wilbraham monson academy in person learning

(Western Mass News Photo)

WILBRAHAM, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Students at one local prep school returned to classes Monday all in person.

They want others to know how they've been following COVID-19 safety protocols since the fall to keep cases at a minimum and no on-campus transmissions.

School, friends, sports, interactions, it’s such a large part of your childhood identity. Many young students have been struggling with the transition to distance learning during the pandemic, but Wilbraham and Monson Academy has been able to avoid the remote learning, except for the pre-planned online learning between Thanksgiving and the holiday break, thanks to the protocols they had put in place.

“We have tested everyone on campus twice every week since the beginning of the school year, and we have an exhaustive screening process that we have just completed to start the second semester. That’s the advantage we have to keep our case count so low,” Head of Wilbraham and Monson Academy Brian Easler said.

A complete overhaul of the HVAC systems, socially distant classrooms, and converting their chapel into a second dining hall are additional measures the school has put in place. While boarding students are mostly restricted to campus, local students still come and go.

“Day students come to school each day, and if they have a significant chunk of free time during the day and with their parents' permission, they can go home, get lunch at home, have a little break from the mask and so forth, and then come back to school if they want they have to sign in and out at the dean’s office,” Easler explained.

Currently, Wilbraham and Monson Academy has 360 students enrolled. They only had six positive cases during the fall of 2020, all of which were caught by their screening process before arrival on campus. To date, zero cases have begun on school grounds.

Western Mass News spoke with multiple students who said that the ability to learn in-person has positively impacted their learning experience in a variety of different ways.

“I'm definitely grateful to all the people that have set up the protocols we have because that has allowed me to take part socially in a big part of my life, which is high school,” Aidan Held, Wilbraham and Monson Academy local senior student said.

“It’s really good to have the opportunity to be in class with my friends, even though we’re spread apart, we still have that in-class experience where the teacher is in front of us, and we’re able to actively learn, and actively listen, actively participate in class,” Giovanni Biondo, Wilbraham and Monson Academy boarding senior student said.

Both are student-athletes, and although no competitions have taken place, they’ve taken great joy in the ability to continue practicing with their teammates and coaches.

The students went on to say that weekly testing increases their confidence in their safety while at school, and they feel more focused and less distracted learning in person. Easler offered the following suggestion to other schools hoping to return to full in-person learning soon.

“As testing becomes more available, and according to the governor, it is becoming more available soon. As testing becomes available, to take advantage of it. That has been the one key for us that has allowed us to be operating for the whole year so far in person everyone full time every day,” Easler said.

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