Last school year, Northshore Christian Academy was chosen by the U.S. Department of Education as a prestigious National Blue Ribbon School for its high academic standards, student achievements, well-rounded education, and a vibrant school community. Since then, our world has been gripped by a pandemic that upended many of our previous ways of living and teaching, including adopting remote learning options last Spring. We had to quickly learn how to recreate an excellent learning environment while keeping our community safe under these challenging conditions.
Our incredible staff has come together to’ redesign’ school for a pandemic world and make a safe, effective learning environment this year. Read on to learn how we have risen to the challenge of maintaining our school’s high standards during COVID-19.
Extending Northshore Christian Academy’s High Standards to Pandemic Safety
At Northshore Christian Academy (NCA), we are doing our utmost to provide a safe, caring, and academically excellent learning environment for all students. In keeping with this theme, we are currently providing two enrollment options: NCA Traditional, in which students learn in-person on our pandemic-upgraded campus 5 days a week, and our 100% NCA Virtual Academy. Families can choose the best option for their children based on their individual circumstances.
Our first enrollment option, NCA Traditional, allows students to attend classes in-person, 5 days a week. We have implemented countless new safety procedures with the help of our highly dedicated staff to make this learning experience possible during the pandemic.
Requiring students and staff members to wear masks is just the starting point. Here are some of the additional safety measures we have put in place to make classroom learning possible:
Decreasing Exposure Using Classroom Pods
During the school day, students spend the whole day as part of a single classroom “family” or pod to reduce mingling and potential virus spread. Each pod takes specialist classes together, eats lunch in their classroom with the teacher, enjoys recess together, and even takes restroom breaks together. Students who need to use restrooms outside of scheduled breaks can use the single-stall restrooms throughout the day.
At the middle school level, the new family structure means students take a variety of specialist classes together rather than separating to attend traditional electives. Each of our 12 specialist teachers is assigned to a single classroom for a week to give students an opportunity to try an activity, then rotates to another classroom the next week in what we call our “exploration rotation”. These classes include subjects such as physics, drama, speech debate, art, robotics, and musical instruments such as violin and drums. While we miss being able to give students all the choices they had in previous years, we are excited to provide opportunities to try a wider variety of activities. We hope students will discover interests they may not have otherwise found.
In keeping with the classroom family rules, we no longer have volunteers coming into the classrooms. We miss seeing parents and other members of our community, but we have to do everything we can to reduce opportunities for the virus to spread at this time.
A Safety-Conscious School Schedule
NCA has redesigned the school day to allow for more physical distancing, cleaning, and other public health measures. Each day begins with the new arrival procedures. As each student arrives in a car, a staff member comes to their car window to take their temperature and ask three questions:
- How are you feeling?
- Is anyone in your family sick?
- Has anyone been around someone with COVID?
We have 15-20 staff members who assist with this process so students can safely arrive in a timely manner. We are so thankful for our wonderful staff who have stepped up to the plate and taken on many additional responsibilities to make in-person school possible!
Activities which previously brought together students from different classrooms, are now scheduled separately or done virtually in class to diminish the risk of spreading the virus between classes. Each class has its own recess time and a unique space to play on the grounds. Chapel and cultural groups take place in the classroom by virtual meetings.
Our music and PE courses have been changed to avoid heavy breathing and physical contact. PE classes involve more light exercises in place, rather than traditional sports, and many classes take place outside. Since activities like singing and playing wind instruments carry an elevated risk, we have come up with alternative, innovative music education options like learning to play music from around the world with ukuleles and drums.
There is more time between specialist classes to allow teachers to thoroughly clean equipment between uses. We have also purchased more teaching equipment to make it easier to clean between classes.
For students, the day ends with dismissal. We have three different dismissal times for different grade level groups to ensure that we can keep everyone physically distanced. The entire dismissal process takes about 40 minutes.
Adding Health and Safety Upgrades
Upgrades to the school cleaning and safety systems are also a large part of what has made reopening possible. Our buildings have upgraded pandemic level ventilation systems that allow plenty of clean outside air into the building, and we use electrostatic and fumigator machines to sanitize the classrooms every day. Our staff also cleans the classrooms, building, and equipment more often throughout the day.
We have an on-site nurse’s office with two nurses working to help students with any health issues they may have. You can read more specifics about our campus health systems in the Health & Safety Plans tab on our Enrollment page.
NCA Virtual Academy
NCA Virtual Academy is our new 100% off-campus learning platform for families who prefer to have their students learn from home. The program provides increased learning flexibility while allowing students to remain a part of the NCA community. Our teachers facilitate high-quality, engaging virtual learning in a shared community with parent support.
To create the Virtual Academy, our leadership team worked in conjunction with a national consultant who specializes in Christian schools utilizing online learning to create this learning environment. We selected an outstanding online curriculum that aligns with NCA’s academic excellence and provides the same Biblical integration.
One of our favorite aspects of NCA Virtual Academy is that it allows for more individualized student-teacher connection with differentiated instruction. We recognize that no two students learn the exact same way at the exact same pace. With online learning, we can meet each student’s learning needs and interests in a more personalized way.
NCA Virtual Academy prioritizes building community and social relationships in much the same way as our traditional in-person program. Teachers employ age-appropriate activities and avenues for social connection, and many parents have volunteered to help create and host various student engagement avenues in the virtual setting. Every day, students begin with a group meeting in which they connect with other students and build a class community.
Continuing to Provide Excellent Academics
The Standards That Led to a 2019 National Blue Ribbon Award
Northshore Christian Academy was chosen as a National Blue Ribbon School last school year by the U.S. Department of Education for academic excellence. Due to our focus on helping students master fundamental skills early on and providing opportunities for advanced learning, our students achieved some of the highest standardized test scores in the country. Our elementary school classes generally devote 90 minutes per day to literacy, 50 minutes a day to mathematics, and spend 40 minutes per week in the engineering lab where they get hands-on experience with technology.
In past years, many of our 8th graders have graduated from NCA at a 12th-grade level equivalent in reading, writing, and math. We have regularly seen our alumni qualify for advanced math courses in high school and go on to pursue challenging courses in college, often in STEM fields.
Our Approach to Education During a Pandemic
Now that we are living in a pandemic world, we have worked hard to adapt our academics for the unique challenges our students currently face. With all of our students coming in-person this year, after having been out of school since March, and many students from other schools, we decided to start the school year by assessing where students were in their learning journey. Each student took an online assessment so we could set appropriate learning goals. We believe students are more likely to flourish when we begin by meeting them where they are.
We also place a high priority on helping students with their social and emotional wellbeing. Our goal is to build a classroom family in which each student can bond and feel that they are part of our community. Whether students are learning on campus, or through our Virtual Academy, we work hard to create opportunities for connection, community, and social-emotional development.
Staying True to Our Community Values
Our Guiding Religious Philosophy
NCA’s mission is to provide a superior Christian education and develop spiritual, academic, and personal excellence in a Christ-centered environment. We share our faith and teach Biblical character qualities such as kindness, friendship, servant leadership, and conflict resolution skills.
While we cannot do every activity in the same way we did before the pandemic, we can still create a loving community and share our faith in each classroom. We believe that every person is created in God’s image for a purpose. We continue to hold weekly chapel virtually and celebrate the diversity of our student body.
Our Commitment to Creating Community in Classrooms and Beyond
NCA is committed to creating a dynamic community where all our students and families can belong. For decades, we have worked to increase diversity and awareness among our students. We believe that celebrating our unique differences is an important part of our society. Together, we can build a welcoming and faith-filled community.