Indian Creek Holds Community Engagement Meeting Series

Indian Creek School held an online Community Town Hall meeting on Monday, May 11, to share information with families about initiatives that the school has undertaken to plan for the 2020-21 school year. ICS has formed five committees who are working to plan a variety of options for a safe and dynamic return to school next fall. At the Town Hall meeting, families heard from the School’s Health & Safety task force, the Social Emotional team, the Curriculum Council, and Lower and Upper School Scheduling teams. Meeting attendees were reminded that information shared is still in the conceptual phase, and that plans will be revised, refined, and shared based on the evolving health crisis. Parents were asked to share feedback through upcoming surveys and future meetings, as a vital part of the planning process.

Head of School Booth Kyle welcomed families and gave an overview of the School’s priorities in planning for fall 2020. “We are being optimistic and hoping that schools will be open the fall.” With that said, he reminded parents that we are planning for a school year of physical distancing and are looking for guidance from Governor Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery as well as the council of our ICS Medical Advisory task force. At a minimum, Indian Creek plans to adhere to the basic physical distancing guidelines when school opens in the fall. At the extreme end, Indian Creek is working to be prepared to be in Virtual Session again next year for a period of time, if necessary.

Indian Creek is committed to providing a safe, mission-consistent, flexible, and “student obsessed” program. Mr. Kyle shared that the phrase “student-obsessed” highlights that the experience of our students is at the core of every decision made. He shared that components of this experience include models for smaller group instruction and a project-based learning orientation that would fit in-person, blended, and virtual settings. He shared plans to bring a renewed school-wide focus to social-emotional learning (SEL) built into curriculum, with Equity and Inclusion (E&I) as a priority.

Health and Safety
Administrator of Health Services Denise Malinow spoke next about the work of the School’s Health and Safety Task Force. She shared that the group’s ultimate goal is to ensure the health and safety of everybody who comes on to Indian Creek’s campuses. She shared many ways that the group plans to achieve this, including securing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), establishing distancing protocols, examining the School’s cleaning protocols, enacting a health screening plan and policy, and planning for the handling of COVID cases within our community. The Health and Safety task force is working closely with the School’s Medical Advisory Committee, comprised of a group of medical professionals in our community, to plan and enact these initiatives.

Health and Safety also involves planning around auxiliary services such as dining and transportation. Indian Creek continues to hold ongoing conversations with SAGE dining and Lonergan’s Bus Service in order to ensure that they will be able to follow the School’s safety protocols (for example, keeping distance between students on buses, and serving pre-packaged lunches) when students return to campus.

Social and Emotional Learning
Director of Equity and Inclusion Doug McCuiston spoke next, emphasizing to families that this pandemic has made us all acutely aware that the health and safety of our loved ones is most important. Indian Creek is committed to ensuring that whatever environment we use educate our students, they will be safe and healthy - both physically and emotionally.  

Mr. McCuiston shared that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and learn to make positive choices. Indian Creek is working to incorporate SEL (with a focus on E&I) even closer into our curriculum from Pre-K3 through grade 12. Some steps being taken towards this goal include a community survey in fall 2020, utilizing our 5-12 advisory program to provide one-on-one support to students, scheduling weekly SEL lessons in Pre-K through third grade, holding weekly drop-ins and activities for grades 4-6, revising the Upper School Human Development program to provide developmentally appropriate SEL lessons, and taking weekly “temperature checks” (figurative, not literal) for students in grades 7-12. Indian Creek has partnered with the Global Online Academy to implement many SEL components into curriculum.

Teaching and Learning
Lower School (Pre-K – Grade 6)
Head of Lower School Jennifer Malachowski shared that the school administration is currently hopeful that our plan will be to meet face-to-face in the fall, but the school is also planning for many different contingencies at this time. She shared that Indian Creek is paying close attention to other organizations around the world as they reopen to see what does and doesn’t work. Indian Creek is also consulting with the Maryland State Department of Education and working in close collaboration with the Health and Safety Task Force.

She then shared an opening of school conceptual plan based on a climate where it is deemed safe for schools to reopen. In this situation, Indian Creek would plan to establish small learning cohorts at each grade level in Lower School. These cohorts would range in size between 8-12 students, and the school would have two or three cohorts per grade. Students would remain in the same classroom with the same students in their cohort throughout day, with plenty of movement and outdoor time. This model would allow Lower School students to be in school for the full school day, five days a week (Monday through Friday.) Mrs. Malachowski shared several ways in which the current Lower School building would work in favor of this plan: most classrooms have direct doors to the outside; many also have access to sinks and/or bathrooms within the classroom. This model would maximize the amount of face-to-face time between students and teachers, provide a smaller student teacher ratio, and enable us to easily transition to Virtual School for a period of time, if necessary.

Mrs. Malachowski reminded the audience that at this point, the school is considering this model among other possibilities. Parent feedback over the coming weeks is important as the school crafts this plan.

Upper School (Grades 7-12)
Head of Upper School Matt McCormick spoke next, sharing information with parents about the planning that is in the works to facilitate a safe return to campus for students in grades 7-12. Like the Lower School, the Upper School administrators and faculty are planning for a variety of contingencies, which will vary based on the safety level designated in Governor Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery. These options include varying combinations of in-person, blended, and virtual instruction.

Mr. McCormick first spoke about the conceptual schedule and structure for grades 7 & 8. As students at these ages need extra academic, social, and emotional attention, the current iteration of this program includes more face-to-face time with teachers. Students would have fewer classes each day, and classes would last for longer periods of time. Teachers would move to students when possible to reduce time spent in the hallways. A renewed focus on Social Emotional Learning in the form of an enhanced Human Development curriculum, increased one-on-one time with adults through advisory, and a focus on community experiences would be hallmarks of this program.

The conceptual plan for students in grades 9-12 has exciting outcomes for teaching and learning. These grades will move towards a more blended model, with students learning both in person and online, depending on health mandates throughout the year. The Upper School scheduling cohort is working with scheduling ideas that will allow students and teachers to transition between face to face, blended, and virtual learning seamlessly, as needed. The structure of the schedule is simple and flexible: students will take fewer classes per day, in longer class periods. Co-curricular classes would be taught in virtual or blended formats. Students can expect to see some changes in pedagogy among performance tasks, including an increased focus on project-based learning. This model prioritizes student safety and health, while providing a rich, college-preparatory program. While daily logistics may look different, Indian Creek’s focus on student-centered instruction and a culture of community will not change. Indian Creek is uniquely prepared to continue offering a vibrant high school education by being innovative, flexible, and prepared. We are confident that students will graduate from Indian Creek well-prepared for college and for life.

Mr. McCormick again reminded the audience that these dynamic models are currently in the research and planning phases, and that parent feedback is an essential part of the School’s decision-making process.

Curricular Priorities
Director of Teaching and Learning Sarah Allen reminded families that as we look ahead to next year, it is clear that we need to have a curricular and instructional approach that is flexible between in person, blended, and virtual learning, so that we are prepared for whatever the fall may bring. The Indian Creek experience from Pre-K through grade 12 will be equitable, student-centered, and deeply aligned to our mission. The ICS administration and faculty is committed to making this agile approach work for every learner, including families who may wish to stay in virtual mode for a period of time next year.

For students in Pre-K3 through eighth grade, this will take the form of small group instruction, differentiated learning opportunities, and an interdisciplinary, project based approach to learning. Students and teachers will share meaningful, relevant learning experiences and experience joy in learning together.

In grades 9-12, this will take the form of personalized learning experiences, with a focus on Social Emotional Learning. In-person instruction will combine with blended learning to allow us to diversify and increase course offerings. Students will be able to find appropriate levels of challenge through courses they are passionate about, on a clear path towards success.
While creating dynamic and agile plans for the opening of 2020-21 is necessary due to circumstances beyond our control, this is an exciting endeavor for ICS - a school known for innovation and dedication to best practices in teaching and learning. Ms. Allen stated that this direction will serve each child well and keep our community safe.

Use of Classroom Spaces
Finally, Mr. Kyle described some of the ways in which campus space would be utilized in the current vision for next year. He shared his excitement that our Lower School space will allow ICS to have students at school on a regular schedule. At this time, plans are being made for how to approach Evergreen Campus shared spaces, including the cafeteria, gym, hallways, playgrounds.

Mr. Kyle shared a vision for ways in which some of the larger Upper School spaces (for example, the atrium, cafeteria, gym, library, and loft) can be used in addition to classrooms to allow for physical distancing between students. The planning teams are thinking creatively to plan for ways to use space and time to deliver a vibrant program, while keeping students safe.
The Town Hall presentation was followed by a Question and Answer session.

The ICS Town Hall was one of a series of events intended to share concepts and plans for the 2020-21 school year with parents. Parent feedback is essential as Indian Creek puts plans in place for a safe return to school in the fall. Look for more Parent sessions to be scheduled in the coming weeks.