Bolstered by robust online learning capabilities, Commonwealth School plans to deliver as much in-person instruction as is consistent with protection of the health and safety of its students, faculty, and staff. Much will differ in the way we conduct ourselves this year—but we will approach the work with the same dedication, thoughtfulness, and good humor that have always defined the Commonwealth experience.
August 28: Final Back-to-School Survey
Last Updated December 29, 2020, 2:20 p.m.
Together with consultants from Fusion Cell (who have deep experience in managing infectious risk), we have devised a set of health and safety requirements that will, we believe, greatly diminish the threat of COVID-19 to our students, staff, families, and community at large for any in-person instruction. These requirements meet and in many instances exceed those set by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the CDC; we will update our protocols as needed based on their evolving guidance and will notify families, faculty, and staff accordingly. We will also be ready to shift to a fully online model with Virtual Commonwealth as we did in the spring, should the need arise.
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we embark on this new path for our school. There will be challenges ahead, but we look forward to working with your children in the 2020–2021 school year—in whatever format that may be.
If a Commonwealth student or member of their household exhibits any COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for the virus, they should contact Front Office Manager Stephanie Poynter immediately: email@example.com or 617-266-7525.
As always, students and families are welcome to contact Headmaster Bill Wharton or Assistant Head of School Rebecca Jackman with concerns as they arise. General questions about our reopening plans may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Overview and Expectations
This fall, school will certainly feel different from and more restrictive than the Commonwealth we know, as the virus asks us to remain more aware than ever of our responsibilities as citizens of our school, our cities and towns, and our state. But the underlying principles driving our reopening plans—personal responsibility and concern for others—should be familiar to all members of the Commonwealth community.
Judging from our experience during the spring semester and summer programs, we know we will face the challenges ahead and continue to find joy in our common enterprise.
In designing our plan for return to school, we balanced a number of different goals:
- Following guidance so as to minimize risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all members of the school;
- Creating an operational framework to allow us to respond effectively to different scenarios if they arise;
- Reducing density in the building to allow for minimum six-foot spacing;
- Ensuring the safest space possible for all people within the walls of Commonwealth School
- Continuing to deliver a Commonwealth education to all students, whether or not they are able to come to the building; and
- Allowing faculty who need to remain at home to teach remotely.
To that end, we have divided our student body into two separate groups, which will, on a rotating schedule, participate in person or remote learning: at most, half of our students will be at 151 Commonwealth Avenue on any given day. (See "Student Schedules" below.)
We have upgraded technology in the building to allow for concurrent learning in our academic classrooms—that is, so that some members of the class will be present in person and the others will connect to the classroom from home. Our daily schedule will remain largely the same to provide familiarity and allow for the resumption of team sports should that become possible later in the year. This structure will allow us to provide the best learning environment within the spectrum of 100% in-person learning to 100% remote learning, without disruption.
We expect all students to:
- Stay home if they feel sick.
- Follow all posted health protocols, including:
- Wearing a face covering at all times when in the building (except when eating).
- Maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance from others at all times.
- Washing or sanitizing hands upon entering the building, upon entering classrooms, and as needed throughout the school day.
- Follow the building’s one-way traffic flow as marked (with arrows and other signs).
- Not congregate in the hallways (this includes going straight to their first class even if they arrive before 8:30 a.m.—after washing their hands, of course).
- Sanitize their desks or workstations, under the supervision of their teachers.
- Sit in their assigned seats (chosen on the first day of class) during class periods.
- Exercise caution and follow public health guidelines when commuting to school or going outside during free periods. (Remember that mask wearing and social distancing still apply.)
- Report—immediately—any COVID-19 symptoms they may be feeling to a teacher or staff member if they are in the building.
- Report—immediately—results of a positive COVID-19 test in their household to our medical point of contact, Stephanie Poynter.
- Follow all instructions for quarantining and returning to school if and when given.
- Let an adult know if they see any behavior that may endanger the health of other members of our community.
Given the seriousness of the coronavirus, any student who does not comply with measures aimed at keeping our community safe may be subject to disciplinary action.
We expect all parents and guardians to:
- Familiarize themselves with all Fall 2020 reopening guidelines posted on this page.
- Talk to their children about these guidelines and the importance of following public health protocols (e.g., mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing/sanitizing, etc.).
- Complete the health screening every day their child will be in the building and no later than 7:30 a.m.
- Report—immediately—results of a positive COVID-19 test in their household to Stephanie Poynter.
- Uphold instructions for quarantining and returning to school if and when given to their child.
- Notify us of any plans for travel to any state not classified as low risk as to ensure that all in the building have been in compliance with state guidelines about travel and safety.
Health and Safety
- Daily Health Screenings
- Hand Washing
- Social/Physical Distancing
- Immunizations and Vaccinations
- Cleaning and Sanitization
- Air Quality (HEPA Filters and HVAC System)
- Compliance and Consequences for Noncompliance
Everyone entering 151 Commonwealth Avenue must complete a daily health screening survey by 7:30 a.m.
No one will be permitted to enter the building without completing the daily screening, which will be monitored by Commonwealth’s administrative staff. The screening will ask questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms in individuals as well as members of their household. Anyone who does not meet the criteria outlined in the daily health screening must stay home, and families must show evidence of a negative COVID test before returning to school. Families, students, and the school cannot determine for themselves whether a student's illness is or is not COVID. If a student "fails" the daily health screening, the student must both be symptom free for 48 hours and produce a negative COVID test. (Alternatively, they may quarantine for 14 days.)
Please visit the Parent Portal for details regarding downloading our daily screening app (provided by Magnus Health).
Students who visit any location in a restricted state as defined by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health must quarantine for 10 days before returning to school; Commonwealth students may forgo quarantine if they produce a negative COVID-19 test administered 5 days following their return. Students requiring quarantine would be able to participate in remote classes, per usual. Students and families traveling to lower-risk states do not need to quarantine or produce a negative COVID test before returning to school.
Please note that the list of lower-risk states is likely to change. Massachusetts residents are urged to limit any out-of-state travel only to states designated as COVID-19 lower-risk states. Please notify Stephanie Poynter of all other travel plans.
We have contracted with the Broad Institute, via the Cambridge Innovation Center, to offer diagnostic (RT-PCR) COVID-19 testing to all students, faculty, and staff scheduled to be our building. These tests would involve the nasal swabs that only go a short distance into the nose (the anterior nasal swab method).
Testing will be required to attend in-person classes, and completion of the Coronavirus Information Notice and Consent form is also required for all students who will attend in-person classes. (See the Back-to-School Forms page in our Parent Portal.)
If families do not want their child to be tested, they will be asked to continue learning remotely.
A trained school representative will administer the tests every week to the student group, faculty, and staff in the building that week. (See the updated Fall 2020 Group Rotation calendar for testing dates.)
We should receive test results within 24 hours; we will report any positive cases to families, faculty, and staff via email in accordance with the reporting protocols outlined in our reopening plan. (Also see “Reporting of Confirmed Cases.”) The Broad Institute would handle reporting any positive tests to the appropriate state and local health boards. The Cambridge Innovation Center will also conduct contact tracing in the event of a positive case.
All students, teachers, and staff will be required to wear masks while in the building. The expectation is that students will bring their own masks: 3-layered fabric mask, surgical mask, etc. See CDC recommendations. Homemade masks are acceptable if they provide adequate protection—typically three layers of fabric. A good indication that a homemade mask is providing sufficient protection is that you can not see through it when you hold it up to the light, and you cannot blow a candle out when wearing it. A handkerchief or bandanna around the mouth and nose is not sufficient. The school will have a supply of masks for students who lose or forget their own. Training on the proper wearing of masks will be provided as well.
Updating our initial thoughts, students may not remove their masks while in the building (including—and especially—in the bathroom) unless they are seated in their assigned lunchroom and eating, specifically during lunch and/or recess. Note: Students cannot converse with each other inside the building unless masked.
However, students may go outside for brief, infrequent mask breaks. (We recommend a quick walk over to the Commonwealth Mall.) Teachers should treat these as necessary “bio” breaks, with students free to leave the classroom as needed and within reason. Students should observe all other health and safety protocols during and around those mask breaks, including maintaining six or more feet of distance from others and washing their hands upon reentering the building.
Everyone in the building should maintain six feet of physical distance from others at all times. All desks and workstations have been pre-measured and distanced at least six feet apart, and hallways and stairs will be one-way to allow for distancing (Commonwealth stairs up; Dartmouth, down). Also see "Building Logistics."
All students must be fully immunized in accordance with Massachusetts state law. Please login to Magnus and confirm receipt of vaccination.
All students, faculty, and staff will also be required to get an influenza vaccination.
Commonwealth’s maintenance staff will clean the building every night and throughout the day. This includes disinfecting shared surfaces such as handrails and doorknobs. Students and staff will also be asked to clean their individual desks or workstations before and after use, with cleaning products provided.
The air in our building will be filtered and exchanged via:
- Open windows, required whenever weather permitting
- New supplemental HEPA filters in every room, including teachers’ offices and bathrooms: Where or when fresh air is not possible, we rely on the filters and HVAC. They will filter out more than 99.9% of all particles 0.1 micron or larger. This includes virtually all virus-carrying particles, including coronavirus particles, which average .125 microns. The HEPA filters in our classrooms will add six air changes per hour. We will change the filters regularly, per instructions.
- Our building’s five-year-old HVAC system, which brings fresh air into the Cafegymnatorium (7 changes per hr), Annex (5 changes), and lobbies and hallways (1-10 changes, depending on the space)
Following health and safety protocols—protecting ourselves and each other—while in our building is critical while we remain in a pandemic state. Given the seriousness of the coronavirus, any student who does not comply with measures aimed at keeping our community healthy may be subject to disciplinary action.
We require all members of our community to adhere to the guidance on this page, any expectations posted in our school building or shared via email, and any instructions given to self-isolate or quarantine.
Students will be expected to hold themselves and each other accountable as well. At the start of school and throughout the semester, we will discuss the importance of speaking up and informing an adult when they see behavior that jeopardizes the health of others.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is mostly spread person-to-person by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, sneeze, or even sing. It may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. The disease is extremely contagious, and individuals may spread it to others without feeling sick themselves or before developing the signs and symptoms of the disease. Although many people who are infected do not experience serious symptoms, tragically, some become seriously ill and even die.
It is not possible to reduce the transmission risk to zero in any setting. There will be some residual risk even after significant targeted, science-backed, and layered risk reduction measures are implemented. Even with all of our precautions in place, students be may exposed to COVID-19 and contract the disease while they are in the building; they may transmit the disease to others, including members of their households; and that as a result, they and members of their household may experience COVID-19 symptoms and may require isolation, quarantine, and hospitalization.
Commonwealth consults the following agencies as our official sources of information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic:
Response Protocols and Communications
- Response to Symptomatic Individual at School
- Response to Confirmed Infection
- Reporting of Confirmed Cases
- Daily COVID Update
The goal of the daily health screening survey is to proactively prevent symptomatic individuals from entering our building. However, should a student exhibit any symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 while at school, the following steps will be taken:
- The student reports their symptom(s) to their teacher or classroom monitor. (Teachers may also recognize symptoms in their students.) Teacher or monitor calls Stephanie Poynter, the school’s medical point of contact, to report a possible case (email@example.com or 617-266-7525).
- The teacher or monitor escorts the student to a dedicated medical isolation room on the first floor.*
- Ms. Poynter, working with our consulting nurse, evaluates the student’s symptoms. If symptomatic, the student should leave the school as soon as possible:
- If a caregiver can pick them up from school, the student must wait in the dedicated medical isolation room.
- If the student drove, biked, or walked themselves to school, they may leave immediately.
- We strongly recommend avoiding public transportation or carpools in the case of suspected infection. This can increase the risk of any potential disease to those on public transportation.
- The student should be tested for COVID-19 (test sites here).** Following testing:
- Student should isolate at home until test results are returned.
- If the test is negative: the student may return to school, provided they feel well enough to do so and have been asymptomatic for twenty-four hours.
- If the test is positive: see Response to Confirmed Infection, below.
In the event that the student is symptomatic, the classroom will be dismissed and then disinfected by a trained member of the staff.
Faculty and staff who develop symptoms at school will be asked to return home. The staff member should be tested for COVID-19 (test sites here).** Following testing:
- Staff member should isolate at home until test results are returned.
- If the test is negative: the staff member may return to school, provided they feel well enough to do so and have been asymptomatic for twenty-four hours.
- If the test is positive: see Response to Confirmed Infection, below.
- These individuals will not be permitted to return to school until it is safe to do so.
* Note: this protocol has been adapted from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios. Per these guidelines: “there is no specific capacity limit for the quarantine room, but all students in the room must be as far apart as possible and no less than six feet. Strict mask wearing covering the nose and mouth at all times for every person in the room must be enforced. Students can work on individual schoolwork or other activities.”
** An individual who does not wish to be (or cannot be) tested must instead isolate for 14 days and until asymptomatic.
Also see "Daily COVID Update" below.
In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case, communications about potential exposures will be sent to community members via email. Depending on the situation, the school will either isolate areas for cleaning and disinfection or close for a short period.
Infected individuals will be asked to remain off campus until the symptoms have abated and they are declared no longer contagious and cleared to return to school by a medical professional. Any students, faculty, or staff who were in proximity (according to our seating charts) or close contact (as defined by the CDC) to the positive individual will be required to quarantine for 14 days—even if they produce a negative COVID test.
Should a student, faculty, or staff member—or a member of their household—test positive for COVID-19, they should inform Front Office Manager Stephanie Poynter immediately (firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-266-7525). The school will contact the Boston Board of Health for contact tracing as needed.
In the case of an individual (student, faculty, or staff member) testing positive for COVID who was in the building in the 48 hours prior to confirmed infection, we will send—at a minimum—three tiers of communications to families:
- We will notify all families of the Group in question that we have had an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 in the building in the 48 hours prior to testing. (Reminder, students will be split into two groups, Group A and Group B, with only one group in the building at a time.)
- We will notify all families of students who were in class with but not adjacent to the infected individual that their child was near the infected individual, and we do not require their child to self-isolate.
- We will notify the families of students who sat adjacent to the infected individual for a class period (or longer) that their child was near the infected individual. Those students would be required to quarantine before returning to school—even if they produce a negative COVID test.
Will will also be sending a daily COVID update (see below) notifying our community if any students were sent home that day due to being symptomatic.
While our daily health screening survey will notify us of the confirmed cases that would trigger these communications, we still urge families, faculty, and staff to contact us immediately (Stephanie Poynter, email@example.com or 617-266-7525) if they or a member of their household or other close contact outside school tests positive for COVID-19.
In addition to reporting confirmed cases (see “Reporting of Confirmed Cases”) via email, we will send an email to all families, faculty, and staff every weekday by 5:00 p.m. sharing the number of individuals—if any—sent home that day due to COVID symptoms and required to test before returning to school.
- Student Groups
- Moving Between In-Person and Remote Learning
- Participating in School Remotely
- Class Schedules
- Before and After School
- Student Attendance Policy
- Coming in Late or Leaving School Early
To decrease risk of exposure and improve the ability to conduct contract tracing, as needed, we divided the student body into two groups (A and B), with only one group scheduled to be in the building at a given time.
Our guiding principles in creating the groups: divide each grade level in half; divide all larger classes across Groups A and B; cluster students geographically, where possible; and consider friend groups.
Groups A and B will now attend in-person classes on alternating weeks (rather than alternating days, as we initially proposed). After giving careful consideration to our in-person scheduling options, we decided that coming into the building every other week would ultimately be an easier adjustment for students and families.
Student groupings and schedules were shared via email on Friday, August 21. You can view an overarching calendar for in-person attendance during the fall semester here and in the Parent Portal under Quick Links. Information about teacher in-person attendance is also available in the Parent Portal under “Academic Year Information.”
Please note that all students have the option to learn remotely at any time.
No student is required to attend in-person classes. All students have the option to learn remotely at any time.
Students cannot casually switch from remote to in-person classes and vice versa. This is because, for students attending in-person classes, knowing who is in the building is critical to ensuring the safety of all students, faculty, and staff. And, for students attending classes remotely, knowing who will be joining a class virtually helps teachers plan their lessons and attend to the needs of all students.
Any student who requests a change from remote to in-person learning or vice versa must notify the school—the front office, the Assistant Head, or the Headmaster—and receive approval for the change. Students may not simply show up at school and indicate that they have changed to in-person learning, for example. Any student requesting a variation from the weekly in-person/remote rotation must present their request to the Assistant Head or Headmaster and receive approval as well.
Reminder, too, that no student may attend in-person classes without having a completed Informed Consent form on file.
When joining classes remotely, students will login to the interface we used last spring, Virtual Commonwealth, with their school Google account. Updates to Virtual Commonwealth mean that students will see daily announcements, their own schedule and list of classes, virtual rooms for their teachers and advisors, and the Cafegymnatorium for recess, all-school meetings, and assemblies. New students will be introduced to the interface at New Student Orientation (on Thursday, September 3). A link with updated instructions about logging into Virtual Commonwealth will be made available to new and returning members of the community.
It is particularly important that students adhere to their given class schedule while in the building; this will help reduce density in common areas and aid contact tracing, should the need arise. Students will be assigned classrooms for their free periods as well, though they may venture outside during free periods if they wish.
The vast majority of classes will have fewer than seven students physically present in the room. All classes will be scheduled in rooms that can accommodate at least six feet of space between students at their desks or workstations.
Student groupings and schedules were shared via email on Friday, August 21.
Upon entering the building—and washing their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water in their designated bathroom—students must go straight to their first class, even if they arrive before class starts at 8:30 a.m.
Students may return home at the end of their final class if they wish. Those students remaining at school (for example, students waiting for a ride home) must return to their assigned lunch room while inside the building. Monitors will circulate in the building to provide supervision.
Students may leave the school building (for example, to take a walk or to socialize), just as they might during a free period. Students must follow all health and safety protocols when reentering the building, including washing their hands immediately. They must also return to their assigned room.
Students must leave by 5:00 p.m., per usual, when the building is closed for the night.
Also see "Student Clubs and Organizations."
Our student attendance policy remains largely as outlined in our Parent-Student Handbook. In general, students should not miss school for reasons other than illness or family emergency, attending classes either in person or virtually.
If a student exhibits any symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 requiring them to stay at home, we ask that they consider if they feel well enough to attend virtual classes. For example, a student may have a cough, which would require their staying home, but if they otherwise feel fine, they may attend their classes virtually.
When in doubt, stay home!
On any given day, if in-person students find themselves with only classes or sports with remote teachers or coaches remaining, now they may depart early to attend those classes or sports from home; however, they must notify the front office that they are leaving. The opposite is also true: if a given day starts with remote teachers, students may attend those classes from home and come in later to attend classes with in-person teachers if they wish, but they must notify the front office when they will be arriving. We still expect in-person students to be present in the building for classes with in-person teachers or coaches.
Students who arrive late or leave early because they have free periods must now notify Stephanie Poynter. Before the beginning of the school day, Stephanie should know when we will be expecting your child that day.
- Entering and Exiting the Building
- Classroom Instruction
- Cubbies and Personal Belongings
- Commuting to School/Transportation
- Entering and Exiting Classrooms
- Water Fountains
All traffic will enter our building through the door at 151 Commonwealth Avenue and exit via the door on Dartmouth Street or the Cafegymnatorium door by the podium.
All students MUST use their prox card to enter and exit the building. Please let Ms. Poynter know before the start of school if you cannot locate your card. New students will receive their card at orientation. Bicyclists will enter through the garden door and exit through the door in the gym by the podium. Hand-sanitizer stations will be near each door as well.
Upon entering the building in the morning, students must wash their hands with soap and water and then go directly to their 1st period classroom. Faculty and staff will also be required to wash hands upon entering the building.
Six feet of distance should be maintained when going through the doorways; students, faculty, and staff should be aware of their surroundings and stagger their entrances accordingly.
To reduce congestion, foot traffic within our halls, including stairs, will flow in one direction. The Commonwealth entrance stairs will be used to go up; Dartmouth Street stairs, down. Signage and floor markings will help guide the flow of traffic around the building, and faculty and staff will be on hand to monitor compliance.
Standing and congregating in the hallways, even when six feet apart, is discouraged.
Only one person may use the bathrooms at a time, including the multi-stall bathroom in the basement and on the third floor. Masks must remain on while using the facilities.
When not in use, the bathroom door should be propped open to improve air circulation. HEPA filters, which filter out more than 99% of the virus-carrying aerosols and particles and change the air in a room at least twice per hour (in addition to circulation provided by our HVAC system), will be placed in every bathroom as well.
Given the enclosed nature of this space, and to further mitigate risk of COVID infection, we will assign bathroom “cohorts” as well—students, faculty, and staff must only use the bathroom(s) assigned to them. Details forthcoming.
Reminders regarding single-use only bathrooms, mask wearing, and proper hygiene will be posted on every bathroom door as well.
Snack, served during recess, is also changing. Students will head to their recess classroom, perform the posted "Entering the Classroom" protocol (sanitizing hands, etc.), then form a socially distanced line, and, following the traffic pattern on the floor, quickly swing by a table by the elevator where snacks will be laid out. Students can grab what they want and go back to their recess classroom to enjoy it as usual.
Picking Up Lunch
- When the lunch bell rings, students should go to their designated lunch classroom, just as they have been.
- In their classroom, they will sanitize their hands and they can leave their book bags, if they wish.
- Faculty/monitors supervising lunch will release one classroom at a time, and students will travel in a single-file, socially distanced line down to the Cafegymnatorium.
- Lunch will be served to all students and staff; no one will touch food or serving items except for food service personnel. Only disposable items (plates, cutlery, napkins, seasoning packets, etc.) will be used.
- Students will carry their lunch, exiting the Cafegymatorium through the back side door, and either head over to the Commonwealth mall or back to their designated lunch classroom (depending on weather; see additional details below).
- Monitors/faculty will oversee lunch lines and movement to ensure health and safety protocols are being followed.
- Students should move quickly—while maintaining distance—when picking up their lunch, and they should know what they want to eat when they arrive at the Cafegymatorium. They should also move swiftly out of the Cafegymnatorium, and follow all instructions given by their lunch monitor.
- Whenever weather permits, students will eat lunch outside on the Commonwealth mall.
- All students must maintain at least six feet of physical distance at all times.
- Students must wear a mask if they are not eating.
- Students will be supervised by a faculty or staff monitor at all times.
- Students from different lunch rooms can interact if they wish.
- Students should only cross Commonwealth Avenue at the crosswalk.
- Students must be sure to clean up after themselves; two trash barrels will be placed outside the Commonwealth door to make disposal easy. (This is not only good stewardship of our shared public space, but it will help us maintain our relations with the neighborhood association.)
- Students should dress appropriately for the weather and for sitting on the ground. (Autumn in New England means wearing layers!) They may bring something to sit on if they wish, such as a small blanket, but it would be for personal use only.
- Students should watch the time and follow lunch monitors' reminders to return to the building. Students should allow enough time to wash their hands and get to their next class on time.
- On inclement weather days, students will take their lunch back up to their designated lunch room.
- All existing health and safety protocols still apply: students must sit in their assigned seats, no speaking while unmasked, etc.
- Students may leave the building after they are done eating, if they wish, following all health and safety protocols.
We will continue to release menus on a weekly basis; they will also be shared in daily announcements and on Virtual Commonwealth. Students and staff should familiarize themselves with the lunch offerings (which will still be relatively limited) so they can decide what they want to eat in advance and order quickly. However, students and staff will still be asked to fill out a survey with their lunch choices in advance, so the kitchen can plan quantities accordingly.
Thanks to enhanced audio-visual capabilities in each academic classroom, we will be able to provide “concurrent classes,” which allow for a combination of students who are physically in the classroom and online simultaneously.
This new classroom environment will certainly take some getting used to, and it will likely be challenging at times. However, it allows us to provide our academic program to all students (whether or not they can be present in the building), it allows faculty who need to work remotely to continue to teach, it allows regular human interactions within our community (as long as the public health picture permits it), and it allows us to move on the spectrum between in person and fully remote with little disruption.
Inside the Physical Classroom
The health and safety protocols outlined above—wearing masks, disinfecting workstations, and maintaining six feet of distance at all times—still apply during time spent in the classroom.
Each of the A/V-equipped rooms will have two new cameras: one capturing the teacher and whiteboard, and the other capturing the students in the classroom. This will allow students joining from home to see and hear everyone, and vice versa. Students physically in the classroom will be able to interact—just with masks and six feet of distance between them.
Connecting from Home
Students at home will join the classroom via Virtual Commonwealth, which will also reflect upgraded functionality. On their screen, they will see and hear multiple views of the physical classroom as well as their other classmates joining remotely.
Teachers will be able to join remotely via Virtual Commonwealth as well, and they can project a whiteboard from home, if necessary. An IT assistant/monitor will be on hand to set up the physical classroom as proxy.
To facilitate the concurrent classes described above, we are investing heavily in new audio/visual equipment and a faster Internet connection in our physical classrooms.
Students attending in-person classes are strongly encouraged to bring a laptop and headphones with microphone or headset to school with them every day. Tablets (such as an iPad) and smartphones may prove useful as well. Communal computers, including those in the library and computer lab, will no longer be available.
If securing the necessary technology to participate in classes is a financial burden for your family, please contact Director of Technology Jeff Racioppi as soon as possible.
IT support requests can now be submitted via this form as well.
Anyone taking public transportation to and from the school should follow public safety guidelines while on board, including wearing a mask at all times, disinfecting hands and surfaces, and practicing social distancing. The MBTA provides crowding information for riders that may be useful in planning your trip.
We encourage students, faculty, and staff to exercise particular caution when using public transportation.
Anyone riding a bicycle to school is invited to store it for the day in the Annex. We will have additional bike racks available there. Students bringing their bike into the building should enter the building using the garden door to the lower level and exit via the Cafegymnatorium door by the podium.
School-wide events will be held virtually until further notice. Details (including cancelations) regarding school-sponsored events not listed here will be released as they become available.
Orientation for New Students and Families
We will have our new student orientation over the course of two days. On Thursday, September 3, in the afternoon (1:00–3:00 p.m.), we will have a virtual session for students where we will provide orientation to academic life and support at Commonwealth. On Friday, September 4, we invite all new students to come to Commonwealth in their smaller cohort groups (9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m., and 1:00–4:00 p.m.) to connect with their peers in person and to become oriented to life in the building. Those students whose families prefer they not be on campus will be invited to join the session remotely.
Parents’ Back-to-School Night
Please note that we have changed the date of this event. We will now offer the virtual Parents’ Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 24, starting at 6:00 p.m. Apologies for any inconvenience.
Transportation concerns mean that we have decided to cancel our Fall Hancock in its usual form. We have set aside Friday, September 25, however, for Hancock-in-the-City. We will announce more about the form it will take once school has begun. Monday, September 28, originally scheduled to be a post-Hancock holiday, is Yom Kippur and the school will be closed. Tuesday, September 29, however, will be a regular day of instruction.
Visitors to the school will be strictly limited to those with essential business (i.e., tradespeople performing critical maintenance). Parents will not be permitted to visit the building; all parent-teacher meetings will be virtual. All admissions events will take place virtually as well.
Any visitors will be required to follow our safety protocols, including undergoing the same daily health screening survey administered to students, faculty, and staff. Visitors will be escorted by a faculty or staff member.
With only seven students or fewer in most classes, an average of fifteen students per floor, and the fact that not all students will need to change classrooms between periods (we scheduled classes so as to minimize student movement around the building), students should have time to observe social distancing and stagger their movement through doorways and hallways appropriately when they need to move to a new classroom. They will be expected to enter the hallways cognizant of their surroundings to maintain six or more feet of distance.
Academic and Extracurricular Activities
All athletic offerings this semester will be optional, and our fall sports requirement is suspended this year. But students are encouraged to maintain their physical fitness.
In-person physical activity programs will be offered Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. (all activities to be held outdoors and in full compliance with state guidelines). Some of our regular sports will still continue to meet during this time; details will be released as they become available.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, virtual physical activity options will be offered through a number of online platforms; again, details will be released as they become available.
Members of our community may contact Director of Athletics Darren Benedick with any questions.
Safe practices while eating make running student clubs at lunchtime impossible. Instead, student clubs will take place virtually after school at the following times--expanded from our initial guidance due to student interest:
- Tuesdays and Thursdays: 4:00-4:45 p.m. or 4:45-5:30 p.m.
- Monday and Wednesday: 5:00-5:45 p.m.
The later start times should allow many students present in the building time to commute home before club slots.
All club meetings will be held virtually.
Please see guidance and updated course work from our Fine and Performing Arts faculty below.
This course provides an introduction to traditional methods of photography. While in school, students will participate in hands-on lessons with their cameras, review methods introduced online, and make prints. Virtual lessons will include lectures and learning processes and programs such as Photoshop. If lessons go completely online, film photography will pause and students will take fully digital photography, including taking pictures with their cell phones. If students need supplies, they will receive photo kits; students who are participating in photography classes fully virtually can coordinate with Ms. Nieto.
Continuing and advancing the lessons learned in Beginning Photography, this class features more digital assignments, lessons in hands-on photography methods, and more group discussions surrounding the work created. Quarterly portfolio assignments lead to a final portfolio, largely consisting of independent work. If students need supplies, they will receive photo kits; students who are participating in photography classes fully virtually can coordinate with Ms. Nieto.
Drawing and Painting 1
In this foundational course, students learn design fundamentals, as well as basic techniques in a wide range of drawing and painting media. As a hybrid course it will be structured in a manner similar to a “flipped classroom,” in which students watch lectures and demonstrations at home, while their individual work happens with a teacher present. This reversal of a traditional class structure allows students to revisit the information-giving sections of the course at their own pace, as well as receive assistance from the instructor during work time. Students will receive project prompts, as well as any relevant demonstrations through Google Drive. They will work on those projects at home using a “tool kit,” provided and including basic sets of drawing and painting materials. When in class students will continue to work on projects independently, while the teacher checks in on their progress and provides feedback.
Drawing and Painting 2
This course, like Drawing and Painting 1, will be taught with a flipped classroom model where students watch demonstrations and lectures at home and work on their assigned projects at school. The main difference between the levels is that in Drawing and Painting 2 students begin to work in a more self-guided manner. Rather than focusing on the basic techniques of art and design, they are now focusing on concept and the ideation process. With a hybrid model class, students will write proposals and artist statements at home, while most of their making will happen at school. As with the level 1 course, students will be provided with a rudimentary kit so they can work on assignments at home as well.
Life Drawing 1
Life Drawing 1 guides students through learning anatomy and proportion of the human figure. This knowledge is then used as a foundation for creating compositions, which include one or more figures. Life drawing at this level is a relatively technical class. In the hybrid model, students will work from online anatomy resources at home. They will complete worksheets on the skeleton, muscles, proportions, etc. When at school, students will work directly from a live model.
Life Drawing 2
If Life Drawing 1 is about “how” then Life Drawing 2 is about “why.” While students may still choose to focus on honing their skills in anatomy drawing, they will be encouraged to think about what it means to represent the human figure. As a hybrid course, students will use their time at home to explore their own ideas through writing, as well as explore the realm of self portraiture through drawings. While at school students will focus on working from the model, as well as the occasional critique.
The printmaking class is broken up into two main sections, each section is based on a form of printmaking; relief, and intaglio. As a hybrid course students will work on their plates or blocks at home, using a toolkit provided to them. While at school students will focus on printing, an activity that requires the infrastructure already in place at the school.
Ceramics involves many steps and processes; as such the students will spend their time at home working on steps that are less messy and do not necessitate the use of infrastructure that we have in the classroom. This year we will work with a series of objects like tile, pedestal bowls, Mayan pottery, and transfer ware examining their histories and breaking down their process allowing for painting, carving, and planning to take place at home. Students will also have the opportunity to watch tutorials and other resource material at home.
Spoiler alert: at Commonwealth the most important lesson students learn in sculpture is that art can be and has always been made from anything and everything. This class lends itself well to creating work in multiple locations. At school students will engage with more complicated materials that need to be in the classroom such as casting materials. At home they will work materials of their choosing and they will think a bit more specifically about how materials are art of the conceptual underpinnings of art making. Don’t worry we’ll work together to make these decisions and in the process look at how artists make these decisions and that being a conceptual artist is not scary.
Chorus will not be offered in the fall of 2020. If public health conditions allow, it may be offered in the spring.
These groups have a maximum of three participants, and they will meet in person. All the players are string players; they will be spaced out and wear masks. When not in school, these students will be expected to either participate in coaching sessions via Zoom or practice the music on their own. Hopefully, the schedule will allow students to be together at least every other week.
Because there are so many wind players and the group only rehearses once a week, plans for Orchestra are still being formulated and will depend on the final composition of in-person participants. Ideally, the strings will meet every week. Wind players will be coached separately. Recording Orchestra members might be a possible solution, with the strings recorded together and the winds recording their own parts independently. Wind players might also be paired on “duets,” where they record and share their work via the “Acappella” or a similar app.
The Commonwealth Science Department views hands-on science investigation as a fundamental component of learning science. Even during this year’s concurrent and remote learning environments, we are committed to providing students with opportunities to acquire laboratory skills and to understand the scientific method through physical experiments. Because each science course has different needs and experimental goals, we emphasize the following strategies to varying degrees.
- Biology 1: Students can conduct the majority of laboratory experiments at home, using science kits that we provide.
- Chemistry 1 and Chemistry 1 Advanced: Students can conduct the majority of laboratory experiments at home, using science kits that we provide.
- Biology 2: Students can conduct some of the laboratory experiments at home, but most of our lab exercises will rely on video and data analysis for students participating from home. Several in-person labs will be repeated twice to allow students in both cohorts to conduct the physical experiment.
- Chemistry 2: A combination of approaches will be used for laboratory experiments. Besides each student receiving a kit for at-home experiments, several in-person labs will be repeated twice to allow students in both cohorts to conduct the physical experiment. Video will be provided for students who will participate fully remotely.
- Physics: Supplies that may be needed for physics experiments are normally household items. Depending on the specific course curriculum, students will be able to conduct some at-home experiments and participate in virtual lab exercises.
Home Experimentation and Science Kits
For biology and chemistry courses, teachers are preparing kits for students to take home from school in September and periodically throughout the year. These will include some basic lab equipment and consumable supplies such that students can conduct typical laboratory experiments, or modified versions, at home. Substances used in these labs are safe to use at home and replace typical reagents that would require in-person adult supervision. (Students also might need some common household items.) An inventory list will include those items that should be returned to school at the end of the year.
Safety at Home
Generally, procedures at home will avoid hazardous tasks (e.g., heating chemicals with an open flame, putting a glass container under pressure, etc.). Teachers still will conduct the necessary safety training with students at the start of the year and review these principles frequently in advance of each lab. Teachers will demonstrate how to set up, perform, and clean up after each experimental procedure, and they will be available to answer questions during the scheduled lab period. The lab kits also will provide guidance for when parents may want to discuss safety and protocols with their children prior to a lab.
Safety at School
For in-school lab work, students are individually assigned to lab stations at least six feet apart. Students will be provided with personal protective equipment such as gloves, and teachers will supervise the cleaning of equipment and work stations between classes.
Virtual Experiments and Demonstrations
Some experiments typically included in our lab courses, particularly for our advanced biology and chemistry courses, would be impractical for students to complete at home. In some cases, full virtual simulations of labs will be used instead. In other cases, teachers will prepare video demonstrations of these procedures and will provide students with authentic data for analysis and evaluation. Students who are in school for these labs will still have the opportunity to perform the physical experiments, but no graded work will be contingent on a student being present for in-person lab work.
Questions and Concerns
If you have questions or concerns about students conducting lab work at home, please contact your child’s teacher directly. We are happy to address any questions you may have!
As always, faculty and staff advisors are available to answer questions and counsel students and families, and we encourage students and families to connect with their advisor during this period of adjustment.
Advisors will continue to meet weekly with advisees in person (appropriately socially distanced and in designated areas) or online as makes sense. If a student is in the building and their advisor is all remote, the student can find some (relative) privacy for any virtual meetings by going outside or to the Cafegymnatorium. We recommend looking for opportunities to meet virtually from home, such as at the beginning and end of the school day, during a free period.
Maintaining and forging relationships remains as important as ever, and even though spending time together will look quite different in our socially distant world, students will still have opportunities to do so in class and through their extracurricular activities. Purely social events (format to be determined) will be planned throughout the year as well.
Beyond those scheduled events, if students wish to socialize before class or during a free period, they can do so outside, still wearing masks and maintaining a physical distance of no less than six feet apart.
Join us for one or more fall admissions events:
- Academic Opportunities Night: Monday, November 2, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
- Arts and Extracurricular Activities Night: Tuesday, November 17, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Our dedicated (and inventive!) admissions team will be conducting a fully online process this year, including at least four virtual events designed to give prospective students and their families a chance to experience our unique academic and extracurricular offerings and community.
Even more so than in years past, they will need help from current students, faculty, and parents alike in serving as admissions “ambassadors,” available to answer questions, sit on panels, and share their personal experiences. If you can volunteer your time and energy to welcoming the next generation of Commonwealth students, please complete the survey you receive in early September.