August 4, 2020
August 4, 2020

Dearest Laurence Community,

I am thinking of all of you and your children as the start of the school year is quickly approaching. I also want to thank you for your responses to our recent parent survey. Our administrative team, school directors, faculty leadership, and Board of Trustees have been working day and night to prepare for the 2020-21 school year. We have been diligently readying Laurence's campus for our students' return to in-person instruction, while simultaneously planning for a potential remote start to the school year. Although I had held on to the hope that we would be able to start in person, it has now become clear that we will need to start our school year in an all-remote learning environment.  

As many of you are aware, in mid-July, Governor Newsom announced the state's requirements for reopening schools. He said that a school located in a county on the state's "Monitoring List" must be off that list for 14 consecutive days in order to reopen for in-person instruction. Unfortunately, based on the current case data in Los Angeles County, there is a good chance that we will not meet this criteria by September 9th. For the same reason, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health just issued a statement saying that it will not consider waiver applications at this time. For the sake of providing certainty for our families and faculty during this ever-changing situation, we have decided that moving forward with a fully remote start to the year is the most prudent course of action.

While this school year will no doubt look different, we are making every effort to bring our students and families a true Laurence School experience. Our entire team is welcoming this challenge as an opportunity to put our creativity and expertise to work to create the best possible school year for our students under these difficult circumstances. From morning meetings to time with specialists, a reimagined Buddy Program to virtual field trips, and small-group learning to engaging enrichment experiences, our goal is for your children to thrive. We will also continue to emphasize social and emotional development, and our Character Education Program, while finding new ways for children to have unique and meaningful social interactions with classmates.

In addition to our cutting edge academic program, we are deepening our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, our social studies curriculum is being updated to integrate new multicultural and social justice lessons, and we are finding opportunities for parents to participate in this work, as well. Our faculty is also preparing for program enhancements this summer through professional development, including opportunities specifically related to remote learning (e.g., enhanced distance learning tools, reconstructing reading for remote learning, and enhanced use of Google Classroom and Seesaw).

So for now, we will move full steam ahead with plans for a strong start to remote learning on September 9th. Beginning the week of August 17th, we will hold grade-level coffees to prepare for the upcoming school year and answer your questions (dates and invitations will be sent out soon). When the state and L.A. County Department of Public Health allow us to reopen campus, we will be ready to pivot to in-person learning. At that time, we will bring students back to campus -- potentially in a staggered manner -- approximately 14 days later to allow our families and employees to prepare and self-quarantine. All employees will be tested prior to returning to campus. 

Remote Learning Program Updates

In planning for a fully remote start to the school year, we have taken into consideration our experience from the spring, as well as the significant parent and student feedback we received. We have implemented enhancements and changes that we think will improve our program for fully remote learning at the start of the school year, and which will also benefit students who participate in the hybrid program we will be offering once we are allowed to return to campus. 

Below is an overview of updates to our program:  

Learning Experience

  • Smaller student cohorts/homerooms, which we are calling "learning families" (3 or 4 per grade level)
  • Teacher office hours with individual student check-ins
  • Daily schedule that closely resembles our on-campus schedule, including built-in time for students to connect with teachers and complete their classwork
  • New educational technology programs to support our traditional curriculum during remote learning (e.g., Dreambox for Math -- an award-winning adaptive math supplement)
  • PE and enrichment classes, including technology, art, music, dance, and drama, are being designed to optimize the learning experience for remote instruction. We will share more details as the programs solidify.
  • We have hired two new faculty members to help support personalized student learning both remotely and in-person, when we return to campus with social distancing.

Social/Emotional Development & Well-Being

  • Character Education is a hallmark Laurence program, which will continue this year with our theme, Kindness in Action, focusing on promoting equality, respect, and justice. 
  • We will provide ways for students to connect with peers in other learning families and with faculty members including small group advisories, teacher "lunch bunches," and more.
  • Ongoing support for all students from our School Counselor, Dr. Rachel Kavanaugh, including: working with students to identify areas of needed support that are less explicit and/or observable; facilitating regular classroom activities focused on social and emotional learning; hosting "lunch bunch" groups at least once per week with each grade level; providing one-on-one virtual check-ins with students (per student, teacher, and/or parent request); regular consultations with teachers; and parent consultations as needed.
  • We are hiring a school nurse to support student health, safety, and well-being.

Technology

  • Improved workflow using Google Sites in conjunction with Seesaw and Google Classroom to help you and your children organize the school day and facilitate student independence
  • A one-to-one device program with school-issued technology devices for every student to support equity and online safety. (Additionally, once students are back on campus, they will need these individual devices to maintain heightened hygiene standards.) 
  • School devices will come with all apps and programs that your children need for learning, as well as content filtering. Our Tech Team will be able to push all updates to and remotely troubleshoot for school-issued devices only.
  • When we can be on campus, each classroom will be equipped with an OWL, a 360-degree camera and microphone, which will help teachers facilitate group discussions and a sense of community for students who are participating in the hybrid program and learning remotely.

School Supplies & Materials

  • Your children will have everything they need for a successful start to the new school year.
  • Prior to the start of school, families will be asked to come to Laurence to pick up supplies and materials. (If you cannot pick up supplies/materials in person, you may contact your division director(s) to make arrangements.)
  • We will be providing students with individual technology devices, textbooks, and materials for science, art, music, PE, and more. (Individual supplies will also be necessary for when we return to in-person instruction to maintain heightened hygiene standards.)

Parent Support

  • Beginning the week of August 17th, we will host grade-level parent coffees to discuss the academic program for the year and to answer questions.
  • Our Parent Education Series will continue virtually and include speakers and topics to help support families during the pandemic. 

Community & Traditions

  • We are reimagining our remote Red, White, Blue & Green Assemblies under the leadership of our returning Director of Performing Arts, Whitney Stange, to increase opportunities for virtual performances and community engagement.
  • We are working with our new Parent Association Executive Board to reinvent important traditions and events including the Family Library/Global Perspectives presentations, our Halloween celebration, community service opportunities, parent connection, Party Book events, and more.

Class Placement

We know that this is a stressful time for our families, and that there is some anxiety surrounding class placement assignments to "learning families" for the coming year. Further, many of you contacted us with interest in forming "learning pods" at your houses for times when we are unable to be on-campus. Please note that while we appreciate the desire for in-person interaction, the school cannot endorse or facilitate any sort of gathering of families when our school campus is not allowed to be open (this is in accordance with direction from our accreditation organization, the California Association of Independent Schools).  

We respectfully remind you that, as always, we are unable to take parent requests for class placement. Please understand that an extraordinary amount of time, attention, and reflection are devoted to class placements, and we work in close collaboration with the teachers, as they have unique insight into each child and into the group as a whole. Please note that a sibling's prior teacher assignment does not guarantee placement with a given teacher, in order for us to focus on the social-emotional and academic balance of each classroom. Once we have made these decisions, and teachers have contacted you in late August to welcome you to their classes, we cannot make further changes. We thank you for supporting and respecting this important administration request. 

* * *

Your partnership, support, and flexibility during these challenging times are appreciated more than you realize. As you know, the school has incurred losses and increased expenses as a result of COVID, and although we know many in our community are also facing similar challenges, we want to acknowledge and thank the generous donors who have stepped forward to help offset our increased costs and the burden on our financial reserves. Your support will benefit each and every student in the upcoming school year.

We will continue to update you regularly as our plans evolve and to provide you with more details about the school year as we approach September. We are looking forward to seeing you at the upcoming grade-level coffees and to reuniting for our virtual back-to-school event because we are truly Stronger Together. 

With gratitude,

Laurie Wolke
Head of School