August 10 Update
Hello Athena Families!
As we move into our week of Back to School events for the 2020-2021 school year, I wanted to introduce you to a consulting team that we have chosen to help guide and support us as we welcome teachers and students back to campus amid COVID-19. They have provided on-site guidance for our redesigned classrooms and playgrounds and have been a sounding board for expert advice and guidance on our policies and procedures. We will be making them available to our community on a weekly basis, for a period of time, to help all of us sift through facts and strategies to navigate the experience of being at school during a pandemic.
We have hired Sera Bonds, MPH, and her Waking Giants co-founder, Martha Pincoffs, to provide COVID-19 specific public health guidance and communications support to the Athena community. They are focusing their efforts on advising us on COVID-19 emerging community contagion strategies to keep our community safe as well as supporting us through weekly open forum zoom sessions with the Athena community to help answer questions, and provide guidance and information.
Sera Bonds, MPH is a global and public health expert. She has worked on global health and infectious disease programs in over twenty countries spanning North America, Africa, Asia, Central America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, having impacted over three million women and children globally. She is the founder of a leading feminist global aid organization, Circle of Health International.
Martha Pincoffs is a strategist and native Austinite. She has special powers when it comes to connecting ideas, people, and institutions with winning outcomes. She has a core belief that the world will be a better place when we can all live our truth. She is on a mission to help people, campaigns, companies, and nonprofits find that place. She is the founder of Hot Dang, a vegetarian burger that can be found in stores across the country.
Here are the details for our first community meet-and-greet/Covid open forum discussion/Q&A, hosted by Waking Giants, on Thursday, August 20th, at 12 pm:
Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/
We are excited to welcome all of you, finally, to the new school year! We will continue our commitment to not only doing everything we can to keep your children safe and well-loved, but also to do everything we can to take care of you as parents through direct, transparent communication and frequent opportunities to connect with us in community.
In health and gratitude,
Drop Off & Pick Up Schedules
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July 23 Update
Hello Athena Families,
We want to acknowledge that we have sent you lots of information in the last few weeks. We are doing our best to dole information out in small manageable chunks so that you have time to digest it before we share more details. We are a school that prides ourselves on robust and transparent communication. Due to the pandemic, this communication style is even more valuable than previously. If you have any questions or feel confused along the way, never hesitate to reach out by phone or email.
Our communication today is to present and explain the Community Commitment we are asking you all to adhere to. Please read the document carefully and make sure that you understand and agree with the requirements. We feel more than ever that our community has a responsibility to each other to make safe choices so that we may come out of this historic time safe and healthy. This document will give you details about the 14-day quarantine that we are asking our families and staff to adhere to before the start of school, as well as other important information.
After reviewing the Community Commitment, please login to your Parent Portal and review the 2020-2021 COVID-19 Health Information form. Please complete this form the week of August 3rd (we will send a reminder), as well as any other incomplete forms you have.
We will be reviewing and evaluating our health and safety protocols and policies constantly, and are prepared to adjust or change them as we see fit on a monthly basis. If we have learned anything in the last few months, it is that we need to adapt and continue to learn from professionals that know more than we do.
In gratitude and solidarity,
Your Athena Leadership Team
July 21 Update
Dear Athena Families,
We are so close to the beginning of a new school year! While we know this year will look somewhat different than usual, we couldn’t be more grateful to be with you all in community in the coming weeks.
Our summer program has been off to a great start, our car-side arrival and departure plan has been effective and seamless, and all of our returning guides and staff are looking forward to being back on campus in a few short weeks. We have been busily preparing for the start of the new year keeping you all in mind as we navigate next steps.
In order to help you and your family best prepare for the start of this new school year, we are sharing with you several documents:
- “Ready, Set, Go” – a summary of several things you can begin doing at home to get back into the school routine.
- Building a Safe Community survey to fill out regarding any lingering questions you may have about this school year and our health and safety procedures.
- Important Dates for Athena’s Back to School Plan for the 2020- 2021 school year
Later this month, you will receive your child(ren)’s classroom placement.
In August, your teaching teams will reach out to you and share your Welcome Packet which includes supplies needed for the upcoming year.
We appreciate your patience and your continued support of our work and mission. We truly are all in this together. If you have any questions or needs this month, please feel free to reach out directly to our leadership team via email or by calling the front office at 512-494-6237.
Athena’s Leadership Team
July 17 update
Please review our new and updated health & safety plan:
July 8 Update
Hello Athena Families,
This document details our school’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and shares important guidelines that are integral to our redesign. We believe that in-person, on-campus learning is optimal for our community given the developmental planes of our students. The health, safety and academic needs of our students and faculty will drive our decision-making moving forward.
Please review our 2020-2021 School Year Strategies in response to the COVID-19 Virus here.
June 30 Update
Hello Athena Families,
As we approach the deadline to enroll for Fall, I am writing to respond to several of your questions about the coming school year and to give you more information about our plans.
The highlights are:
- We plan to open on schedule and on the published 2020-2021 School Calendar that can be found on our website
- We plan to be open five days a week on a regular school day schedule (no Early Arrival, After School, or Extracurricular Programs in the beginning)
- We are redesigning our program with significantly reduced Primary class sizes, and dividing the rooms in half to create smaller pods, to hedge against another forced closure
- In the event of another City closure, we intend to stay open as an essential business, if we feel it is safe to do so
- If we DO have to close, we plan to extend the school calendar by the number of days of the closure, up to and including through next summer, but no later than July 23, 2021
- We ask that families commit to paying for the entire school year, per their contract, either on an annual, semi-annual, or monthly basis, July through April, per usual
- In the event of a closure mid-year, we will evaluate whether we would provide some virtual connection with the teachers during the closure
- Enrollment contracts and tuition must be received by July 1st to secure a spot for fall
With the addition of three new Primary classrooms, as well as physically dividing all the classrooms, we are able to spread out our teachers and students so that we have several small groupings, “pods”, of students and teachers across campus and protect them from interacting with each other. We are fortunate to have large rooms and so much space on our campus to be able to be in separate buildings and have separate outdoor environments so that we can limit exposure between people. We are prioritizing placement of siblings together in Primary classroom pods. (We therefore may need to make some classroom placement adjustments but will do so with utmost consideration of your child and their relationship to their community.)
Because this new design aligns with the new pandemic guidelines of the CDC, local, and state governments, we will likely be able to stay open during a City closure as a licensed childcare facility, an essential business, barring something unforeseen or based on new information that deems it unsafe to do so.
What we are doing to prepare:
- Working with city planners and engineers to get a portable building installed in our current parking lot which will house two new Primary classrooms and outdoor work environments
- Converting our gym into a Primary classroom
- Providing Montessori training for new teachers
- Building Montessori shelves, ordering Montessori materials, and buying furniture for the three new classrooms
- Dividing the rooms in half to create smaller pods on each side that will not intermingle with the other pod
- Beginning the school year with pods of a maximum of 10 Primary children (likely fewer) with a teacher; the Tots classes will have even smaller pods on each side of their rooms (7 or fewer students in a pod).
- Building fencing and other structures to create new borders and divisions for the new classrooms and the playgrounds
- Ensuring each Primary class will have their own playground time; classes will not intermingle on the playgrounds (the Tots classes have their own playgrounds)
- Creating trainings, manuals, and protocols for preventing and containing Covid-19
- Working hard throughout the day, and at the end of the day, to disinfect and clean the environments
- Using our AustinAIR filters on High at all times; having doors and windows open with the A/C on whenever possible
- Continuing to utilize our outdoor work environments during work time
In order to make sure Athena is around for the next 12 months to serve children and families, we all need to take care of each other and do our part to avoid an outbreak of Covid on campus. We are asking all staff and families to agree to follow the recommended guidelines of the CDC when AWAY from school, so that we will all be in a better position not to have to face additional closures during the school year.
In addition to the extreme protocols we are taking with the children, we are taking extreme precautions with the staff:
- We’ve asked our staff to commit to following the safety protocols recommended by the CDC while away from school
- Teachers and staff will wear masks in the classroom
- We take staff temperatures and run them through a health screening every morning before the children arrive
- If a teacher or staff member has a fever and/or any symptoms or confirmed exposure, we will send them right away to get a test; they will not be allowed back on campus until they receive a negative test and their symptoms have subsided
- We will have substitutes on staff following the same protocols
- We will continue to train our staff in our COVID-19 Health & Safety Protocols
In the event there is a positive case of Covid in a classroom:
- We will notify families right away
- We will notify the Health Department right away and follow their subsequent guidance
- We will follow the Austin Public Health Department Flow Chart for guidance with COVID-19 symptoms
Enrollment contracts for the coming school year were due on June 15th and tuition is due July 1st. Because we will be keeping our class sizes small, we may decline your enrollment if you miss the upcoming tuition deadline, and we will prioritize families that completed their contracts by that deadline. If you have been enrolled but not yet submitted your contract, please contact us right away to secure your commitment for fall. If you do not secure your spot by the deadline, you will be placed into a priority enrollment pool for future openings.
For those of you enrolled in camp, we still plan to conduct two weeks of camp, and will then close for our usual two weeks of teacher prep, staff development, and preparing the campus for the children’s return.
Thank you for your continued support and commitment to Athena. Enjoy your summer. We look forward to a great school year!
June 26 Update
– URGENT SUMMER CAMP NEWS –
Dear Camp Athena Families,
My sincere apologies for the short notice, but I have decided that in order to ensure the safety of all of our community members, we need to postpone camp by two weeks.
There are several factors that led me to this decision:
- The current spike in our local community of COVID-19 cases
The fact that the Governor announced earlier this week that there are new regulations for schools but has not yet announced what those are
New complexities that I am learning about in my collaboration with several other local owners and directors of childcare facilities in our area that have been open
The daily fluctuations in our enrollment for camp
Here is the current plan:
Until we have an opportunity to review and implement any new regulations or guidelines that are imminent, we are going to redesign summer camp so that our groupings of children are much smaller than originally planned. It is clear that community spread is high right now in our area, and at the same time many people feel that it is still safe to come together in small groups as long as everyone is committed to following the recommended guidelines, especially:
- Small, isolated groups of 10 children
- Wearing masks
- Physical distancing
- Frequent hand washing and disinfecting of each classroom
- Not touching faces
- Lots of outdoor time
- Group members practicing the same protocols away from camp
These next two weeks will give us time to:
- Prepare four new rooms for summer camp
- Divide and redesign the rosters for each class
- Redistribute camp counselors and guides
- See if we are in the beginning, middle, or end of a COVID-19 spike in cases
- Learn how many of these new cases convert to hospitalizations
- Continue to learn more from our colleagues who are open about how our new protocols and regulations are actually working and what adjustments we might need to make
I know that many of you who have decided to entrust us with your children for camp feel that there is a net positive in allowing the children to be in a social situation, out of the home, and engaged with their peers. I know that by making this decision you have also demonstrated your trust in me to make decisions based on what I feel is in the best, and safest, situation possible for all involved. I believe that if we can spread out our campers even more and further reduce our group numbers, we will be able to do a better job of ensuring that we can enforce the above bulleted recommendations.
Please note that over the next two weeks, it is possible that we will receive new information that may require us to again change our plan, postpone another week, or possibly cancel altogether. As mentioned above, I sincerely hope that we will be able to offer at least one week, preferably two, and we promise to stay current with you as decisions unfold.
Our staff is taking seriously their community responsibility to limit their exposure to the virus. We ask that you join us in this effort for the safety of our community at large.
Of course we will credit/refund any unused tuition for camp; at this point our plan is to refund 50% of the summer camp tuition in two weeks. Returning students will receive credit toward their fall tuition and alumni will receive refunds via check in the mail.
My “door” is open–although now it looks like a cell phone. Please feel free to reach out to me via email to schedule a call with me anytime. I am open to your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and feedback.
I hope to see you all on campus very soon and hope that all of you are keeping safe and healthy through it all. Thank you for your continued support and trust in our leadership.
In much gratitude,
June 10th Update
Athena Reopening Design Overview
The Texas Governor announced that Licensed Childcare Centers will be allowed to reopen
with this next phase of reopening Texas. The Health and Human Services Department has laid out new guidelines and regulations for us to follow in order to do everything we can to provide
quality care for children and families with the utmost attention to the health and safety of our
community members. This email pertains to the upcoming school year which is scheduled to
start mid to late August.
As we were anticipating, the new guidelines require a redesign of our programs at Athena. We know that there is a chance that by the time school is scheduled to start in August they will again change the guidelines and regulations. For now, we are working on a redesign of our program to meet the current guidelines and will adjust as we go, as needed, where we deem safe, and/or where possible, and with your input and plenty of advance notice of changes.
Below are the highlights of the new design. Our sincere hope is that we will still be able to accommodate all returning families who wish to return to school as well as all new families
whom we have already enrolled. However, we are also aware that some of you may not be
comfortable with a return to campus and of course we understand, and will have no hard
feelings if you choose to withdraw your enrollment. However, if you do withdraw, we will not
be able to hold a spot nor guarantee re-enrollment at a later date.
The highlights of the changes are as follows:
- Children must remain with the same teachers for the entire day; there can be no
transitions to other classrooms or to different teachers throughout the day.
- No separate programs for Early Arrival and After School until further notice.
- Children must stay in their classroom for a nap.
- Primary classrooms are limited to 20 total students so some students may be moved into different classrooms (we plan to add portable classrooms to accommodate all families).
- Tots classrooms will remain the same size as before, but the room and students will be
divided into two groups. Each group will have one caregiver each and these groups will
not intermingle or share materials throughout the day.
- Food preparation is not allowed so parents will need to provide both snacks and lunch for their child(ren).
- Extracurricular Programs are cancelled until further notice.
- Parents are not to come inside campus gates except in emergency or for prearranged situations.
- At-car drop-off and pick-up procedures with health screens and interviews for students before admittance.
- Strict adherence to limiting attendance to healthy individuals.
- Enhanced hand hygiene protocols for children and staff.
- Intensified cleaning and disinfection regimen.
- Additional health and safety training for all staff.
We are opening three new Primary classrooms to accommodate the smaller class sizes. We are doing our best to maintain as much consistency as possible from our original design for this school year to this new design. We will do everything we can to keep teams intact and children in their currently assigned classrooms. We will also do our best to maintain the mixed age group model for all children but this will be dependent on our enrolled students. We are fortunate to have such a strong team of teaching staff so rest assured that regardless of where your child lands, they will be in exceptional hands. And as always, the children are our North Star for all of our decisions and our plans include much training and attention to how to best take care of their social and emotional needs in the midst of this new design and re-entry to school.
If you are interested, you can read the guidelines for Licensed Childcare Centers, including
Minimum Standard Health Checklists to help guide both care providers and families navigating
our return to school.
Frequently Asked Questions
March 29th Update
A video message for Athena Families
Ways To Help In Our Community During This Time:
Here’s how you can help in the community at this time – we will be updating this page as more information is accumulated.
We urge you to follow the guidance released by AISD on their Coronavirus update page.
Tips on avoiding colds and flu:
Branch Basic’s guide to avoiding colds and flu
Coronavirus language–from a pediatrician
CDC Travel Notices
Austin Public Health Notice
Center for Disease Control (CDC) Fact Page
World Health Organization (WHO) Fact Page
Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Fact Page
NPR: Just for Kids- A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus