The Gifford School now operating fully in-person

The Gifford School Offering In-Person Learning
Posted on 12/14/2020
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The Gifford School announced that, after a phased reopening, which started on Sept. 3, the school is now operating fully in-person as of Dec. 14 with a remote option for those families with individual health concerns.

Lots of people have asked us “why now”? COVID-19 infection rates are going up, we are facing the prospects of rollbacks across the state, so why now? The answer for us is simple: because we’ve proved thus far that we can do it safely, and most importantly, because our students need it.

The Gifford School in Weston is a nonprofit therapeutic day school that serves a vulnerable student population. Our students struggle with emotional issues that significantly interfere with their ability to learn optimally. Many of our students need guidance to communicate their needs effectively and to make and maintain positive social relationships. They struggle with anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders, trauma-related disorders, mood and self-regulation challenges and more.

These many challenges have left students with lowered self-esteem and the need for a therapeutic learning environment that offers individualized support to help them identify their strengths, develop coping strategies, and build a strong sense of community where they can truly belong. Being without any in-person school for over 6 months was extremely difficult at best, and at the worst, was debilitating for both students and their hard-working families.

How could we provide such individualized, comprehensive supports to our students through a computer screen? How could we provide a safe-haven for students who so desperately need a school where they fit in, where they’re accepted and understood for who they are … without being able to be in person? How were we going to provide academics and clinical services to students who were now faced with even more anxiety, confusion, and isolation than they were previously? The entire Gifford staff worked tirelessly since we closed in March to make changes in how we teach and work in order to continue serving our students and families to the best of our ability. We invested a significant amount of resources in our technology infrastructure to establish a virtual learning environment that was robust enough to keep students engaged in their academics and clinical support, as well as connected to their peers. It wasn’t ideal, but it was essential to maintaining connections and educating our students.

However, from the beginning our goal and focus remained unchanged: to provide a safe,consistent, in-person academic, social, and emotional education for all Gifford students. As we continued to augment our technology, staff-training, and infrastructure to support hybrid learning, we simultaneously made major changes to our physical campus as well to allow us to bring students and staff back safely. We opened in phases in order to develop best practices based on learning what worked and what needed to be adjusted further. Based on recommendations from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, (DESE), we prioritize our youngest students first opening our Lower School to full in-person instruction on Sept. 3. Our Middle School and High School were divided into two cohorts that alternated being on campus and remote with an equal number of days of in-person learning for each group. On remote learning days, instruction was live-streamed from our campus on a Chromebook provided by Gifford if needed. Thanks to the efforts of parents and dedicated Gifford staff along with the perseverance our students have learned from a lifetime of overcoming adversity, we have made it through the most difficult period in our school’s history. Wil Fredian, Gifford’s Executive Director, shares that “I could not be more impressed by the resilience of our students. We all shared concerns about how they would do not only in a virtual setting but in cooperating with the necessary safety protocols while on campus. We have found, once again, that with the right supports our students have the ability to adapt in order to overcome adversity and difficult changes.”

In the event that our school needs to shift to remote learning again, whether for a couple of days, weeks, or longer, we will be prepared not only because of our financial investment but our investment in our mission. We accepted the risk of stretching our resources without hesitation because we accepted the responsibility of educating, protecting, and caring for our students when our school was founded in 1964. We greatly appreciate the support of the Weston community including our local Board of Health. And we credit any success we’ve had thus far to our parents, families, and staff who have literally changed their lifestyles outside of school in order to keep our entire school safe every day. They have proven once again, that Gifford is not just a place … it’s a community.

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