For over five weeks Chewonki Neck has been empty of students while spring has slowly pushed winter aside. Birds are singing, grass is greening, and the first gardens have been plowed on the farm. Those seasonal changes are so familiar, but the quiet without students is certainly not what we expect at this time of year. I have posted on our website a full update to the whole Chewonki community about how we are considering our programs in this difficult time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of where we are today.
I have been reminded that the future is always uncertain, although that truism means even more at this time. Organizations everywhere are looking into the COVID-19 fog, gathering information, and striving to set a course to a desired destination. For Chewonki that destination is the return to in-person learning. Unfortunately, we have not yet found the best route, nor determined how long it will take to get there, although the course we must travel is beginning to come into focus.
The Chewonki Leadership Team and members of the Board of Trustees have been working closely together. We have pooled expert science-based resources, especially in public health, and conducted outreach to dozens of organizations – schools, camps, associations, funders, and government agencies – to develop a set of safety criteria we are now using to determine when we can reopen in-person learning at Chewonki.
Chewonki COVID-19 Safety Criteria
- Widespread public access to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, isolation strategies, and treatments.
- Opening of schools within our state and from the states where participants reside.
- Reasonable reduction in physical distancing requirements and allowance for gatherings of up to 50-100 individuals.
- Capacity within Chewonki and local medical resources to respond to medical incidents, including COVID-19 cases.
- Approval of Chewonki’s medical and legal counsel as well as insurance agent.
In light of all these considerations, the Board of Trustees, the staff Leadership Team, and I have to make many hard decisions about programming at Chewonki.
For Maine Coast Semester, Chewonki Elementary and Middle School, and our Education Partnership Programs we will not return to in-person learning during the remainder of this school year. In this decision, made unanimously by the Leadership Team and Board of Trustees, we join all of our peer schools in the Semester School Network as well as our local, neighboring schools, public and independent, here in Maine.
For our current students this is terribly disappointing and I very much wish it were different. Whether it is that once-in-a-lifetime Maine Coast Semester, an eighth grade capstone experience, or a class trip anticipated for years, this spring brings tremendous loss and grief to so many. I am sorry for all of those students and their families.
Chewonki will be here through the pandemic and so, holding onto that potential to see our students again, we will offer opportunities to reunite in person on Chewonki Neck (with much rejoicing!) at a future date once our safety criteria are met.
All of our enrolled students and families are receiving this news with more detailed communication directly from their program leaders. Each of their letters outlines specific details relevant to their students. Chewonki as a whole is 100% focused on meeting our mission and commitments to families by delivering remote learning and social connection through the end of the school year.
As we have stated previously, we will communicate plans for our 106th summer of Camp Chewonki between May 1 and May 15. As with the school year decision, we are considering all factors carefully and evaluating progress towards our safety criteria.
Even as our current approach to teaching and learning has changed, I feel that on the other side of this time outdoor and place-based learning will be more important than ever. Furthermore, the focused collective effort needed to respond to COVID-19 will also make a difference addressing climate change, species extinctions, and the equity challenges in human communities. I look forward to the time when children are back on Chewonki Neck with caring, expert adults, learning together about how to shape our shared future for the better.
Thank you for your resilience and dedication to our collective effort. Please keep in touch.
With warm regards,