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 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
We are excited to share with you information on the return to school in March. We know you are eager to finalize plans for your child so we hope this email will bring some relief in knowing the next steps.
The first step is for you to make a final decision as to whether your child will attend classes in person or virtually for the balance of this year, beginning on March 6 or 7. The school will continue to offer a fully online option, Virtual ’Burg, 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 spring term by Monday, February 15, via this questionnaire found on the parent portal on Veracross. Below are the details that you’ll need to help make that decision:
- Option A: Choose on-campus learning.
- Families who choose this option should also sign up for a time to move onto campus using the link in the attached FAQs.
- Option B: Choose to enroll in the school’s distance-learning program, Virtual ’Burg.
- The school will work with individual families regarding tuition credits.
- As a safety precaution, any student who elects to enroll in Virtual ’Burg will not be allowed to visit campus during the term.
*Any parent or student who has questions that will guide your decision should contact the Office of Student Life.
Parent Informational Sessions
Once you make your decision, we know you may have additional questions. Please join school leaders for a brief update and Q&A session on the return to school. Following this update, the White Key Executive Committee invites you to stay in the session to interact and socialize with parents in your child’s grade.
To help families plan for the return, we have attached an FAQ document to this email. It is long, but I encourage you to read through it as it contains critical information. Our COVID-19 web site has also been updated to help you find and sort through the same information. As always, do not hesitate to be in touch with us if you should have any questions or concerns. We will continue to communicate with you over the next few weeks and will send out reminders in our weekly Parent News.
While we were successful in mitigating the virus in the fall (zero transmissions of COVID-19), it was the continued effort by everyone on campus in following our health and safety protocols that made the fall a success. It will be important that we all begin to mentally prepare for what it will be like in the initial weeks as we transition back. While our COVID-19 restrictions became the norm for us in the fall, the initial transition was not always easy. My hope is that the students will overcome any initial frustrations quickly and that we will develop a rhythm when we return together. The most important thing is that we are able to be on campus, living and learning together, and for each of us to remember our role in maintaining that privilege and keeping each other safe and healthy. Parents, you can help us by having conversations to prepare your child for their return, reminding them to face the restrictions with a sense of purpose and resilience, as these are important life skills in a complex, changing world.
We are very excited to start this new term and we hope your child will enjoy a spring like no other, filled with beloved traditions and experiences that only a Mercersburg Academy education can provide. Your support and partnership is greatly appreciated and we look forward to seeing you in March!
Katie Titus P ’20 ’23
Head of School
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