Saint Paul's Choir School Update

June 27, 2020

Dear Saint Paul's Community,

St. Paul’s Choir School will re-open in August for in-person instruction!

As we celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we are reminded in our wonderful blog contributed by Mr. Adach (SPP Music Blog) that though they suffered martyrdom for their faith, their patronage of the Church yielded great fruit. I take this as inspiration for our how we might face the current pandemic and unrest associated with it, not in the sense of expecting martyrdom, but rather that our faithfulness throughout difficulty will prove fruitful.


We received a Cummings Grant: We received a $100 thousand Grant from the Cummings Foundation, which will enable us to increase access to our unparalleled choral music and academic program to students in underserved, economically challenged neighborhoods. The funds will be used to expand outreach to communities along the north shore 128 corridor and in neighborhoods of Boston’s Mattapan, Roxbury, South Boston and Dorchester neighborhoods. The plan includes provisions to partner with other Catholic and public schools to introduce more students to the music and tradition so treasured at SPCS and to provide financial aid to students and scholarships for the school’s Summer Music Program. Families interested in the school will be provided free access to concerts and the school plans to provide professional development for music educators in the art and tradition of training youth voices. The Cummings $20 Million Grant Program supports Massachusetts nonprofits that are based in and primarily serve Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties.


Update on Re-Entry Plans: On June 24th we received notification of Governor Baker’s guidelines for school re-opening, and we were very pleased. While we will independently review the guidance and make decisions that are in the best interest of the health of our students, staff, and families, we are confident that we can meet and/or exceed the requirements. Over the course of the next month our team will be working on re-entry plans, much of which has been under discussion over the past month. We will convene our outside consultancy review team on an ongoing basis to ensure that we proceed with the utmost concern for all involved.


Highlights of the Guidance Criteria and St. Paul’s response:


All children in grades two and higher will be required to wear face masks or coverings. We will adhere to this requirement and are exploring transparent face masks that can be used for some circumstances in which it is beneficial to be able to see under the mask. While singing is obstructed by face masks, we are exploring safe and creative ways for us to continue to train our boys during rehearsals so that we can begin rehearsals as soon as mid to late August.


The state decided NOT to set a maximum limit for the number of students in each classroom. Our small class sizes in each grade level makes for little concern for the maximum limit on classroom size. Previously, while expecting a limit, we moved to put in place a plan for which we could move away from multi-age classrooms, if needed. We are confident that our staffing model and master schedule will be able to accommodate small classes sized such that they are well within this guidance.


The state is requiring students to be seated at least three feet away from each other during class time. This is the standard put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is less restrictive than the 6 feet minimum mandate we were expecting. We are pleased that this restriction is relaxed because it will provide us with more flexibility in the way we use the real estate of our classrooms. We are confident that our six academic classrooms will be able to meet or exceed these requirements and allow for spacing such that students will be able to move freely to enter and exit the classroom without disruption should that be needed. Our rehearsal spaces are also well sized for much of our training and we will have use of Digi Hall for any rehearsals that require an even larger space.


The state urges schools to minimize the mixing of students in one classroom with students from other classrooms. This is meant to avoid cross-contamination. Reasonably, the guidelines recognize that this will not always be possible in middle-school and high-school grades where students often get separated in different cohorts for instruction in math, science, AP courses and many electives. We appreciate the common-sense approach the state seems to be taking. We will provide more restrictive cross-contamination protocols for our lower grade students.


All schools are urged to develop capacity to livestream instruction so that any student who is not able to be in school — for health or space reasons — can watch live instruction at home. We anticipated this guidance and were early advocates of providing for those students who for whatever reason, may be not able to attend classes in person. As such, we reached out to the Catholic Schools Office in May and offered to pilot a model for livestreaming instruction and were approved to be a pilot training center for all Catholic Schools, in partnership the “Connected in Class Program” that has been developed by the AUTORIS® Institute for Talent Development (www.autoris.com ) and is offered by Designing Talent® Inc. under the leadership of SPCS parent, Matthias Ehrhardt. We held our first training session with our staff during the second week of June and the program is now being scaled up for other schools. As a pilot school, we will be provided with an entire outfitting of our classrooms with video and sound equipment that will enable us to livestream classes as needed during the upcoming school year. Our staff are excited about this opportunity to make instruction available for all and our school will be acknowledged as a leader among other schools for our responsiveness and professional approach to livestreaming lessons.


Other developments for our Re-Entry Planning: We continue to review and collaborate with schools that are opening summer camps and other recreational activities for children that will begin to open in July. We are confident that we will be able to hold our Summer Music Program with a slightly modified program that allows for greater social distancing. Our summer program staff will meet on Monday, June 29 to work out the details. Please note that families who are interested may sign up their children on our website here: https://www.saintpaulschoirschool.us/summerprogram


Several of the conditions that must be met for camps to open this summer will allow us to practice protocols for what we might encounter in terms of restrictions in the fall. Several of the controls that we are taking steps to address are in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), attention to hygiene and training students to adhere to the protocols for good hygiene and ventilation and filtration of the educational facility. Mrs. Flaherty is pro-actively ordering PPE for both the summer camps and the re-entry to the school. She will continue to monitor availability of cleaning materials, and general hygiene supplies. You can help by purchasing hygiene and cleaning supplies as you find them available and would be willing to donate to the school.


We are very pleased with the response of several parishioners and a visitor from a distant state who loves to hear the beautiful liturgies when making occasional trips to Cambridge. Through their generosity and at the urging of the priests at the Sunday Masses, we received several very generous gifts that will help defray most of the cost of a new air conditioning and filtration system for our school’s second and third floor classrooms. The installation of this system will begin within the next couple of weeks to be ready for our summer programs in late August.


The parish purchased and is using a sophisticated electrostatic cleaning system in the Church and DiGiovanni Hall during the summer to provide frequent and deep cleansing between all liturgical services. We will have access to the same equipment for frequent and thorough cleansing of the school throughout the school year.


As mentioned in our last update, our teachers are preparing for multiple instructional methodologies that will allow us to capture the best of our remote learning approaches, while integrating them into direct classroom instruction. We will conduct teacher training in the use of these technologies during the remainder of the summer in collaboration with other schools in the Archdiocese.


We have ordered equipment with the use of funds from the Federal Government through our local school district to equip a nursing station that we will locate in Room 101 for intake purposes. Although we are not required to take temperatures of students as they arrive at school, we will be prepared to do so should any escalation of COVID recur or we find an increase of more ordinary influenza outbreaks that might easily spread throughout our school. The room will serve as the screening station for all students entering the building, and it will have a separate isolated waiting room for anyone who may become ill during their time in the school while they wait for their family to pick them up.


Parent Survey: Thanks to all the parents and guardians who responded to the survey, we had a 65% response rate that is well within the significance range for analysis. If you have not responded and wish to do so, we will not close the survey until Monday at 9:00 a.m. An early review of the survey results shows that families are overwhelmingly in favor of returning to school in person, with a preference of returning earlier than our typical post Labor Day start. In response to this feedback, we are planning to bring students back to school prior to Labor Day for several training days during which we will not conduct formal academic classes, but will provide instruction and practice in using protective gear (masks) and orienting students to the safety protocols that will be enforced with our re-entry plans.


Staffing Update: The Search Committee seeking a replacement for our 3rd and 4th grade class reviewed and selected six finalists for interviews that were held over the past couple of weeks. We are in final negotiations with a truly professional and experienced teacher who stood out among a very talented pool of candidates. We are hoping to be able to conclude our negotiations and make an announcement within the next week to ten days. We especially wish to thank Board Member Maureen Lapus who managed the process and screened all the candidates prior to interviews.


Enrollment Update We are pleased to report that our enrollment remains strong for the re-entry and we believe that with our unique position of small class sizes, extraordinary music programs and state-of-the art instructional methodologies for learning in person and at home, we are an attractive alternative for families who are facing much more significantly restrictive educational opportunities elsewhere. Mr. Moran is preparing outreach material that we hope you will share with friends and neighbors who you think might find our school a good fit for their boys. The materials will soon be featured on our social media. Please share freely. You will also receive an email with the same materials that you can print or email to friends and families at your discretion. We can accommodate more or less two more boys at each grade level given our new staffing model and encourage you to help us in find good families with boys who would thrive at our school.


As I said in my last two updates, we have much work to do; this summer is a test of endurance. I promise to continue to provide regular updates on our progress and the Parent Guild is planning on hosting several Zoom events during which we will share information and also provide a forum for you to share your ideas and concerns. I encourage everyone to continue to pray for a successful year ahead and share the Zoom information below if you wish to join our Zoom Rosary prayer that meets every evening at 8:00 p.m. Thanks to everyone for your unwavering support of our school.


Thomas Haferd

Head of School

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