Dear Members of the LFA Community and Visitors,
Over the past year, LFA has been able to be open with a full day in-person learning option. We’ve also been fortunate enough to run our arts, athletic, and advisory programs, within the limits of the guidance from the Illinois Department of Health. The result of our careful planning is that our students have been able to learn and grow through this pandemic. We are grateful to have been able to do this.
When asked why we have seen success this far, my answer is always the same. What has helped LFA navigate these waters is what makes LFA a great place before the pandemic, and will make LFA a great place, afterwards: our people, place and purpose.
Our devoted faculty and staff have bent over backwards to serve the unique needs of the moment. Whether they have been getting up at 5:30 a.m. to teach some of our remote international students, to creatively figuring out ways to teach in the age of masks and social distancing, or simply connecting with and supporting a student in need, my colleagues have risen to the occasion beautifully. Moreover, our motivated and responsible students have adjusted to the restrictions remarkably well. Dedicated faculty and engaged students are nothing new at LFA. It is the combination that has made LFA a life-changing experience for so many over the years. It is a characteristic well past the grip of this pandemic.
One other wonderful attribute of our school is the place we get to learn in. Our expansive 150 acre campus has allowed us to build out new learning spaces that make it possible for us to be in-person while still being socially distant. Our state-of-the-art gardens and outdoor spaces have served as natural classroom environments that were commonly used when weather permitted. This also is not new; LFA’s beautiful campus has been a hallmark of the school for decades. Little could we have imagined that we would test our space in the way it has during the pandemic. Just like our people, our place has allowed us to rise to the occasion.
Finally, there is purpose. Our diverse local, national and international student body of 15 states and 35 countries recognizes the power of people with varying experiences learning and growing together. Being at LFA often transcends simply being in school - it is also taking part in this community that, with all of the divisions that can exist in today’s society, proves what can be accomplished with people coming together with shared community values and goals. Our community is motivated in being together for more than selfish reasons. Our collective has meaning in a pandemic. This is also not new. LFA’s mission calls for us to bring our diverse school together in service to our greater society by educating responsible citizens that will lead with their empathy and excellence. Once again, the pandemic only brought out one of our greatest attributes.
I could go on, but I will leave it there. Thank you for taking a closer look at our amazing Academy. We appreciate your interest. I wish all of you reading this best wishes and the best of health.
José De Jesús
Head of School
*The article below was featured in the fall 2020 edition of LFA's school magazine.
LFA’s Reopening of Campus During COVID-19
The Prep Process
By the time the Academy had waved a bittersweet good-bye to the Class of 2020 in late May 2020, LFA’s board and administration had already started preparations for the reopening of school in August. With the leadership and guidance of Head of School José M. De Jesús P’22, every facet of LFA’s daily operations was examined, and then re-examined, by dedicated teams for health and wellness, facilities, academics and remote learning, residential life and more throughout the summer. While keeping a pulse on the digital cyclone of news and updates from other school communities, LFA established protocols and policies for building usage, masking and sanitization, off-campus sign-outs and remote classes.
Associate Head of School and Dean of Students and Academic Affairs Chris Tennyson described the working process for reopening of school as cohesive. He said, “The creation of the Health & Wellness group, the Density & Space group and the E-Team were critical for us to continuously pivot with the ever-changing landscape and adapt our plan to make sure that we were comfortable with things. These groups, while also working with the Deans Council, Academic Council and Residential Council, allowed us to solve problems and build out a plan that was very effective.”
As the State of Illinois entered Phase Four of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan in late June 2020, the Academy notified families that the start of preseason would be on August 16, 2020 and in-person classes would begin on August 24, 2020. In order to fully open with confidence, LFA established a partnership with Franklin Rosalind University for COVID-19 testing on campus during the week of August 17, 2020. Close to 400 students, faculty and staff were tested in mid-August, resulting in an overall low positivity rate for COVID-19.
With such success to start the school year, on August 24, students headed to advisory to begin the first day of school with a mixture of excitement and caution. Soon, LFA’s students and employees fell into a daily routine that involved answering questions via an app to track symptoms; attending morning advisories for temperature checks; sanitizing desks after every class; mask-wearing; and using one-way exits and entrances into buildings. In addition to regular duties, faculty and staff took on other roles, such as lunch monitors and extra van drivers for runs, especially since social distancing required that only seven students be on one school van.
Going Above and Beyond
History and Social Science Teacher Ackim Mpofu called the extra duties a part of “communal reciprocity,” in which every person at LFA played their various roles for the larger good. Mpofu was part of a larger group of teachers who taught additional classes to accommodate LFA’s remote students. He noted, “Having an e-learning section was a challenge because it was an extra class in the morning that completely changed my schedule. But it was also a benefit because I connected with students who unfortunately could not be on campus. Having the luxury of comparing my e-learning and in-person classes helped me develop my teaching skills.”
Due to travel restrictions and backlogs of visa appointments at embassies all around the world, more than 80 LFA students started the 20-21 academic year remotely. Consequently, the Academy’s teaching faculty stepped up to hold 30-minute classes of all subjects from 5 or 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Central in the morning and 7:15 to 10 p.m. in the evening. Amongst the teachers was also a familiar face; former LFA teacher, parent, and Dean of Admission Loring Strudwick P’13. ’15, ’18 rejoined LFA’s faculty as an early morning math teacher this fall, and will continue to teach students until the end of the academic year.
With the dedication of LFA’s teachers, remote students continued their studies throughout the semester. One student, Xinruo “Jaroy” Wei ’22, took classes at home in China through the fall. She stated, “I felt that LFA was very supportive. I have heard from my friends at other American high schools that they have had to wake up at midnight to take classes. LFA provided remote students with a special class schedule, so we never needed to stay up late to study.” She added, “Currently, even though we are remote, we can always send emails to arrange cycle meetings with our teachers or to ask questions, so my LFA teachers make me feel like I am next to them even though I am actually about 8700 miles away.”
Staying Engaged as a Community
As the semester progressed, some students who started the year remotely were able to come back to campus. The LFA community underwent additional COVID-19 testing with nasal swabs on campus on September 9 and 10, and continued to follow various protocols to keep each other safe. When asked about the in-person experience, this year’s All-School President Nick Alutto ’21 answered, “Being able to go to school in-person, eat lunch in the Student Center, and play sports after school gave students a chance to enjoy a sense of normalcy in a very abnormal time.” While many aspects of life on campus had changed, LFA’s effort to provide the best student experience possible stayed the same.
In the summer, when the Illinois High School Association finally announced sports schedules for the 20-21 school year, LFA’s athletics department moved quickly to accommodate student-athletes amidst the countless modifications; while boys and girls cross country, co-ed golf, girls tennis, and girls swimming were allowed to have matches, other traditional fall sports like boys soccer, girls volleyball and field hockey shifted into PE options that met three days a weeks.
Athletic Director Darrin Madeley P’11, ’14 and his department members had to deal with daily and weekly changes, but Madeley stayed energized by the presence of the students. Madeley said, “Our students showed me once again why they always make me so proud to work here. They did an amazing job competing against other schools and showed great character during truly once in a lifetime circumstances. The cross country, golf and girls swimming teams had strong seasons while girls tennis completed one of the best all around team records at LFA in the past 10 years.”
In addition to a robust sports program, LFA’s students, with the guidance of the arts faculty, worked hard to develop their artistic and performance skills, whether by creating art pieces that went on display in the JC Cowart Student Center, or singing and playing instruments for a two-part concert at the end of the semester. Clubs and organizations like Co-ax and Science Olympiad continued to meet both in-person and remotely. Meanwhile, LFA’s Prefects, Student Council, Dorm Council and the Dean of Students Office organized themed dress days, food truck visits to campus and weekend activities like Knockerball and tie-dye shirt making.
Safiya Nicol ’22, who is also a member of Student Council and a resident of Marshall Field Dorm, was ecstatic to be back on campus. As a junior, she appreciated the opportunity to learn in-person, and wanted to give back by helping to organize activities as well as showing participation at on-campus events. She shared, “We found creative ways to keep up school traditions like having morning meetings on Zoom or still having our yearly rock-paper-scissors advisory tournaments. It has been remarkable to watch the students, faculty, and especially the Sodexo staff all team up together to make this semester work, and for that, I am truly grateful.”
A Surprise Recommendation
Given all the precautions that every member of the community adhered to, LFA’s overall COVID-19 positivity rate well below the local average. Yet in a global pandemic, anything could change.
In the ninth week of the semester, on October 20, the Lake County Health Department recommended that all K-12 schools, both public and independent, move to a remote learning model as a cautionary response to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the area. The recommendation was taken seriously and required discussion amongst LFA’s board and administration. After two days of thoughtful consideration, LFA decided to prepare another round of COVID-19 tests on campus for all students and employees on October 26 and 28 while going remote during that week.
With many hoping for the best, the community took a total of 475 total tests. Amazingly, the conclusive data showed a total infection rate of 1 percent in the community; the few individuals who tested positive and their close contacts went into quarantine for 14 days. Based on those results, on October 30, Head of School José M. De Jesús P’22 announced to the community that LFA would resume in-person classes until the start of the Thanksgiving holiday, with weekly testing until the end of the school year and enhanced mitigation protocols.
LFA resumed classes on campus on November 2 until the start of the in-person assessment period from November 19 to 24. Students and employees conducted saliva tests in advisories on November 10 and 11 and November 17 and 18. Following the Thanksgiving break, students and teachers had two weeks of e-learning during the first two weeks of December, with final grades and comments posted on December 18.
School Counselor and Health, Wellness, and Community Chair Jennifer Madeley, MSW, LCSW, P’11, ’14 summed up the semester, commenting, “I am so glad that we reopened in August. There are so many benefits to in-person learning. We put a lot of safety measures in place, and even though it was hard, I
am incredibly thankful that we were able to make it through
Chris Tennyson added, “A sentiment that I have heard from many parents and students is that the way we have had to change school due to COVID is really hard, but being in-person is so worth it. Our community has proved its resiliency, its strength, and its love for the Academy. The collective power of working towards a common goal has been pretty spectacular to witness.”
Looking Ahead to 2021
LFA resumes classes virtually on January 4, 2021, with a plan to return to in-person learning on January 25 with weekly COVID-19 community testing. Director of Health Services Anna Kliner, MSN, RN, FNP-C, is working with internal and external team members to minimize the risk of infection even further. She explained, “Currently, we are doing needs assessments to see where our services would be most usefully expanded and building relationships across departments and with local medical partners.” She continued, “While all signs are that the next 21-22 school year will bring more normalcy, we should prepare to hold on a bit longer; families should remember that we are here for you and we appreciate all you do for us.”
With the end of the 2020 year, both students and employees have traded expressions of gratitude to and from each other. Parents Association President Jorie Alutto P’19, ’21 also voiced her perspective, stating, “As a parent of a senior, I am so thankful and proud of LFA for the dedication and commitment to keep our students learning together as a community this year during the pandemic. The herculean efforts of the faculty and staff have successfully put the safety of our children first. I know that the LFA community will be stronger as a result of this year’s challenges.”
Despite its challenges, the pandemic has given LFA yet another opportunity to unite as one entity. While there is no doubt that there are several more obstacles to come, after a historical 2020, the Academy remains prepared to continue educating students from all over the nation and world.