Middlebridge School Prioritizing Face-to-Face Education for Students with Learning Differences during COVID-19
NARRAGANSETT, Rhode Island–Middlebridge School, a boarding school for students with learning differences, successfully completed their fall semester while maneuvering the uncharted territories of COVID-19. Assistant Head of School, Dan Leventhal, shared the program’s approach, “The most important factor we considered was whether or not we could deliver the mission of our program safely. After intense planning and research, we determined that we were able to serve the mission and our students, with safe face-to-face instruction.”
Middlebridge specializes in working with students with learning differences, especially those with attentional differences. Roughly 90% of the student population at Middlebridge is diagnosed with either ADD or ADHD. “Our faculty did a phenomenal job of planning for and pivoting to distance learning last spring,” Sara Callahan, Director of Academics, noted. “But research is just beginning to explore how Zoom and Google Classroom effect students with different levels of attentional focus.” (Hamilton, NPR)
So, Middlebridge prioritized a safe return to campus. The school followed data-driven and medically reviewed protocols in order to keep the campus safe. The COVID response team created a new school calendar to reduce back and forth travel and asked students and parents to commit to their child remaining on campus for the duration of the fall semester. The school welcomed students back based on their assessed risk level – their location of origin and their method of travel to campus – with assigned, staggered, arrival dates to allow for quarantine windows. All students and faculty completed at home COVID PCR testing, twice, and were required to submit those negative results prior to arrival. Following the return to campus, all staff and students -150 community members – participated in weekly COVID-19 PCR saliva tests. This weekly testing gave the school the opportunity to assess community health each week and assist in maintaining a safe environment for community members.
“To plan effectively for COVID, you have to know boarding school culture from the inside out,” Head of School John J. Kaufman noted. “Once school starts, we’re all essentially ‘living’ on campus together. We knew that testing was going to be the key to proactive quarantine response and to keeping everyone safe.”
Middlebridge students and staff followed the mantra, “Care for the self is care for the community as a whole.” Donning masks and following CDC endorsed safety precautions, the community prioritized this idea of self and community care. Students were able to learn and integrate mindfulness, empathy, and self-care into their daily lives by learning more about how the “self” correlates and ties into the health of the overall community. Hosting multiple staff Town Halls and COVID education sessions, and creating community agreements also helped to create a shared staff and student culture. And despite all precautions, Middlebridge School planned for the day that COVID would touch its campus and was prepared for a multitude of quarantine scenarios, all tying back into students, staff, and families being committed to following through on preset, agreed-upon protocols.
“You can’t have this level of safety, commitment, and success without the support of every member of our community,” John stated. “I especially credit our faculty for upholding a culture of creativity and calm, and for balancing continued academic excellence with innovation. We’ve taken advantage of the ‘outdoor classroom’ our 38 acres offers us every single day, but we’ve still had to navigate all the usual milestones like SAT prep and college applications, all while navigating the added emotional and social stressors that COVID uncertainty can present and support our diverse learners both in and out of the classroom. Our faculty are truly exceptional.”
Middlebridge School is grateful for its students and staff who worked together and supported each other this fall and is looking forward to a safe face-to-face return in the New Year.
Resources: Hamilton, Jon. “Remote Learning’s Distractions Put Extra Pressure on Students with ADHD.” NPR, September 1, 2020
Middlebridge School is a nonprofit, co-educational, boarding, and day high school program for students ages 13-19 with learning differences. Founded in 2008, the school sits on 38+ acres across from beautiful Narragansett Bay. In addition to creating an environment of academic excellence for complicated learners, Middlebridge focuses on emotional intelligence, leadership, community engagement and service-learning, and outdoor and immersive hands-on education, to prepare graduates to thrive at college and beyond.