Summer 2020 Communication
As we ready ourselves for the new school year, and respond to the various crisis within our Central Florida community and beyond, Geneva is communicating with parents, staff, and board.
The Geneva School Re-opening Plan (July 17, 2020)
A Note from Brad Ryden, Geneva's New Head of School - Geneva School Reopening (July 6, 2020)
The main purpose for this communication is to let you know about planning that is underway for the start of school this fall.
Before I dive into the important stuff, allow me first to say how pleased I am to be joining the school’s leadership team and for my wife Becky, daughter Eliot, and I to be joining the school community. God’s leading has been clear to us throughout the departure from my former school and subsequent move to Orlando and we take great comfort, even in the midst of the pandemic, in knowing that He is directing our steps. We are blessed to have this opportunity and are so thankful for the warm welcome we have received. We look forward to getting to know you and living in Christian fellowship with you starting this fall.
Now to the matter at hand . . .
On June 29, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a “Guidance for School Re-entry.” In it, the AAP “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” I was grateful to see this organization recognize the importance of in-person learning as well as the negative impacts that school closures create. The AAP recognizes that having students physically on campus this fall must come with considerations for the following:
- School policies and procedures that can be adjusted as new information arises.
- Strategies that are adaptable to the level of viral transmission.
- Plans that take into consideration the developmental stages of the students.
- Considerations and accommodations for those students who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges or special health needs.
The guidance from the AAP is extensive and includes information about social (physical) distancing, cleaning and disinfection, testing and screening, face coverings, and more. I have sent the guidance to the school’s administrative team and plan to meet with them very soon to discuss and plan a way forward with regard to the start of the school year.
My desires and thoughts for reopening the school are very much in line with the recommendations of the AAP. Specifically, my goal is to open the school this fall with students physically present. I know this will require accommodations for some as well as flexibility with regard to procedures and routines. This may include spreading desks out in the classrooms, adjusting schedules to minimize the number of students in the hallways and at lunch, regular cleaning of high touch surfaces, and masks for those with underlying health concerns.
While these and other measures are not inconsequential, they are in my way of thinking secondary to the primary goal of having students and teachers in classrooms together, fulfilling our mission of providing “an extraordinary education” that “inspires students to love beauty, think deeply, and pursue Christ’s calling.”
This spring, I was leading a school in Texas very similar to TGS. Like you, we faced the challenges and hardships that came from moving to remote learning. About two weeks in, the novelty wore off and the reality of a new mode of teaching set in. I saw the fatigue on the faces of dear faculty members, students, and parents and hoped then as I do now that we never have to take such extreme measures again. That said, many schools like ours were introduced to new tools and I have no doubt that many of these will be incorporated into our classrooms this fall in ways that will strengthen this “extraordinary education.”
This is the first of what will likely be many emails in the coming weeks related to the start of school. I know that many of you are needing details and I want to provide those to you as soon as I can. School leadership continues to be in prayer for you, the members of our community, and we welcome your prayers as we navigate issues related to reopening.
Please let me know if anything I have written here causes you concern. (Please use the contact form on the Contact TGS page to contact Brad.)
A Note from Chaplain Dr. Mike Beates about Disturbing Current Events (June 7, 2020)
My Dear Friends in the Geneva Community,
Our headmaster sent an email Friday evening with news about Geneva’s educational plans as we anticipate the 2020–21 academic year. Please allow me to comment on another crucial matter that touches Geneva as it touches us all.
I remember at a conference years ago hearing Pastor Alister Begg answer a question that carried much potential controversy. He said something like, “I feel like a porcupine in a balloon factory; the slightest wrong move may cause an explosion.” I feel that way as I seek to address the current cultural turmoil and unrest resulting from the brutal and unjust killing of George Floyd. While this tragic event has unified most of our country in denouncing the brutality of those four police officers, even Christians seem divided as to the appropriate response to racism and the unrest we see at every turn these days.
Allow me simply to say this: As a school whose foundations rest on the risen Lord Jesus we seek for all our students (and faculty and families) to find their identity first and ultimately in Christ as Savior. As Paul said,
He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . , that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:14–19).
But while our ultimate identity is in Christ, we do experience our identity as well in ethnic and cultural contexts. It is in these everyday experiences of social interactions in a fallen world that distrust, injustice, animosity, and racial bigotry occur. This was true for the racial tension between Jews and Gentiles 2000 years ago and is still true for Americans today. Jesus is our peace. We as a school community stand with all who are oppressed for any reason, but in this hour, we are especially mindful of being in solidarity with those who are affected by racism.
Racism in all its manifestations is a sin. Period. Full stop! We believe our only hope for justice and peace rests in the reconciling blood of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the only ground for any unity, forgiveness, forbearance, and community. And this must begin in the family of God. Remember too in these days, Paul’s words to the Roman Christians:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:5–7).
This is our hope at The Geneva School for each of you. As a school community, our student population is about 75% white and 25% black, Asian, Hispanic, and “other.” We have been intentional to create a diverse population for the flourishing of all our students. We believe God is creating a rich tapestry of families and students in our community and we are grateful for that. But we know there is more work to do.<
Personally, my family has experienced the ugly reality of racism. My wife, Mary, and I are parents of a mixed-race family—4 white kids, 4 black kids (and as providence would have it, 2 boys and 2 girls in each group) ranging from 23–38 years old; and then there are 3–4 more black, Hispanic, and mixed-raced young adults who still call Mary and me “momma and poppa.” Our hope resides in Jesus and the family of God. But like many of you, I suppose, I have been finding, printing, and reading many articles from different perspectives to seek understanding and wisdom to walk in a way that honors Christ. I am glad to share with any of you links or articles I have read or written in recent days. Just drop me an email and I will send you some links to read and consider. In the meantime, I have pasted below a prayer I saw this morning from Crossway Books (they published my book years ago—good people). Use this prayer for you and your family as you deem appropriate.
May God grant us much grace and wisdom as we pursue Christ’s calling at Geneva and as we seek justice in our land. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can help.
Warm blessings to you all, as we hold on to the Anchor of Hope!
Chaplain, The Geneva School
A Prayer of Lament
O Lord, how long will your church be divided along racial lines? How long will the lingering effects of animosity, injustice, and pride mark your blessed bride? How long, O Lord, will my white brothers and sisters not understand the pain in those whose experience is different than ours? How long, O Lord, will my minority brothers and sisters struggle with distrust and feel ostracized?
We believe the gospel is greater than our divisions.
God, grant us the heart to weep with those who weep. Give us empathy and understanding. Create trust where there is pain. Make your church the united bride you want her to be.
These divisions of mistrust and historical bias run deep, O God. Without you, nothing will ever change. In our pain and our weariness, we express our hope that Jesus can change our hearts and unite the church. We believe the gospel is greater than our divisions. And we long for the day when the world will take note of how we love each other. So, help us to meet each other in this prayerful journey. We come to learn to lament. Hear us as we weep together, that we might walk together.
In the name of Jesus, our King. Amen.
Letter from Headmaster Ingram about Fall 2020 Reopening (June 5, 2020)
June 5, 2020
Dear Geneva Families,
The Geneva School enters the summer recess with continued resilience and an optimistic spirit that classes will begin on campus as scheduled on August 12, 2020.
Today, Governor Ron DeSantis plans to move Florida counties into Phase 2 of Florida’s three-phase plan to reopen the economy. Under these guidelines retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses will be permitted to operate at full capacity provided they practice social distancing. This good news is greeted with relief that the virus continues to be diminished and with the hope that remaining restrictions will continue to be relaxed. Geneva’s summer camps are gearing up, with the first of them next week and a full slate of camps in July.
In early May we were able to redeem several of Geneva’s most treasured signature programs which then took place during the last week of school. We were able to preserve the fourth grade’s capstone experience of making knights and ladies of our students. The program was held in the upper school gymnasium with parents and guests, as well as with the upper school students who had served as mentors to our knights and ladies.
Because it is so integral to Geneva’s school of rhetoric, each senior was still able to present and defend his or her capstone thesis. Many of these presentations took place in the upper school’s daVinci center and were broadcast widely on Zoom, while others chose to do their presentations by Zoom from home.
The seniors and their parents were also able to enjoy their traditional closing dinner, complete with each senior giving his or her speech in commendation of their parents. Later that week we conducted our baccalaureate service on the outdoor soccer field and as with each of our twenty years of graduations, each senior was individually prayed for by a member of the faculty. That evening our graduation service was likewise conducted in full academic regalia on the soccer field. Complete with pomp and ceremony, a brass quintet, and a Highland bagpiper who led the recessional, our graduates were regaled in a manner that honored these seniors who had persevered under such great duress.
No one of us needs to be reminded how much duress the coronavirus caused us all during the spring quarter. In addition to illness and death, the virus wreaked havoc on our economy, and created chaos across our country. But you, the Geneva community, responded with an uncommon grace that flows from our shared commitments to the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for your generous comments. And thank you for taking up the mantle of teaching responsibility within your home. In addition to all of the other stresses and your work responsibilities you had to manage your children’s studies. You came alongside our faculty even though it was never your plan to have to assist so much in educating your own children. Much was expected of you, and you proved equal to the task.
I cannot overstate my gratefulness for our faculty and staff. Within the week of spring break we retooled our curriculum, made available to our faculty new digital platforms, and devised a teaching schedule that proved to be highly appropriate for the needs of our students and teachers. Over the course of the term they achieved competence and creativity with the use of these new online programs. The dedication of the faculty to teach our Geneva curriculum under these constraints was admirable. Our benchmark was “concierge level education.” If we needed to drive resources and curriculum to the front doors of our students, we would. If we sensed a struggling student, phone calls and personal Zooms were expected. Geneva went “high tech” but at the same time “high touch” with a sense of personal connection. Much was expected of the faculty and staff, and they proved equal to the task.
Special commendations are of course in order for our students. They experienced the most severe of the disruptions and felt most keenly the loss of their friends and teachers. But in the end they, too, acquitted themselves admirably. It is truly a testimony to their character and family upbringing that so much could be accomplished under the adverse conditions we faced. Students have various learning styles and needs. Not all flourished equally during the last nine weeks because admittedly education is not intended to be done online and over Zoom and without a community of friends and faculty to encourage one another on. Others did flourish because they found additional time for reading, discovery, and the pursuit of new interests and hobbies. Each student was tested in character, motivation, independence, deprivation, and patience. From this experience we are likely to see greater maturity, new resolve, a determination to persevere, and a conclusion that “normal” is not such a bad thing after all. Much was expected of the students, and they, too, proved equal to the task.
How is Geneva preparing for August 12?
Currently the administration is pursuing three initiatives. The first is a reopening plan for the facilities. The second is a curriculum and schedule plan should the state of Florida modify its full opening intent. The third is a financial bridge for families who might need short term assistance in meeting tuition payments.
Reopening Facilities: Both facilities will be thoroughly cleaned, as usual, over the summer. The ongoing nightly cleaning of the facilities during the school year by our contracted cleaning crews will be enhanced. Desks and classroom common areas will be disinfected daily. Where possible, desks will be more widely separated in classrooms, and more frequent hand washing and sanitizing will be emphasized. Fewer students will be seated at each lunch table. Outdoor activities will be encouraged and increased. Modification of crowd sizes will be monitored for safer distancing. For those who wish, masks may be worn.
Curriculum and Schedule: Within the classroom, Geneva will return to its former manner of teaching and learning. The coronavirus has not altered our fundamental commitments as expressed in our mission, vision, and values. We intend to employ the richest expression of Christian classical education within the relational context of the academic classroom. In the unlikely event Florida restricts a full opening, Geneva will explore a mixture of content delivery. An analysis of this last spring’s curriculum design is currently underway and certain changes are being suggested at all grade levels. Because it is wise to do so and there is time to accomplish it, several other options are being investigated including a delayed start to the year, an extended winter break, and a blended approach that includes some days in class and some days online at home. It must be stated again that we are optimistic that the state of Florida will continue to move in the direction of a full and robust return to an open society.
A Financial Bridge: It is readily apparent that members of our Geneva family have suffered financial hardship during the last number of months, and this hardship could continue through the fall. Over and above our financial aid for families who need assistance in making tuition payments, we are creating a fund that I have named the “First Responders Fund.” We are so thankful in our country for all of the first responders who rush to the front lines in order to meet needs. These include, but are not limited to, our police, firemen, and medical teams. These women and men see a need and make sacrificial efforts to alleviate pain and suffering. In the same spirit Geneva is seeking financial First Responders to take the lead in assisting others in our community who will need the temporary assistance over and above that which is provided through FACTS and our ongoing scholarship program. Our intent is to ensure that all who are currently enrolled will be able to attend classes this fall.
What other measures is Geneva taking to ensure the school’s well-being?
Since the beginning of spring break the school has been scrupulous in overseeing its expenses. We are stewards of God’s resources and are accountable both to him and to you. The annual spring auction had to be canceled and this of course has negatively affected our finances. While this is a setback, it does not threaten the overall financial integrity of the school. We have concluded our hiring for next year but restricted it to replace only those faculty and staff who were not returning. Our next fiscal year begins July 1, and modifications to the upcoming budget have also been made to account for an anticipated loss of some tuition revenue and a possibility of some loss of gifts and donations.
Our two nurses have been making plans and preparations for how they will continue to keep us a healthy school. Our athletic department is closely monitoring the communications from the FHSAA as to our fall sports program. Our admission team continues to meet prospective families at the school for interviews and tours. Newly hired faculty members are beginning to study the curriculum they will teach while meeting with current faculty members. Brad Ryden, our incoming head of school, is making his way to Orlando and will be in the office as of July 1. Upper school cast members are already learning their lines for our first drama production in the fall. Our advancement team is shifting gears so as to host our postponed spring auction sometime this fall.
I can assure you that there is no lack of energy or zeal within the administration, faculty, staff, or board. We are invigorated by the prospects of the new academic year and are not deterred by the challenges that might lie ahead. Our strength has been preserved and renewed through this exhausting spring by our God who has promised:
Those who wait on the LORD
Will gain new strength,
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not grow weary (Isaiah 40:31).
It is my sincere hope that you are likewise encouraged and strengthened for what God has in store for our future. We will continue to communicate with you during the summer as more information about the specifics of August 12 become available. Enjoy your family during this summer break.
We are GENEVA!