COVID-19 Updates to The Pennfield School Community

By March 20, 2020July 7th, 2020News

Friday, July 3– update from Pennfield

On June 19, Rhode Island released “Back to School RI: Health and Safety Guidance to Reopen Rhode Island’s Elementary and Secondary Schools.” Using that template, along with weekly consultations with other RI independent schools, Pennfield is in process of formulating detailed instructions and guidelines for parents, students, and faculty to ensure our safe return to school on Thursday, September 3. Our plans will be vetted by a COVID advisory committee, which consists of board members, administrators, and medical professionals. The next advisory meeting is on July 7.
Pennfield is drafting plans for three potential scenarios: full in-person learning, limited in-person learning, partial in-person learning, and full distance learning. Given RI’s success in controlling the spread of COVID, full in-person learning at Pennfield is the scenario we are expecting and hoping for in September.
Pennfield’s first priority is the safety of all our community members. Our policies will be strict and conservative, to better ensure that full in-person learning is maintained. As mentioned before, Pennfield’s enrollment and the design of our school building enables students and faculty to maintain social distance even within stable groups. Whenever possible, students will spend time outside in stable groups.
To maintain a safe environment, partnership with parents is essential. We must consider how individual actions impact the entire community group. To that end, I strongly request you not travel outside of Rhode Island for at least two weeks prior to the start of school and to self-quarantine as a family unit as much as possible during that time period. Please consider restricting travel over all school vacations during the 2020-2021 school year. This is to help ensure the safety of our entire community when school opens.
Together, we will make the upcoming school year joyful, safe, and enriching. I am eager to welcome students back on campus, of course from a safe distance and while donning a mask.
Final plans will be emailed to you no later than July 31 and will be posted on the school’s website. That said, specifics regarding face coverings, arrival and dismissal procedures, COVID screening, lunch, before and after school care, recess, and co-curricular instruction will be passed along to you on July 17.
Prior to the start of school, a series of orientations will be held so that students and parents are familiar with new procedures. Dates and details will be available on July 17.

Wednesday, June 17- update from Pennfield

Now that Commencement is in our rearview mirror, all attention is focused on the safe return to campus on Thursday, September 3. Establishing protocols and procedures is a collective effort, involving the school’s administrative team, a COVID Advisory Committee, consisting of board members and school personnel, independent school associations, and published guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and the Rhode Island Department of Education. To ensure transparency, the Pennfield community will be updated twice a month on our latest developments and plans. While directives and recommendations for the opening of school by the State of Rhode Island and the CDC are still unfolding, much is already known. We have many advantages over larger school communities.
  • Pennfield’s classes average around 10 students per section. We have plenty of outdoor space in our 19-acre campus, and Lower School and Primary Department classroom doors open directly to the outside. Social distancing throughout the school and within contained pods, therefore, is much easier. Classrooms will be arranged to maximize social distancing.
  • It is predicted that schools or individuals within schools may need to return to remote learning for periods of time during the 2020-2021 school year. Pennfield is fully prepared to teach pods of students or whole classes remotely, if needed. The faculty will continue their professional development using Zoom, Seesaw, and Google Classroom. The faculty and administration will thoroughly review this spring’s remote learning and make adjustments, as needed. Similarly, the administration will look to standardize the remote learning experience for students.
  • The school’s internet access points have recently been enhanced and additional video stations, like the one used at Commencement, are being created for faculty to record and live-stream lessons and activities.
  • Over the summer, faculty will be trained on COVID safety protocols and safety measures which are being created by the COVID Advisory Committee. (The next Advisory meeting is on 6/24/20.)
  • Pennfield has hired a full-time nurse, Dr. Carrie Davis-Boyer. Carrie holds a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, a Master of Science in Nursing, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
  • The Business Office will be relocated and the current space turned into an annex for the nurse’s office, should a student need to be isolated when showing signs of fever or ailments related to COVID until their parents come to pick them up.
  • School employees will wear masks when working with students, and parent and guest access to the school will be very limited. Pennfield is waiting for further guidance from the State regarding when students should be masked.
  • At this point, parents should not plan trips for March Break 2021. Should a second wave of COVID materialize, spring break dates may be adjusted.
  • Parents will receive details about Pennfield’s safety protocols by mid-August.
  • The school will be thoroughly cleaned every evening, and surfaces will be disinfected throughout the day.
Life on campus will be different. Flexibility and empathy are essential. Please note that this brief letter is simply an overview; more will be forthcoming. That said, I cannot wait to have happy children back on campus.

Wednesday, June 4– update from Pennfield

I look forward to welcoming everyone back on campus in September. Should the State of Rhode Island mandate school closures for periods of time next year, we will be ready to shift to remote learning, having gained much insight into what works well. Details about the various scenarios and COVID-19 protocols for the 2020-2021 will be shared in early July.

As we think about the Pennfield community and what is best for our community during all that is going on in the world, the school administrators have decided we will not offer Pennfield sponsored summer camps on campus. The reason is straightforward. Throughout the summer, the administrative team along with our Medical Advisory Committee will be focusing on the safe opening of school in September, following the guidelines and procedures outlined by the RI Department of Health, the RI Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control. Limiting access to the school building over the summer months will allow us to make physical changes to classrooms and other spaces, as needed, and allow administrative resources to have the time to properly inform, train, and educate our community about new protocols. Safety is our first priority.

Monday, June 1– update from Pennfield

The Board of Trustees and the Administrative team are reading everything they possibly can about how to safely reopen schools in the fall. A task force has been put together, which includes among others, local health officials and our highly qualified school nurse. The Task Force is watching what is happening in places such as Europe where schools have already reopened, and reading the guidelines from the CDC and other schools, while at the same time awaiting more guidelines from our governor. We are collaborating with other Rhode Island Independent Schools through weekly Zoom meetings. Pennfield is an NAIS school (National Association of Independent Schools), and they provide us with a wealth of information too.

We are planning for various scenarios and will start out the year with the strictest measures. We hope that as testing becomes more widely available, the state might let us ease up some of our restrictions if it is safe to do so. Pennfield is very fortunate. We have small class sizes and extra space to spread out and even have a few rooms that can be turned into additional classrooms if needed.

At this point, we do not have specifics to share with our community but be assured the focus right now is planning for the safety of our students and teachers in the fall. As you know, things are changing so rapidly that what we plan today might look different in September, but we have a very able group of nimble, bright professionals working on this. As we have more specifics, we will share them with you.

In addition to looking at safety protocols, the faculty are focusing on what has worked well with our online learning program, what we can improve in case we need to go back to this mode again at some point for a brief time, and also what has worked so that it can be included in the classrooms to enhance teaching and the students’ experience.


Friday, May 1- update from Pennfield

The Pennfield School is about to complete its 5thweek of remote learning. We certainly hoped we would all be together again before the end of school, but that isn’t going to be the case unfortunately. However, in true Pennfield fashion the faculty, students, and parents have all stepped up, putting in countless hours to make this mode of learning the most effective and fun that it can possibly be; each week reflecting on what has worked and what can be improved, then making slight tweaks to make it even better the following week.

It has truly been inspiring to see learning moving ahead at a rapid pace and to glimpse all the creative projects that students have enthusiastically completed. We have seen everything from life-size goddesses/gods, to students of all ages re-creating famous paintings, to pre-kindergarteners and other young students creating outdoor art sculptures, to wonderful poems created by the poets in 1st, 6th, and 8thgrade. Guest speakers have even been brought into the fold. Last week during Omega Block, a time set aside for special speakers and school clubs, upper school students and parents had the opportunity to gain some wisdom from a cyber security expert. Samples of what has been happening during remote learning are posted regularly on the School’s social media pages: Facebook,Twitter,Instagram, as well as on our webpage at Maintaining Connections with Remote Learning.

It is also equally inspiring to witness the excitement of the students, even our 3 year olds, when they “see” each other during our daily all-school assembly, class time, advisory meetings, or during the looser optional social times that are provided. The highlight each day for my own 3 boys is connecting with their teachers and classmates. Maintaining a sense of the school community through social connections, and replicating many of our school routines, is as important as having the students continue moving forward with their learning. The mental health of each member of our community is our number one priority. All of us are learning valuable life skills of being creative, flexible, patient, resilient, and also remembering to just slow down when possible—lessons that we will take with us forever. Looking towards the end of the school year, administrators and teachers are turning some of their attention towards making our primary and 8thgrade graduations as special and memorable as possible. We are all certainly looking forward to the opportunity to be back together “live” as one big community on September 2nd, opening day of the 2020-2021 school year.

Monday, April 6 – remote learning update from Headmaster Rob Kelley

I received 113 survey responses from parents over the weekend. I appreciate having data to help Pennfield modify and adjust our remote learning program to better meet the collective and individual needs of your children. Each and every family has its own unique circumstances and dynamics. The faculty pivoted to a remote learning program with speed and efficiency; I applaud their efforts. Restating the obvious, the faculty adore your children and are committed to moving Pennfield’s educational program forward. However, we certainly do not want school to become an arduous chore. Finding that right balance is tricky.

At this morning’s assembly, I concluded with a picture of a Kindness Bench. On that bench is a small bronze plaque that reads, “How beautiful a day is when kindness touches it.” I plan to keep that concept in mind; I hope all of you do, too.

While not the definitive list, this week the administrative team and faculty will review these areas. When modifications are determined, you will be informed straight away.

  • Posting of assignments
  • The structure of co-curricular days in the Lower and Upper Schools
  • The volume of homework
  • The frequency of Zoom classes and meetings
  • Expectations for Zoom conferences and meetings
We are in this together.
Tuesday, March 31 – letter to parents from Headmaster Rob Kelley

Thanks to the tireless work of the faculty and your support at home, The Pennfield School has transitioned to a new mode of schooling in short order. This process has been exhausting, of course, but also extraordinarily invigorating. Everyone has stepped up, leaned in – accepting a new reality. My heartfelt thanks to our faculty and all of you. Education continues!

Yesterday, Governor Raimondo ordered public schools to continue remote learning through April. The Pennfield School will adhere to those recommendations; it’s the only decision to make.

Our plans will surely evolve and adapt. Patience, though, is essential, as the faculty and students establish base-line routines. On Friday you will receive a survey to better understand your assessment of “week one” of remote learning.

In our highly digital world, I strongly encourage your family to shut off electronics for a good chunk of time every day. I have asked faculty to model that for your children. We need to find balance in our lives and to understand that everyone is under stress. Have fun as a family. Take long walks. Read more. As the best bumper sticker of all times declares, “Wag more – bark less.”

Pennfield is a special place – thanks, again, for valuing our most important asset: the faculty. See you bright and early at 8:15 assembly.

Friday, March 27 – Update from Headmaster Rob Kelley

The faculty are hard at work finalizing their initial remote learning plans and testing online conferencing applications, like Zoom, with each other.  Weekly schedules are almost completed but still need a bit of refinement. You will receive details either later today or tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.

Our priority, as you know, is to create meaningful connections in real time and to provide learning support for students and families. What we establish for the first two weeks will, undoubtedly, be adjusted and refined. The faculty and I are certainly learning a lot.

Yesterday’s sunshine and deep blue skies, certainly helped lift my spirits. What a great day to have “distant” fun outside.

To the 115 screens that joined the inaugural test assembly on Tuesday – thanks. It worked! Keep sending me news and photos.

Friday, March 20 – Update from Headmaster Rob Kelley

I hope that your family is healthy and is coping, as best they can, with the stress associated with social distancing. During uncertain, troubling times, it is important now, more than ever before, to support and care for each other. What will happen in the next few weeks or months is unclear but, we will be okay: it may just take a while to regain a sense of normalcy.

As you are aware, Governor Raimondo has directed RI public schools to teach remotely for the next two weeks. In addition, Providence’s independent schools have extended distance learning an additional week. To slow down the spread of COVID-19 and after consulting with the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, Pennfield will begin distance learning on Monday, March 30 through Friday, April 10. You will be informed straightaway, should this status change. I suspect that distance learning may extend further into the spring.

Pennfield is currently on spring break, a type of vacation that we certainly hope to never experience again! Distant learning plans sent home prior to break are being refined and recalibrated. With our smaller classes, Pennfield has the ability to be agile and creative. Glitches, some perhaps major, are inevitable. Distant learning is a process, requiring patience from everyone.

Your patience with our evolving process is greatly appreciated. Details about our revised plans will be shared with you on Wednesday, March 25. Early next week, I will also be testing community-wide video conferencing. Again, stay tuned for details.

The imperatives below are at the forefront of our thinking, as we prepare for distant learning:

  • Maintain strong community bonds and connections.
  • Connect regularly with your children and with faculty in meaningful ways.
  • Provide academic structure and forge ahead with student learning and growth, while maintaining flexibility.
  • Reduce, or at least not add to, family stress in these difficult times!

We realize that not everyone may have the technical support needed for distance learning.Pennfield has a dozen iPads that can be loaned to families if you need that additional support. Please email Iris at to arrange a pick-up time.

When classes are taught remotely, families will not, of course, be charged for extended day fees or hot lunch. Prepaid hot lunch funds will be returned, but doing so will, of course, take some time.

Everyone should carve out a little time daily for a walk or a bike ride, some mindfulness practices, a good book– and a healthy dose of laughter with family.

We will get through this crisis together.

Friday, March 13 – Letter to Parents from Headmaster, Rob Kelley
The regional spread of COVID-19 is a serious concern. Like you, I am receiving data and opinions from many sources. Again, like all of you, my concern is always about the safety and welfare of everyone in the community, including, of course, individuals who have underlying health issues and grandparents. Serious decisions, like cancelling programs or suspending classes for a period of time, will occur after calm and methodical deliberation with my crisis team. Decisions are based on facts, not conjecture.
Later today, parents of Lower School and Upper School students will receive an email with details about our remote learning plans. Questions about remote learning should be directed to Mattie Kemp, Head of Upper School, or Karen Lambert, Head of Lower School. Thankfully, Spring Break lasts until March 30.  I will update you by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, March 23 regarding the status of school reopening on March 30. This is a fluid, rapidly evolving situation. If there are material changes between today and March 23, I will inform you straightaway.
Please note that while our school has temporarily moved to remote learning through at least the week of April 27 due to COVID-19, the Admission Office is still open (remotely).  Reach out to Kristin Emory anytime to learn about Pennfield.  We are still accepting applications for the 2020-2021 school year.