As parents, students, and teachers anxiously wait for schools to reopen in September, the biggest question on everyone's mind is if this can be done safely.
13 July 2020| Last updated on 14 July 2020
Will schools be safe and social for Dubai students by the end of summer? An expert weighs in.
As families strive to navigate the “new normal” brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, collective sigh of relief echoed around Dubai when we heard that schools could re-open in September, based upon the latest guidelines.
Expatwoman caught up with Mr. Bill Delbrugge, Head of School at Dunecrest American School, to learn more about schooling in September and how schools can strike the right balance for their students while maintaining safety standards.
Dunecrest American School is fortunate to be returning its entire student body to campus 5 days a week. What are some of the considerations in preparing to welcome students back to campus?
The interaction between student and teacher is the heart of our school. All that we do must stem from enhancing that relationship. Our mission is to challenge the minds, excite the imaginations, and train the bodies of the students in our care. We guide our students to make healthy choices and to have respect for their own minds and bodies. We lead them to distinguish right from wrong, and to choose to do what is right so they can develop into responsible and courageous citizens.
At Dunecrest American School, exacting inquiry and thoughtful conversations foster the life of the mind, instruction and activity promote fitness and health, and the daily interactions of faculty and students build integrity and nurture empathy, and kindness. Despite the challenging circumstances of returning to campus during Covid-19, this is an incredible opportunity to live our beliefs and teach by example.
It is our goal that every student, staff member and family member feel both emotional and physical safety at Dunecrest American School. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this means members of our community can reasonably expect a heightened level of concern for their health and wellbeing.
While it is possible that students, staff members and family members may be exposed to Covid-19 in the course of their work or studies, we plan to take every reasonable precaution to prevent this from happening.
How have you maintained and built your school community in the age of physical distancing?
Dunecrest American School provides a future-forward American and IBDP education. All of our students and staff are well versed in different types of technology as we often use it as a tool to extend and enhance conventional learning.
When the pandemic forced schools to go online and we were required to do all of our engagement with our community and prospective families virtually, we embraced the opportunity!
For our Dunecrest families, mental health and well-being were at the forefront of our concern and strategies. Principals, teachers, counselors and support staff worked very hard to create live virtual opportunities for personal connections and socialization.
As an example, in our Elementary School, our Guidance Counselor, Ms. Stephanie Mikulecky organized Lunch Bunches, which were small groups of students who had a virtual lunch hour together. Kids got to share their experiences, trade jokes and see their friends as they do on campus in our dining hall.
Our students also established virtual afterschool clubs. We had a very popular Pet Club. Our Parent Liaison, Mrs. Kristen Miller, also set up a Virtual Parent Wellness Space that offered different exercise activities: yoga, circuit training or fitness with kids. It also had mindfulness and mediation apps attached as a one-stop-shop for parents who wanted relaxation techniques at their fingertips.
Our Student Council Representatives led virtual trivia games to stay connected with friends and teachers. Our teachers, principals and counselors regularly reached out to students and parents to check on everyone’s wellbeing. Finally, we offered a number of virtual webinars for parents who wanted additional strategies to keep virtual learning fresh.
With respect to Virtual Admissions and Marketing, we were also full steam ahead! During this period, we set up weekly IG Live shows every Tuesday at 11 am in order to provide prospective families with information about different elements of Dunecrest from Early Childhood to our IBDP.
We also hosted a Virtual Learning Webinar for families outside of Dunecrest to provide them with strategies for a happier, more successful virtual learning experience. Throughout the period we have held a multitude of one on one Zoom calls with prospective families and applicants; we have also held a number of live Virtual Open Houses via Zoom which use a panel format as well as video and powerpoint to showcase our students and our campus.
In a few weeks, we are hosting a live Schooling in September webinar for our prospective families too. At the end of each session, we provide video recordings to attendees. If families from overseas are unable to join these calls due to time differences, we are then able to send them a recording.
Finally, we have a wonderful bi-monthly project and community showcase called Making Waves that describes our project-based learning, our STEAM initiatives, and our virtual learning practices. This digital publication has a feature on mental health and wellbeing and also a “Partner Perch” to support local businesses or parent-owned businesses.
With respect to schooling in September, we are fortunate to have a large, beautiful campus with small class sizes and extra classrooms. We are confident that our additional space, per student, will serve the community well and enable us to comply with the UAE Ministry of Education and KHDA’s physical distancing and other health and safety guidelines.
We are fully prepared to meet the additional directives and parameters laid out by the federal and local government authorities to allow a complete return to campus in September and we cannot wait to see our students bright shiny faces back on campus!
Despite our full return to the classroom 5 days a week, in the autumn we are planning a number of virtual community and prospective family engagement activities to safely keep us all connected and to include prospective families whose careers may bring them to the UAE in the coming months.
We are excited about the new virtual learning, communication and community-building opportunities that have opened up during this time but we are very much looking forward to having our students back with us on campus!
How practically do you ask children to respect the new norms and maintain physical distancing?
At Dunecrest American School we are fortunate as our school was founded on five key character values (CREST): Creativity, Respect, Excellence, Service and Teamwork.
We discuss the meaning of these values and we regularly recognize students’ individual and collective demonstration of these values in assemblies and awards ceremonies. The “new normal” as people call it is all about mutual respect.
In order to keep people healthy and safe, all members of our school community must value, and care for others.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, this means complying with rules and policies designed to keep our school community safe and healthy. This means thinking of others, appreciating that their risk tolerance might be lower than ours, and adjusting our behavior with sensitivity and respect. This means respecting policies and expectations, even when inconvenient to ourselves.
Covid-19 has disrupted life as we know it. To do our part to defeat this unprecedented public health challenge, mutual respect, trust, and a deep sense of our obligations to one another will be essential.
The Dunecrest back to campus model promotes a normal face-to-face learning environment on campus. This is a traditional school experience with students attending school in person Sunday to Thursday.
The learning that happens off campus is mostly in the form of homework and projects. Preventative hygiene policies will be implemented in combination with realistic physical distancing guidelines to keep everyone safe. As we navigate the uncertainties associated with Covid-19, Dunecrest will adjust how we respond to external health conditions and risks.
Epidemiologists predict infection rates will rebound with a second and third wave in the next 12-18 months. Until a vaccine is developed, external conditions and risk will continue to fluctuate.
To bring students and staff back to campus safely we will implement new policies and procedures to help ensure physical distancing and safety while maintaining community and healthy socialization and interaction.
Do you have any final words?
In order for new school operating models to succeed, we need all members of our school community to accept new responsibilities within this changed environment we will experience over the next year.
Acting with self-awareness and sensitivity to others will be key. We must learn to recognize that changes must be embraced and supported with enthusiasm.
When your child expresses frustration with rules that limit their social interactions, express your understanding, but discourage their cynicism and remind them why the measures are in place. When your child has a cough or fever and complains of not feeling well, please keep them home until they are asymptomatic.
A collective and unified school community effort has never been more important as it is today. At Dunecrest American School, we are the Dunecrest Eagles and we will soar to new ideas. We will find a positive way to reopen school and continue our journey of educational excellence!
More questions about Schooling in September?
Join us on Tuesday July 21 at 11 am with Head of School Bill Delbrugge to get a glimpse into a Day in the Life in September 2020.