At Stevenson, our focus goes well beyond textbooks, and in times like this we continue to hold safety and wellness as chief priorities. Amid the COVID-19 scenario, we are leaning heavily on the medical professionals in our community (key links below). We are also fortunate to be in close, frequent contact with our peer independent schools. This translates into ample planning, preparation, and adjustment. Partnering on this issue is essential, so please use this webpage to remain updated.
This September we introduced a hybrid mode that brings students back to campus several days each week. Throughout, Stevenson is maintaining continuity of key components of our academic program, advisory, and clinical support.
Stevenson is practicing social distancing, and all nonessential visits to campus are on indefinite hold.
The question of the summer was: how are you going to open, and, more specifically, what will that look like for students? We know that a good answer addresses safety, learning, and social connections. We know that a strong answer includes robust clinical support. Here’s the answer for Stevenson.
For safety, our plan combines engineering controls, administrative controls, and other layers to boost safety for students, faculty, and staff. Screening, cleaning, mask-wearing, and hand-washing (including touchless faucets) all support safe learning and teaching in classrooms with HEPA filters and open windows. The full details are on the COVID-19 page on the Stevenson website: www./stevenson-school.org
Our learning plan is where we shift from the reassurance of safety measures to the excitement of a return to in-person learning.
Stevenson’s B.E.S.T.T.™ model (Blended Education Supervised Teaching Therapeutically) holds true to the school’s core features—rich academics, frequent advising connections, and doctoral level clinical support—while also providing many benefits in improved teaching, student engagement, safety, and flexibility. Our blended model means that students learn on site some days and from home some days. Whether at home or at school, students attend classes that are synchronous (live) five days a week, which is substantially more than the typical hybrid or blended model. It also dovetails with key features of our COVID-19 response:
One way to understand how this all happens is by picturing the fusion of an internet cafe with an established team of teaching and clinical professionals. We leverage technology to allow the individual students to connect virtually with different teachers while they remain in the same classroom. This blend of interactions decreases travel from room-to-room and mixing across groups for each class. Meanwhile, virtual teaching faculty are supplemented by onsite faculty and staff, including a classroom facilitator in each advising group. With their own computers, their own headsets, and their own schedules, students are able to merge personal connections and learning in a safely distanced set-up.
The B.E.S.T.T.™ model also prioritizes parents. Parents have the flexibility to decide if they want their child to attend the school in-person some days or if they want their child to learn from home 100% of the time. As a nod to the importance of parents’ decisions, the model makes the transition between attendance preferences a seamless one. In either case, students will:
Hybrid and blended have become popular terms for schools. At Stevenson, we’re excited about our unique model because it boosts safety while making connections consistent regardless of student location. Whether learners are at home or at school, our teachers, our advisors, and our clinical staff are all ready to make the 2020-2021 school year a successful one.
The Kids are Alright? Probably Not. Here’s the School Action Needed Now.
In the school world, all roads currently lead to one question: what’s your reopening plan? In our minds, we fear that those plans—no matter how well-intentioned and detailed—will be inadequate when it comes to student mental health. As the Clinical Director and Head of School at a New York City therapeutic day school, we have witnessed firsthand the pandemic’s impact on students, and we are now living the intense preparations to fuse considerations of academic, emotional, physical, and social health. Although student-age hospitalization and mortality rates related to COVID-19 may be significantly lower than adults, those students are facing a sustained multitude of direct and indirect effects profoundly impacting their cognitive, social, and emotional functioning. With those effects in mind, we implore all educators to make live social connections a top priority in their plans and in their practices.
A pandemic affects more than the body. Children and adolescents not directly infected by the virus are impacted in a variety of other significant ways. These range from a fear of contracting the virus, to experiencing the loss of a loved one, to a loss of their sense of normalcy in life. A growing number of students are worried, anxious, sad, and isolated with disrupted routines and sleep cycles. While the stressors associated with the pandemic place all students at risk for trauma, that risk is increased for students with pre-existing disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and for students with past exposure to traumatic events.
Additional risk factors exist at the family and societal levels. Some students have experienced or are experiencing loved ones being infected or dying. Fear and anxiety may be heightened when loved ones are particularly vulnerable to the COVID virus, work as healthcare professionals, or work in places with increased risk of exposure to the virus. Many others have lost their jobs leading to financial instability. As negative shifts in the economy increase adult unemployment, this can affect adult mental health and increase risk for child maltreatment. Increased stress in the context of isolation and reduced access to supports is associated with higher rates of child maltreatment and interpersonal violence (Abramson, 2020). Still other parents report on the considerable stress of working from home while trying to oversee their student’s remote education. This is particularly difficult in households with multiple children, cramped spaces, and a lack of resources needed to make virtual connections. Add special learning needs and psychological disorders, and it all becomes even more challenging.
To further complicate matters, ways in which students previously coped with stress and mental health issues may no longer be available or feasible. Their range of coping strategies is restricted by necessary social distancing, which limits their access to social and community-based supports. Over the course of the past 4 months, students have had to redefine their social lives through remote connections and social media. Many have become less physically active. Many have lost structure and stable routines. They miss their connections in the community through faith-based institutions, sports and other extra-curriculars, and, yes, school.
Students have not only missed out on important school events like prom, field trips, and graduation. Students have missed out on school-based mental health services, which, for many, may be their only access to mental health care. Recently, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 14.2% of adolescents received some sort of mental health services from a school setting in the past 12 months, which is striking considering that 16% received similar services in an inpatient or outpatient mental health facility. Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in students’ utilization of school-based mental health services (percentages over the past 10 years ranged from 11.9 to 13.3%). The benefits of school-based mental health services are well documented and include the elimination of many barriers to treatment including financial, getting to appointments, and stigmatization. Adolescents from racial and ethnic minority groups and who rely upon public health insurance are significantly more likely to receive mental health services exclusively from school.
This does not mean we all must be back in the schools buildings, but it does mean all schools must build close connections with each and every student. While we hear legitimate reasons for our students’ return to school buildings, our call-to-action for schools is a more foundational one that applies regardless of physical location. Similarly, while the New York State Reopening Guidance for schools can be praised for including social emotional well-being, our call is one that undergirds its recommendations and streamlines the clear, core action for every school to take. Do this: plan for every student to have a live connection, whether virtual or not, with faculty and staff. Make close connections with each and every student as high a priority as any other component of your reopening plan.
A plan for live connections with each and every student—that’s it. We know that feeling a general connection to school promotes positive development (Catalano, Haggerty, Oesterle, Fleming, & Dawkins, 2004) and that student-adult relationships are an especially important factor (Li & Julian, 2012). We also know that feeling involved in school may be particularly beneficial to Black adolescents’ mental health (Rose, Joe, Shields, & Caldwell, 2014). We need to act on that knowledge. Professional development on trauma and related topics, hiring additional staff, and developing robust mental health programs are all important, but the step needed right now is simply to prioritize live connections with each student. This is the step that is immediately manageable. This is the step that will make identification of higher needs possible. It will rely on an acknowledgment of mental health’s importance and a commitment to take action.
In a socially distanced world, schools must prioritize social connectedness. It’s something that the pandemic has made more difficult than ever to achieve and more important than ever to pursue. We ask all educators to strengthen the pursuit, and we ask everyone else to find ways to help those educators achieve it.
Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. http://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse
Catalano, R. F., Haggerty, K. P., Oesterle, S., Fleming, C. B., & Hawkins, J. D. (2004). The importance of bonding to school for healthy development: findings from the Social Development Research Group. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 252+.
Li, J., & Julian, M. M. (2012). Developmental relationships as the active ingredient: A unifying working hypothesis of “what works” across intervention settings. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(2), 157-166.
Rose, T., Joe, S., Shields, J., & Caldwell, C. (2014). Social Integration and the Mental Health of Black Adolescents. Child Development, 85(3), 1003-1018.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP19-5068, NSDUH Series H-54). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/
April 27, 2020
To Whom It May Concern:
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Robert Louis Stevenson School has been operating in a remote learning setup since Monday, March 16, 2020. Stevenson’s remote learning program was designed by the school administration led by Stevenson’s Head of School, who has significant field knowledge, who has conducted relevant doctoral level research, and whose guidance for remote program design is endorsed nationally1.
The Robert Louis Stevenson School achieves a robust continuity of services through its remote learning program. The remote program has meant that all classes and clinical services have been operating without interruption since the transition on March 16, 2020. The remote learning schedule was built based on relevant research and Stevenson students’ specific needs. Each day, students are scheduled for six or more synchronous interactions. As a general schedule for all students, the synchronous interactions include multiple class meetings, multiple meetings with an Advising group, a daily meeting for learning support, and both scheduled and on-demand meetings with doctoral level psychologists. Additionally, students work asynchronously on assignments, the completion and development of which are supported through personal teacher feedback. Student schedules also include a wellness block, which is a time in which asynchronous school work can occur but also during which key activities like physical exercise and healthy eating are encouraged. Through daily collaboration among the staff and with families, outside professionals, and the students themselves, the general schedule is personalized based on specific learning and emotional needs.
Stevenson’s remote learning program unfolds through an intentional blend of synchronous and asynchronous interactions. The interactions are rooted in G Suite for Education. In addition to the many forms of shared documents supported by Google, Google Classroom serves as a hub to manage classes and related assignments, and Google Hangouts Chat and Google Hangouts Meet anchor the synchronous interactions. With Google, students, faculty, and staff are able to interact in many ways, including, among other things, two-way audio and video. Notable amid recent concerns, Zoom has not been used for student interactions. Instead, doxy.me served as the primary platform for both scheduled and on-demand teletherapy sessions with students.
Stevenson’s remote learning program achieves continuity of services through familiarity and collaboration. For years, Stevenson has been a 1:1 device school that provides a Chromebook and G Suite access for all students, which means that all students and faculty were already familiar with G Suite–and with remotely accessing it–prior to the program-wide shift to remote learning. Although the global pandemic creates conditions that are undeniably unfamiliar for all and uniquely trying for Stevenson’s emotionally complex population, the familiarity with G Suite provided a point of consistency. Families and faculty were both surveyed about technology prior to the shift to a remote program in order to make sure all had access to a reliable internet connection and key devices needed to achieve that consistency. Around that consistency, continued communication with students, parents, and outside professionals made the remote program’s implementation a deeply collaborative one. Specifically for the Stevenson faculty and staff, they continue to meet as a group every day to vigilantly maintain a focus on student issues.
Attendance at Stevenson is also a point of continuity. Attendance operates through a threefold process. Clinicians keep attendance records, and faculty keep attendance records. Additionally, students are able to virtually indicate their attendance through a Google form. Together, that threefold record-keeping process yields a composite view of student attendance that is accurate and contains checks and backups.
With all of that in place, no changes to tuition occurred for the current period.
Head of School
Dear Stevenson Families,
I am writing to you as a parent of two Stevenson alumni and as the Chair of the Stevenson Board of Trustees. On behalf of the Board, I want to share our view that Stevenson continues to meet the highest standards for educating and supporting students. This has never been truer than it is at this moment. The faculty have rallied to make the transition to distance learning smooth, the clinical team continue to offer their outstanding support, and the school leadership has been superb — preparing for the current situation in advance by assessing the technology capabilities of students and faculty, holding professional development on remote learning for faculty ahead of time, making the decision to keep students safe by migrating to distance learning early—before the public schools, and phasing in a remote learning program that provides continuity and meets student needs.
Our Head of School, Chris Ongaro, and our Director of Technology, Adam Van Auken, have expertise in the areas of blended and online learning, and they are implementing our program as would be recommended to schools across the country. The early phases constitute the transition period away from the brick-and-mortar setting. It also is a critical time for exploring new forms of interaction and analyzing student experiences with it. Our next phase will begin Monday, March 30th, with an updated weekly schedule that was created through close consultation with our faculty and clinical staff, as well as outside professionals. The new schedule is designed to increase live virtual meetings without overwhelming students, and it includes other defining features like multiple daily Advising periods and ample availability of our clinical staff. I know how important it is for Stevenson to work closely with each student, so I am also glad that the schedule anticipates the need for students to check in for learning support and to meet for other virtual social connections. Beyond the general student schedule, I am especially glad to report that plans are being made to expand parent support into the virtual world.
In difficult times, it is all the more important to connect with our network and to find points to celebrate within our community. Related to both, I am proud to report that Stevenson’s leadership and expertise is recognized by peers, colleagues, and professional organizations, including the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools). This is clearly demonstrated in their newsletter’s lead article, Possibilities Amid Pandemic: Mapping Interactions for Remote Learning. This was written by our Head of School, Chris Ongaro. It indicates that the leading independent school organization in the country is looking to Stevenson to provide guidance on distance learning to the school community at large.
It is an outstanding article, and I urge you all to read it. The link is below:
Warm regards and stay safe,
Howard Spivak, Chair
Robert Louis Stevenson School Board of Trustees
Dear Stevenson Families,
As I witness the increasing disruptions and concern caused by COVID-19, I am thinking often about our school community. Echoing what Chris Ongaro mentioned in his update on Friday, March 13, there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 among faculty, staff, or students at Stevenson at this time, and our decision to temporarily shift to remote learning intends to help keep our community safe and healthy.
As the current Board Chair and the parent of two Stevenson alums, I, along with our Board of Trustees, am deeply committed to the well-being of our students, families, faculty, and staff. With that in mind, I am reassured by the close connections our trustees have developed over the years among themselves and with the school’s leadership team. The decision to temporarily shift to remote learning is not taken lightly, but the increasing intensity of our surrounding circumstances and the clear guidance for social distancing make us resolute in this change.
Although we are temporarily shifting to remote learning, faculty and staff are poised to implement a plan that preserves opportunities for both learning and emotional support. Specifically, I am thankful to know that our students will continue to have support available through check-ins with their advisors, virtual meetings with our clinical staff, and frequent interactions with teachers. Both because of the significance of this shift and because of the evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation, we can view our next steps in phases. The first phase begins Monday with only four days needed to finish the third quarter. In a second phase, faculty and staff will prepare students to debrief reports. Our third phase assumes that remote learning may need to continue until our Spring Break. We will consider what is learned over the next week and will then engage students in assignments, virtual socialization, and clinical contact to begin the fourth quarter.
I learned years ago as a Stevenson parent that Stevenson helps students manage emotions and find personal paths to success. That emotional support and personalized learning will be all the more important as our students endure these strange times. With all difficult situations there is opportunity for learning, and I have confidence in the Stevenson community growing closer through this experience. Parent support and well-being will also be crucial, so I encourage you all to read messages sent from the school, support your children in managing their tasks and contact with school, and find ways to support happiness and health for yourselves.
What will come in the days ahead remains unknown. I hope, though, that you will join me in finding strength and comfort in our shared, undeterred commitment to the Stevenson students.
Howard Spivak, Chair
Robert Louis Stevenson School Board of Trustees
Dear Stevenson Families,
We are all about to take the jump, together, into a temporary remote learning set-up. As this unfolds, you may find there is a risk of email fatigue, so today’s message is intended to streamline our shared focus for a first phase of remote learning. I am also aiming to arrange a video-conference call for interested parents this week, and I will follow up about that.
For now, please hold the following as priorities. First, this will unfold in phases. Phase 1 is this week with only four days to finish the quarter. Very manageable.
Second, scheduling from class to class and student to student will develop. To start, there are four key pieces for every student:
The best starting point to support your child at home will be to focus on these key pieces as students develop their personal detailed schedule. A detailed schedule framework is in the guide sent out yesterday. We will also be posting the most updated version of that guide on our website this week.
Dear Stevenson Families,
I am writing to announce that beginning on Monday, March 16, the Robert Louis Stevenson School will be transitioning to a temporary remote learning set-up. We intend to continue this remote learning set-up until our Spring Break’s start on Friday, April 3. That will provide a solid five weeks of social distancing.
To be clear, there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 among faculty, staff, or students at Stevenson at this time, and this decision aims to help keep it that way.
Along with trustee consultation, school leadership has made this decision, but it is surely not one that is taken lightly. We are compelled to take this action by the circumstances in which we all now exist. The decision follows an assessment of our readiness to provide various forms of synchronous and asynchronous learning options, and it follows careful consideration of a responsibility for the health and safety of the Stevenson community. Combining those factors with our broader social obligation in the face of a confirmed global pandemic, we have decided that this is the best course of action.
In addition to connections with our robust network of peer schools and professionals, I have appreciated the collaboration and input from parents and trustees in the days and weeks leading to today’s announcement, and I will share some context to help put us on a similar page. As you may already know, many educational institutions across New York State and the country have decided to close or make this shift to remote learning either in response to specific concerns or to enact a strategy to help curb the spread of the virus. Currently, over 100 New York State independent schools announced varying forms of closures and plans to make the jump to a remote set-up. Many will also be on their two-week breaks for Spring Break these next two weeks and are facing the possibility of extending their breaks. Following similar actions of many private institutions like our local Columbia University, the CUNY and SUNY systems will move to remote classes on March 19. The Mayor’s decision to declare a state of emergency for our city and to urge employers and employees to embrace social distancing provide all the more reason to take this situation seriously for our own students, families, faculty, and staff.
Stevenson is built around personal connections, particularly between students and professionals, so we know that this shift will be not be an easy one. I also know, though, that the interaction with school–with Stevenson teachers, advisors, clinicians, and peers–will be all the more important for our students now amid such strange circumstances. Stevenson has a continuity plan in place to preserve key components of our program in a remote set-up, and I have been impressed by the faculty and staff’s preparation. As I intend for each of our community members to know, Stevenson is a unique institution, and what I recently witnessed from students and adults alike showed me a sense of shared purpose and resilience.
The faculty and staff showed me that all of us want to do everything we can to support Stevenson students. Our efforts in that regard must be transferred to a remote scenario that is new for almost all involved. I find some comfort in leaning on my own experience and research in the digital learning field. From that, I know that replicating the day-to-day, in-person schedule is impossible, and I will be straightforward in stating that I do not expect this scenario to feel natural in its early days. That said, our continuity plan includes a framework of scheduled interactions and assignments for students, and the faculty and staff will approach its implementation with the same blend of intentionality and flexibility they employ day in and day out.
Implementing this necessary plan involves challenges for parents, for teachers, for students, and for all staff supporting them. Our efforts to prepare for and limit those challenges have been robust and will be evolving. Our success will hinge on a strong partnering between home and school. In order to support that partnership, I will be sending Stevenson’s Remote Learning Survival Guide in a separate email to families within the next 24 hours. You will find that faculty will be available from 9am-3pm each weekday, and specific scheduling plans will be noted. Also in that follow-up message, you will find an important consent form related to our planned virtual clinical meetings with students. Please watch for this guide, review it closely, and return a completed consent form.
In this time of uncertainty and disruption, I am grateful to be a part of such a supportive, caring community, and I am confident that we all will do what we can to support each other in the upcoming weeks.
Dear Stevenson Families,
Amid the developing COVID-19 situation, we are continuing to maintain close communication with our peer schools and local health officials, and we are taking steps both to provide a clean learning environment and to be prepared for the unlikely need for school closures. Thank you to the many families who already responded to our questionnaire sent on Friday. Responses will help us prepare.
As another step, I am, as of today, asking that students, faculty, and clinical staff depart school each day at 3:30pm. As of now and unless there is a league decision for change, the basketball team may finish their season as planned. Among other things, this will support afternoon cleaning at school and will help students avoid some of the rush hour crowds. This change will remain in effect until further notice.
Dear Stevenson Families,
Topic of the Week: COVID-19 Update
I am writing today to update you on the school’s preparations for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
We have alcohol-based hand sanitizer available for students, faculty, staff, and visitors to use. We have a rigorous daily cleaning protocol that includes the use of an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer.
In today’s update you’ll also find a link to a brief, important questionnaire. This will guide our planning for remote learning, in the unlikely event that it should become necessary.
We also want to assess what recent travel has been conducted to areas at risk for the spread of COVID-19. Starting now (and in keeping with many other New York independent schools), we ask that you contact Carl Pozzi at email@example.com or 212-787-6400 if your child or a member of your household has traveled to any destination specified as a level 3 or level 2 risk by the CDC within the past 14 days (As of March 6, the current list of countries is: China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, and Japan. Check the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/
The CDC is recommending that those who have traveled to these destinations limit contact with others and monitor their health for 14 days after returning to the United States.
We will apply these same guidelines with visitors to our campus and will update them if the CDC extends risk assessments to other countries.
I ask for your cooperation and partnership in notifying us of recent or planned travel. We will do all we can to limit the disruption to families, as we may ask a student to remain home for a period of time. In these cases, we will work diligently to ensure your child is able to keep up with their studies.
Thank you for your continued understanding and partnership.
Best wishes for the weekend.
Head of School
Dear Stevenson Families,
We are sending this update to remind all families to follow best practices to prevent seasonal illnesses, to keep you informed and up to date about Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), and to assure you that Stevenson is taking appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.
As a reminder, Stevenson’s wellness policy can be found on page 8 of the 2019-2020 Handbook. For convenience, the information related to flu and respiratory infections are shown below:
If there is any doubt as to whether your child is well enough to attend school, please exercise caution and keep your child at home. Use the following list of symptoms as mandatory guidelines for an illness related absence:
Please notify the front desk and the student’s advisor if your child is diagnosed with any contagious illness. Any child absent for three consecutive days, must be cleared by his or her doctor and provide the school with a note from that doctor prior to being readmitted to school.
The CDC has not made a recommendation to change cleaning regimens. They recommend continuing current practices using current products. We continue to thoroughly deep clean our facilities, and in an abundance of caution, we have added the use of an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer to treat high-touch surfaces.
As of Friday March 13, Stevenson has adopted remote learning.
Head of School Chris Ongaro and members of the school administration continue to closely monitor the most up-to-date information provided by federal, state and local health officials, as well as from school-governing organizations, and are speaking daily to adjust their plans.
Stevenson is practicing social distancing, and all visits to campus are on indefinite hold.
We ask that all members of our community adopt social distancing to mitigate the spread of the
The School’s maintenance staff performed a deep cleaning to sanitize the school facilities. Stevenson has purchased an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer and incorporated its use in our cleaning regimen.
Stevenson is operating via remote learning until further notice. This may be altered or extended as conditions change.
Stevenson is maintaining continuity of our curriculum.
Our advisory and our counseling center remain operational, though they are now virtual.
The Stevenson Benefit, Scheduled for May 21, has been cancelled.
Stevenson prepared a plan for remote learning, including assessing the technology needs and availability, training and professional development for faculty, collaborative creation of schedules, tracking attendance, and maintaining continuity and support provided by the advisory program and the counseling center.
Chris held meetings with students and toured the school to field questions prior to students departing on Thursday, March 12. Throughout, students demonstrated an admirable seriousness mixed with some refreshing humor. Chris reassured all that this is temporary, and he encouraged all students to take advantage of email, video, and other forms of interactions that will help them continue to learn and stay on track as high school students.
Given the level of attention that the novel coronavirus has attracted, students may understandably become anxious and have concerns about the virus and its transmission. Our psychologists are available to meet with students and their families to address questions and concerns. In addition, our math and science faculty have incorporated lessons related to COVID-19 into the curriculum to help dispel misinformation, reduce anxiety and make the curriculum current and topical.
Center for Disease Control Information about the Coronavirus. This is an excellent resource with up-to-date information.
New York State Department of Health. This is an excellent resource with up-to-date information including the number of cases reported by county.
New York City Department of Health. This website is updated regularly, it contains very current information.
New York City Department of Health Fact Sheet on COVID-19
Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus (from Child Mind Institute website)
There is a ‘Tipping Point’… (March 8, 2020 Article from Bloomberg)
NY Times Article: Worried About Coronavirus on the Subway? Here’s What We Know