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Ramblers Return to School

In many ways, with the start of the 2020–2021 school year came all the traditions of the back to school season: new classes and teachers, freshly minted ID photos, and the excitement of the first day. But the return to this school year was also unlike any other in Loyola’s long history of educating young women and men. To guide students, faculty and staff through the process, Principal Charlie Heintz put forth a unifying theme for the year—wellness and oneness—that emphasizes personal responsibility and community accountability.
Health and Safety Measures
Orientation days, typically designed for the incoming freshman class only, extended to all grade levels this year to help students acclimate to life on campus that now features a number of modifications and policies to combat the spread of COVID-19:
  • temperature screenings
  • symptom checks
  • face coverings
  • social distancing
  • a modified flow of hallway and stairwell traffic
  • a reconfiguration of the cafeteria and student center. Lunch procedures have shifted to spread students among one of seven approved locations: cafeteria, east gym balcony, west gym, Piazza, football field tent, student center or quad.
  • increased utilization of outdoor space, including the addition of tented outdoor space
  • a hybrid schedule that limits the number of students on campus each day
  • a reduction of gatherings
  • increased signage and reminders around campus
School leadership made significant investments to secure a surplus of personal protective equipment (PPE) including 6,000 gloves and over 35,000 disposable masks, 400 gallons of hand sanitizer, and 400 canisters of disinfectant wipes. In addition, the facilities team now enacts a pre-purge of the school air, flushing new air into the building, on a daily basis and has implemented a bi-polar ionization process to help improve air quality and filtration. HEPA filters have been installed in classrooms without windows. All the water fountains around the building and hand dryers in restrooms have been turned off.

A new nurse’s station, affectionately known as the MASH unit, has been constructed outside and adjacent to the main entrance for further evaluation for those individuals who do not pass the temperature screening or symptom check upon entry. Loyola hired two additional nurses and has established an internal contact tracing system. In partnership with the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH), Loyola will follow up on every reported sick absence and keep detailed notes on each case and exposure to COVID-19.

Freshman Orientation
With these procedures in place, Loyola welcomed incoming freshmen with orientation programming on Thursday, August 13, and Friday, August 14. Freshman had the opportunity to get to know the school and their classmates and they were introduced to Loyola’s mission, the life and legacy of St. Ignatius, and what it means to follow in the Rambler tradition.

On Thursday, an abbreviated class schedule enabled Loyola’s newest Ramblers to meet their teachers and master the layout of the building. Freshman took ID photos, organized their lockers, and learned about the RAMBLE schedule and house system, which organizes a large freshman class into smaller groups—providing a more personal experience and increased opportunities to build strong personal and peer relationships. An art activity and tour of Loyola video rounded out the morning, and a discussion about how to get involved at Loyola and the Daily Examen closed a wonderful first day on campus.

Junior Tommy Whelan served as an LA Way student leader during freshman orientation. He volunteered for the role because he remembers how stressful the first few days on campus can be. "There is so much pressure to make friends and fit in," he says. "I want freshmen to know that they will find their crowd and hopefully it will be a group of people they really enjoy." Whelan encouraged his freshman group to keep an open mind and to try new things at Loyola. He shared his own personal experience of joining the cross country team after years of playing grade school football and, to his surprise, loving the new sport. "You never know the new opportunities that can open up for you at this school," he said.

On Friday, freshmen, donning their new house t-shirts, learned about their iPads, watched a “Get to Know People @ LA” video, and practiced their house cheers. They participated in diversity, equity, and inclusion training and, with the help of adult and upperclassmen leaders, discussed complex topics such as implicit bias, stereotypes, over/covert racism/sexism/homophobia, systematic racism, white privilege, and microaggressions.

"The diversity and 'Ouch, Oops' training was very enlightening," says Will Nimesheim '24. "I am glad Loyola is taking steps to make its campus inclusive and safe, starting from the very first day."

The afternoon’s house games brought a friendly dose of competition and built camaraderie as freshmen competed for the coveted House Cup. Xavier House came in third place with 321 points; Claver House came in second place with 331 points; and Brebeuf House was the 2020 house games champion with 355 points.

Incoming freshman Anthony Toledo ’24 says his favorite part of orientation was getting to know new people and meeting his teachers. “It helped me learn where all of my classrooms were and helped me get to know about my classes,” he says.

“These days are really focused on developing a sense of belonging and understanding what it means to be a Rambler,” adds Director of School Culture Mr. Chris Penna, who played an important role in developing orientation programming.

Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Orientations
Unlike years past, upperclassmen returned for three class-specific orientation days the week of August 17. The unprecedented circumstances surrounding this year’s return to school necessitated a formal introduction of Loyola’s new policies and protocols for returning students. In addition to walking through an abbreviated class schedule, sophomores, juniors, and seniors attended three sessions throughout their designated orientation day:
  • Academic/COVID updates
  • How to build a better school community—a discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion at Loyola
  • A conversation with counselors
Director of Student Activities Ms. Melissa Krein explained that orientation days were added for upperclassmen due to the abrupt end of in person classes in the spring as well as the events that transpired over the summer related to racial justice in our nation and community.

“Our students were gone for so long,” explains Krein. “We wanted to provide time for students to process coming back to school amid two pandemics—COVID-19 and racism. There was a lot of conversation all summer on social media, and we felt students needed structured time to focus not only on all the new policies at school but also on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
All incoming and returning students at Loyola Academy participated in important diversity, equity, and inclusion training and conversations as part of orientation programming. These sessions enabled students to better understand their own identities and the life experiences that inform how they see the world and interact with others. Emphasis was placed on a key aspect of being a Rambler—to be loving, open to growth and committed to doing justice—in order to develop a more loving and inclusive school community.

“It is incumbent on each and every Rambler, student and adult, to help to shape a positive school culture by being brave for one another—standing up and speaking out,” says Director of School Culture Mr. Penna. “It is how we begin to live up to the values of the Gospels.”

Additionally, Ramblers were introduced to the “ouch & oops” method, which helps individuals disrupt biased behaviors in a non-judgemental and informative sort of way. The idea of “ouch & oops” allows for in-the-moment acknowledgment of hurt and accountability. It is intended to be a non-accusatory way to disrupt micro-aggressions, acknowledge biased behavior, and recognize the impact of words and actions. Scenarios and examples helped students practice how to enact this method in daily life as a student.

Expectations for Loyola Academy students were reiterated throughout the presentations, and students were made aware of possible restorative practices—school-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline—that might go into effect should they transgress these expectations. Emphasis was also placed on the behaviors that will not be tolerated at Loyola such as hate speech, bigotry, harassment, bullying and hazing. Details about the reporting process for instances of these or other harassment cases were outlined to students.

Finally, all students were made aware of several groups available to them at Loyola to continue taking part in diversity efforts including: Student Diversity Board, heritage clubs, Loyola Alliance, and the Women Leaders.

School begins on Thursday, August 20, and Ramblers will start the new school year on a hybrid schedule that blends in-person with remote learning.

Additional Back to School Resources
To assist all students and families with the return to campus after the rapid pivot to e-learning in the spring, Loyola provided a number of resources including a Welcome Back to Campus guide, a video outlining safety measures and policy changes, and a dedicated Coronavirus web page.

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