Students explore Madadascar during summer break

BASIS Independent McLean student Jaiden Bhargava meets a newfound friend during a trip to Madagascar over the 2019 summer break. (BASIS Independent McLean photo)

BASIS Independent McLean, which like all Virginia schools switched to online-only classes this spring because of the public-health emergency, on Aug. 25 reopened under a hybrid plan combining in-person and online learning.

“Our building having been vacant from the zest and zeal of learning since March 13, our school now reopens and welcomes the return of that energy,” said Head of School Paul Geise. “Of course, our stringent and systemic safety protocols will reshape students’ campus experience, but we remain excited to have them studying in community once again.”

The school, located at 8000 Jones Branch Drive in Tysons, serves students from age 2 through 12th grade. Under the hybrid plan, students ranging from toddlers through third grade will be educated on campus five days per week.

Students in fourth through 12th grades will be divided into groups A and B, which have in-person classes on campus two days per week and receive online instruction for the remaining three. Group A will be on campus Mondays and  Tuesdays and Group B will have in-person classes on Thursdays and Fridays. Both groups will have online classes on Wednesdays.

School officials are implementing a raft of health precautions using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All staff members and students (except toddlers) must wear masks except when actively eating, and all desks and seats will be placed at least 6 feet apart.

The school also will conduct daily health checks, take the temperature of those entering the building, practice social-distancing throughout campus, require frequent hand-washing and surface cleaning, have unidirectional hallways and not allow unnecessary visitors inside the building, said spokesman Mary Cunningham.

Parents also have the option of having their children receive virtual-only education using the BASIS Independent Online program. The program, which caters to students from all six BASIS Independent Schools, is designed to have quality comparable to the schools’ on-campus instruction, Cunningham said.

“We are focused on providing a safe and healthy environment for our students and staff to learn and teach,” she said. “We believe in educating students to the highest standards with subject experts – regardless of form: traditional, hybrid or distance-learning.”

The school rapidly switched to “virtual” learning when the pandemic struck and Gov. Northam ordered all schools closed this spring, and continuously has improved that process since, Cunningham said.

“Parents appreciated our ability to offer distance learning so quickly and keep their children learning, and they were wonderful at supporting their children’s learning in this new environment,” she said.

The school’s teachers and administrators since the spring have studied safety guidelines from public-health agencies, examined reopening models used by other school systems and summer camps, watched Webinars regarding pedagogy and safety, rearranged the school’s furniture and rethought staffing options, Cunningham said.

BASIS Independent McLean’s after-school activities will be virtual only and the only sports team will be its Esports group, which plays video games. School officials plan to follow guidance from local athletic leagues regarding safety protocols for sports-team practices and determine whether to hold athletic competitions later in the school year, she said.

The school will continuing holding modified physical-education classes. If possible, those classes will be held outdoors and students engaging in strenuous activities will be allowed not to wear masks, provided they can stay 10 feet apart. Students participating in indoor physical-education classes will need to stay at least 6 feet apart and wear masks, so they will engage in less-strenuous activities to ensure their breathing is not impaired.

School officials have been preparing since the summer to revert to online-only learning if circumstances warrant.

BASIS Independent McLean’s hybrid reopening plan occupies the middle ground between the in-person classes being offered at several other private educational institutions in Northern Virginia – including Flint Hill School, Potomac School, Madeira School, Green Hedges School and Fairfax Christian School – and the all-virtual reopenings that will be instituted by local public schools.

BASIS Independent McLean officials saw an increase in applications and enrollments following Fairfax County Public Schools’ decision to kick off the new school year with virtual classes only, Cunningham said.

BASIS Independent McLean’s seniors in mid-August participated in the school’s annual summer party, which involved the rite of painting their parking spots, albeit while wearing masks and maintaining social-distancing.

“We are trying to keep as many regular traditions as we can this school year, especially for our senior class,” Cunningham said.

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