On October 19, Loyola Academy increased its daily enrollment to fifty-percent capacity each day after spending the first quarter at twenty-five percent. This new schedule continues to allow for social distancing within classrooms while maximizing in-person learning and social interaction for students. The increased capacity follows what Loyola Academy President Rev. Patrick E. McGrath, SJ, and Principal Charlie Heintz call "great strides" in the school's collective efforts to safely facilitate in-person instruction.
“We believe that in-person learning is a much richer and more beneficial experience for the entire Rambler community, and this transition is made possible by the extensive safety measures in place that have enabled us to create a safe learning environment,” McGrath and Heintz said in a joint statement sent via email to families on October 14.
The decision was made at the recommendation of the health and safety committee of the school’s COVID-19 Recovery Team, composed of health care professionals and experts, and based on the promising data from the Loyola community. Guiding the committee’s decisions are three guiding values:
- Prioritizing the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff
- Maximizing in-person learning opportunities for students
- Remaining flexible in the course of an ever-changing landscape
“I continue to be impressed with all the students, faculty, staff and parents working together, following the safety guidelines and keeping everyone safe and healthy here at Loyola Academy,” stated School Nurse Mrs. Corry Braasch, BSN, RN, whose team has expanded this year with two additional school nurses to help manage important logistics such as symptom checking and contact tracing. “It has been a tremendous undertaking to get the school prepared for in person learning during this pandemic and it makes me so happy every day to see the students here in school.”
The increased enrollment was achieved by dividing all four grade levels across an alphabetical A-K and L-Z split, a division that keeps average class sizes at 11 students per classroom and benefits the courses with students from multiple grade levels. A detailed plan was shared with families in the October 14 email referenced above and addressed the management of lunch and free periods when students have less structure and more movement throughout the building.
With more students on campus each day, the places students are allowed to eat during lunch periods were limited to only the cafeteria, West Gym, or outside in one of the Piazza tents.
During flex time, students can occupy the East Gym balcony, East Gym bleachers, pool balcony or tents by the Piazza or football field. Students who have a free period during a lunch period (i.e. a senior who is free during 4A) can use the Student Center, Library, Quad or tents on the north end of campus.
Dean's Office personnel, stationed proctors, clear signage and frequent announcements helped to facilitate these changes, and students were encouraged to bring their lunches for the first fews days of the new schedule to ease the transition.
English Teacher Katie Seeberg ’01 is grateful to be back in the building with her students. “Being on campus this summer allowed me to see firsthand the many measures the school has taken to ensure our safe return and the well-being of all who are here,” she said. “And I am just beyond impressed with our students and how well they have adapted to these uncertain times—with patience, grace, and smiling eyes! Seeing them in my classroom each day is such a joy, and so vital to the work we do together.”
The response from students, including many seniors for whom being on campus holds a special significance, has been positive.
“Being back in the building not only allows us to see our friends, but gives us back the everyday freedoms we took for granted before the pandemic,” says senior Patrick Eilers.
“I am so glad we get to be back in the building more often, and class is so much more efficient and interactive,” adds Brooke Collins ’21. “Overall, the success of Loyola’s hybrid system has been a testament to the community’s hard work and unity throughout this unprecedented time.”
“With Loyola’s increase to 50% capacity in school, I’m able to have face to face discussion which tremendously enhances my learning experience,” states Kate Vallace ’21. “Loyola has put forth immense efforts in making all students safe while ensuring superlative education. Seeing my teachers and peers in person and having the ability to directly engage in class is something I’ve learned to never take advantage of and I am grateful for the opportunity to come to school every other day going forward. It is particularly impressive to me to see the hardworking staff support the health and safety of every person who enters the building and this definitely reflects the overall mission of our school to be men and women for others.”
Summer Parker-Hall ’21 echoed the enthusiasm of her classmates. “As a senior, I want every opportunity to see my friends, former teachers, current teachers and others who have supported me along my Loyola journey! Being back on campus at 50% is amazing! I’m looking forward to increasing the 50%!”
Strong mitigation efforts have been in place at Loyola since the return to school in August. Once new and unusual procedures, symptoms checks, required face masks, enhanced sanitation measures and enforced social distancing are all commonplace now. The school continues to prohibit visitors, field trips and large group gatherings such as assemblies, pep rallies and all-school Masses. Student desks are arranged six feet apart in rows, facing the same direction. Assigned seating and seating charts are enforced. The flow of hallway and stairwell traffic has been modified, and outdoor space has increased with the addition of heated tents. The facilities team 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. All the water fountains around the building and hand dryers in restrooms have been turned off. Learn more about Loyola’s health and safety efforts here.
In their email, Principal Heintz and Fr. McGrath reminded the families that despite Loyola’s best efforts and significant investment, a safe increase in on-campus capacity would require the cooperation of the whole community.
“A safe increase to our on-campus capacity will continue to depend upon the personal responsibility and community accountability of us all. We want to be on campus, but this will not work if all of us are not vigilant at all times about these simple but incredibly important efforts: wear a mask, wash your hands, keep six feet distance when possible.”
They also issued a reminder that a shift back to a reduced capacity on campus or remote learning is possible in the event of an outbreak of the coronavirus in the community or per the mandate of state and local authorities. “We are continually monitoring this situation and consulting guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC),” they said.
Other important factors monitored daily include the school community’s internal case count and number of individuals quarantined.