Behind the decision to return to campus

After weeks of preparation and meetings, SJC has finally begun to implement their hybrid model. Creation and implementation of the return to school plan has taken routine meetings from multiple stakeholders at St. John’s to ensure a quality education, smooth return, and the safety for all involved members of the St. John’s community.

According to Mr. Chris Themistos, St. John’s created a newly assembled coronavirus task force to prepare for the students’ in-school experience. Beginning in June, around 15 members of staff and the administration have been routinely meeting to discuss and plan everything from funding, to protocols, to academics and D.C. public health developments. 

Before even tackling the school experience itself, there was the challenge of on-going construction for the new gym and Entrepreneurial Center for Innovation and Social Impact that has been underway since long before the pandemic. 

The lack of students in school in combination with compliance with the CDC guidelines allowed gym construction to continue through the summer.

“Every business has protocols, and the construction industry was no different. We were lucky, and had only one covid case throughout the entire process and there was no spread throughout the rest of the crew. I think not having school helped to complete the project in a way that was very safe. Luckily we got through it and they did a phenomenal job,” Themistos said.

The process of creating the hybrid model and rearranging the school for accommodations was more complicated. A grant from the Christian Brothers, in combination with parent donations and a 250,000 dollar investment by the school, meant that cumulatively around 500,000 dollars went into storage, staffing, plexiglass, air purifiers, and extra supplies. 

Sage dining services have also been made available after Sage assembled a new plan that was approved by the D.C. Department of Health. In coordination with the administration the cafeteria has been adjusted to accommodate health protocols through the use of plexiglass, plastic coverings, distanced tables, and more tables outside.

The administration’s goal for the hybrid model is primarily to reinforce the Lasallian ideal of connection between students and their teachers, as well as with their overall community. 

“We want students to be able to develop relationships with their teachers, which is a true Lasallian component to students’ education here. The in person experience provides opportunity for enrichment and connection” Themistos said.

Given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic and the various restrictions that come with it, there are a lot of questions to be raised about the future of the hybrid model and the overall school year at SJC. 

It has recently been announced that there will be no semester exams this year due to virtual learning, similar to the cancellation of final exams last year. Because SJC is looking to D.C. public health requirements and protocols as a model for safely maintaining the hybrid model, any future return to complete virtual learning would be a response to citywide orders from the mayor. 

This goes for policy regarding the holiday season as well. 

“Public health and public policy leaders are all saying to be careful. At the end of the day, for Thanksgiving at least, it’s my hope that we all follow the guidance of public leaders and be careful, because it’s really about making the right decision for the safety of your family and others. For Christmas, stay tuned,” Themistos said. 

If cases were to go down and restrictions were to be loosened, the number of cohorts could change from three to two, in order to increase the time that students can spend on campus.

Most importantly, despite the stress that the pandemic is inflicting, Themistos said it is important to try and keep a positive mindset. 

“I’m really proud of the faculty and students. The facility and custodial staff, no one has worked harder. We’ve had unique instances of completely new experiences and I’m so proud of what everyone has endeavored to do to meet these stressful times that continue. There’s a continual need to be kind to yourself and ask for help if you need it, to make this community the best that it can be,” Themistos said.

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