May 22nd Update
Hello Athena Families,
As you probably know by now, 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.)
[For simplicity’s sake, this email is focused on next school year, although the new design applies to summer camp as well, if we are able to conduct a summer camp. We will send a separate email regarding summer camp to those of you who have registered for camp.}
Below are the highlights of the new design and we are asking for your response. 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.
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 (we are working on the hours we will be able to accommodate your family)
Not moving children to a different room for nap; nappers will either need to be picked up after lunch or sleep in their classrooms
Primary classrooms are limited to 20 total students so some students may be moved into different classrooms (depending on enrollment, we may be adding portable classrooms to accommodate all families)
There will be no food preparation so parents will need to provide both snacks and lunch for their child(ren)
No extracurricular activities
Limiting parents inside campus gates; at-car drop-off and pick-up procedures with health screens and interviews
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 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 your child is graduating at the end of this school year you do not need to complete the survey.
Please keep in mind that the survey questions are not an indicator of what we are or are not planning to do; at this point we are still trying to gather data from you as we continue to design a plan that feels safe and offers quality care in alignment with our school philosophy.
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.
Thank you for your continued support and for taking the time to respond to our survey. Your responses will help us refine the design of our program. More details to come…
In health and gratitude,
May 12th Update
We know that reopening our school is going to be different from reopening our city. Our focus remains on the children and the health and safety of our community members. With the limited and inconclusive data we have at this point, we are not ready to make one concrete plan, so we are focusing our attention on designing a few different scenarios, each including reopening in incremental phases. We are gathering data, determining our parameters for safety, and getting creative. We are committed to staying open-minded, staying current on the research and recommendations of the CDC and the WHO, and paying attention to feedback so that we can continue to evolve our plan and make changes as we go.
Our hope is that over the next couple of weeks we might have more information about how our city responds to the partial reopening which may provide additional information. In the meantime our leaning is to go ahead and plan for a small, modified summer camp, likely to begin in July, where we can implement and practice new health and safety protocols.
Categories of consideration for these new protocols are Testing, Consistency, and Prevention. Elements of our design will include, and not be limited to:
- Risk-free summer camp registration
- Staff testing and training for COVID-19
- Health and safety protocols for families and staff
- Limited access by anyone other than essential staff members and enrolled students to campus
- Bubble-design classrooms with small, consistent groups of children and guides
- Minimal transitions
- High-powered air filters in every room
- Sanitizing, disinfecting, gloves, and masks where appropriate
Stay tuned for registration information for summer camp to come soon.
At the same time we are considering ideas for an experimental redesign for the new school year, and possibly a redesigned calendar, in case we are unable to reopen business as usual and on time. We may be reopening in a modified format and as an experimental program. As soon as we have a clear plan for a design and our phases defined, we will share them with you.
While we have tremendous compassion for the economics of our city, our families, and of the school, we are committed to continuing to make our decisions guided by what is in the best interest of the children’s health and safety, as we always do. While we are collaborating with other schools, we are working on designing a program that best meets our standards and can be sustainable in health and love. As always, we welcome your feedback.
April 20th Update
Dear Athena Families,
We hope you are all faring well during this challenging reality in which we collectively find ourselves. And although it is no substitute for the in-person care we normally provide on campus, we hope you are finding value in the At-Home Learning resources we are providing for you and your children. If you haven’t visited in a while, please check out the At-Home Learning section of our website, where you can find links to online resources, podcasts, our private Facebook page, our YouTube channel, and links to the weekly activity packets we have provided for both Tots and Primary aged-students.
As promised, we have offered a 25% refund for the final tuition payments that were paid in full, should you choose to accept it. Please input your choice on this Google Form to let us know if you want to be refunded via Venmo, receive a check in the mail, apply it towards your 2020-2021 tuition (for re-enrolled students), or if you want to decline the discount and donate it back to the school. We are so grateful to those of you who have been able to offer for us to keep your discount as a donation, and we also fully understand for those of you who choose not to.
By way of an update for the business of Athena: I have applied for, and been preliminarily approved for, a PPP loan. I am awaiting final approval and, hopefully soon, transfer of funds into our account. The PPP loan should cover our staff payroll for the remainder of their contract terms. I am also still looking into other disaster funds to help cover operating costs until we are able to reopen campus. And, in an effort to protect our campus, especially during this time while it is vacant, we have decided to go ahead with the construction of an eight foot tall perimeter privacy fence, at least on the Ben White Blvd. side of campus, to prevent further vandalism and unwanted visitors on our property.
My hope is that we will still be able to conduct summer camp as usual, but we will have to wait for more information from health officials and local leaders to see if that will be possible. If we are unable to conduct summer camp, in full or part, we will give you as much notice as possible, and of course will refund registration fees.
It is also my hope that we will be able to begin the 2020-2021 school year on schedule, per the calendar on our website. We will certainly keep you posted as the situation unfolds and we make decisions that affect our school community. Regardless of the timing of our reopening, we will at some point, in some way, gather as a community to honor and celebrate this year’s students and graduates.
In the meantime, stay well and healthy, and please reach out to us if you have any questions or need support with any of our At-Home Learning resources. I hope to see you Wednesday evenings at 8:00 p.m. for our Fireside Chats.
And lastly, but most importantly, I wish to express my gratitude to those of you or your family members who are on the front lines working to protect or serve our community members; and to express my sincere condolences to those of you and your family members affected by the Coronavirus. My love and thoughts are with you all during this challenging time.
April 3rd update
Dear Athena Family,
I know this message will not come as a surprise for most of you at this point, but it is still devastating to be making this announcement: Following the lead of the public schools and to do our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19, we are going to go ahead and make the decision to keep campus closed for an indefinite period of time, at least until we have more information to make a different decision. In the interest of the health and safety of our Athena community and beyond, we need to stay separated for now so that we can all be back together again as soon as possible. We so miss seeing all of our children and staff and families together on campus.
I am so proud of my teachers and administrative staff for working so hard, and with so much creativity, in their efforts to redesign Montessori education, community, and support for our families in a virtual way. We are committed to continuing to take in your suggestions, feedback, and ideas as to how we can continually improve the experience for your family.
We know that the continued separation from each other and from our school routine can be challenging for your children. Please join us weekly at 8:00 on Wednesdays for our Fireside Chats to receive guidance and coaching on the social and emotional aspects of your child’s development, in addition to experiencing community from your fellow Athena families with members of our leadership team. We will also continue to provide resources for how to talk to your children at this challenging time.
I know that especially for our upcoming graduates, this news is unsettling as your children have been looking forward to end of year plays, projects, field day, and ceremonies. Our plan is to maintain these plans to the best of our ability in a virtual experience, and to join together in person on campus when we can for our traditional Gates of Life ceremonies and just to be together as a family.
Please visit our At-Home Learning page for academic and social/emotional resources; share pics and thoughts in our private Athena community Facebook page; and encourage your children to engage with our guides on our YouTube Channel.
Thank you for your continued support and commitment to Athena. We are here for you; we are here for each other.
In health and gratitude,
Lisl Friday, Founder
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