The Aug. 28 start of the 2020-21 school year marked a return to in-person classroom instruction at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart. It happened two days later than originally scheduled to provide more time for easing students back into the building amid all the new COVID-19 protocols that will govern life this year at the all-girls high school in Lake Forest.
“I’m excited about the students' return to campus and proud of the faculty, staff and administration's thorough planning for how to bring everyone back – or learn remotely – in the safest possible manner,” Head of School Meg Steele said. “Thank goodness for the Woodlands community and the Sacred Heart mission at this time. We will rely on the strength of this community to guide us as we joyfully welcome students back and approach the fall with openness, creativity, flexibility and humor.”
Following spring’s “new norm” of remote learning, a COVID-19 task force led by Associate Head for Academics & Student Life Christine Schmidt worked diligently over the summer evaluating almost every aspect of the Woodlands Academy routine in crafting plans for the return to in-person student learning this fall. Those plans include a switch to all-remote instruction between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to fully close the school during the height of the flu season.
There also is a remote learning option for any students who cannot attend classes in person as well as any who feel unsafe about returning to the school, at least, for now. For example, international students unable to attend in-person classroom activity due to visa and COVID-19 constraints can fully participate in four new robust online courses thanks to the collaborative effort of two Sacred Heart network schools. Educators at Woodlands Academy and Forest Ridge School in Bellevue, Washington, worked together this summer to create the Sacred Heart Global Academy. While this new online initiative was designed primarily with the two schools’ home-bound international students in mind, enrollment is open to some domestic students as well.
Woodlands Academy’s re-opening plan is designed to be an evolving process following the most current guidelines of both the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Lake County Health Department, which are revised as the pandemic evolves.
Students, faculty and staff are subject to daily wellness screenings before entering the school’s limited access points each day. Facial coverings are required, and daily routines have been significantly altered to accommodate social distancing. The many changes in place this year include extending the break between classes to 20 minutes during which students are encouraged to take a socially distanced “mask break” outside as rooms are disinfected for the next class.
While COVID-19 has necessitated many changes, all the new protocols found a way of coexisting with the usual fun of opening day at Woodlands Academy. The mood was festive Aug. 28 as members of the Class of 2021 celebrated their newfound status during what’s become known as “Seniors Rule Day.” Members of the senior class planned this year’s event to celebrate in traditionally creative ways while staying safe. For the entire student body, the day was also a celebration of returning to the classrooms following an absence of nearly six months.
Founded in 1858, Woodlands Academy is an independent Catholic day-and-boarding college-preparatory high school for young women of all faiths in grades nine through 12. The school promotes engaging academics, artistic and athletic excellence, strong faith, and social responsibility. More information about the school and its return to in-person learning during the pandemic can be found at www.woodlandsacademy.org.