’23
Head of School
It’s important, every year, that we try to prevent or minimize the influenza (“flu”) virus in our community. The simplest way to do that is to get a yearly vaccine which can mitigate exposure and keep you and those around you healthy. This year is particularly vital as we are now faced with two viruses that act similarly, making it difficult to diagnose. Currently, 79 percent of our students have signed up to receive a flu vaccine in October. We would like to see that number grow—can we get to 100 percent? Allow me to explain the top five reasons your student should get the flu vaccine.
- Is it the flu or COVID-19? If your student has symptoms (like a fever), the Health and Wellness Center can respond quickly and proceed with the appropriate COVID-19 tests if we know your student had the flu vaccine.
- Keep your student in classes. If your student gets the flu, we will treat it with the same protocols as if they have COVID-19. They will be required to quarantine until the infection clears and take their classes virtually.
- A little flu versus a big flu. Research tells us that even if you contract another strain of the flu, the vaccine will lessen the severity of that flu virus.
- Help our health center. An increase in the flu among our community, coupled with potential COVID-19 cases, could stretch our health care resources.
- Protect friends. By getting the flu vaccine, your student is protecting their friends and teachers from getting the flu.
As a health care educator, I cannot stress enough the importance of receiving a flu vaccine this year. Ask your student to help do their part in keeping our community healthy by scheduling your student’s vaccine today. Here’s how:
- - Please call the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center at 717-328-6136 to make an appointment.
- - Vaccines will be administered to boarding students on October 19 and 20. Day students will be scheduled to come to the Health and Wellness Center to receive the vaccine.
Thank you for helping to keep your students in class, healthy, and enjoying their time and experiences at Mercersburg.
Yours in health,
Dr. Laura Nickerson P ’22, ’24
Director of Health and Wellness Services
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