Spotlight Q&A with Dr. Patty L. Fagin, Head of School at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart

Interview by Laurie Pellichero

Tell us about Stuart’s response this past spring to the COVID-19 pandemic. How did it adapt to distance learning?

I want to start out by expressing immense gratitude to my faculty and staff for their nimble and swift response to distance learning. Since our spring break started just as COVID forced area school to close, our teachers used their break to prepare a new method of instruction that would deliver on our Sacred Heart mission and the promise of academic excellence. And with over 10 years of investments in technology, including the use of Google Education tools in the Middle and Upper School, Stuart was able to pivot to virtual learning with impressive ease.

To maintain a sense of structure and normalcy, we ran a regular daily schedule in all three divisions with teachers providing synchronous instruction for the majority of the day. The Lower School used a combination of SeeSaw and Google Classroom with modifications to the length of time each class was held, and our youngest students — ages 2-4 — met with their teachers every day online. As the weeks turned into months, our teachers adapted their schedules and instruction style to meet students’ needs, and we introduced weekly programming to support the wellness goals of the community. The way our teachers were able to support our girls’ learning and convert major in-person events like a musical and a senior class capstone project into virtual experiences truly demonstrated a dedication to their students and the Stuart community.

How has Stuart kept its community of students, parents, and teachers engaged while at home?

Stuart is a tight-knit community, and we wanted to make sure our girls had social interaction after closing down. Over spring break, the Head of Middle School held virtual gatherings with dance-offs, trivia, Pictionary, and more. The Head of Lower School read books to her students and dropped in virtually for nightly prayer. Since March, we have engaged our families in the reopening process with a focus on regular communications through email, video messages, virtual town hall gatherings, and social media. We invited some families to serve on our Reopening Task Force, which includes nine working groups in areas like health and safety, facilities, and technology. Others participated in town hall and virtual presentations regarding our work to safely reopen school.

Overall our goal has been to overcommunicate — whether we knew the answer or not. To establish a direct line of communication between our families and staff to the task force, we set up a special email address that was fielded daily by the team and answered quickly. In the month before school started, we worked with our parents association and diversity committee to reimagine many of our signature community experiences as virtual events and add more creative opportunities for engaging our families. For example, we usually start the year with StuartFest — a big community celebration and day of service. This year, it will be virtual and include a family pizza night!

What are Stuart’s plans for fall? Will both in-person and remote learning options be available for students?

Stuart will be open both in-person and remotely, five days a week, under our normal schedule. Students who choose the remote option will stream in to classes live through huddle carts that are stationed in every classroom. We will be offering after care for students in all grades as well. We want to be flexible and be able to meet the changing needs of families during this challenging time.

What safety protocols will be in place?

We have placed safety at the forefront of our return decision. We are blessed with an abundance of physical space and with a school that can easily physically divide its student population by Lower, Middle, and Upper School. Our Early Childhood and Lower School students will remain in their homeroom classes for academic and co-curricular instruction. Desks in the classroom are spaced 6 feet apart and every student age 3 and older will be required to wear a mask.

Every morning, families will complete a brief symptom screening through the Magnus Health app, and each child will receive additional symptoms checks upon arrival to school. Once in the classroom, in addition to masking and physical distancing, we will be monitoring air flow in each classroom to ensure the exchange of fresh air is optimal. In addition, we have added a state-of-the-art ionization system that will filter the air in every classroom all day long. Of course we intend for our students to get outside each day for recess and have mask breaks following social distancing guidelines.

What is the All-Girls’ Advantage?

The research is clear that girls thrive in educational environments where they are free to be themselves, and where they are encouraged to be bold, confident leaders in an environment where all opportunities to shine are held by girls. The skills and confidence girls gain from an all-girl environment in elementary through high school are carried forward in life. Girls who attend girls’ schools are more likely to hold leadership positions, pursue high academic achievement, and are six times as likely to be interested in STEM. Time and again, young alumnae return from college and share how the all-girls’ education at Stuart gave them confidence to speak up, take chances, and seek opportunities in a coed college environment or male-dominated field.