RWA in-class enrollment spikes

Richard Winn Academy biology teacher Beth Geddens welcomes newly enrolled 9th grader Stone Gill of Blythewood to RWAs open house on Tuesday evening. With Stone are his parents David and Stephanie Gill. Following CDC guidelines, teachers met individually with their new students and their students’ parents on a staggered schedule. | Martha Ladd

WINNSBORO – With public schools planning for online instruction this fall in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, some parents are looking for alternatives, says Kristen Chaisson, head of school for Richard Winn Academy, a private school in Winnsboro whose enrollment has jumped more than 20 percent.

The first day of school was Thursday, Aug. 13, and Richard Winn is starting the year with more than 40 new students.

“I think parents are really wanting that face-to-face instruction. They want their child in an academic environment with their friends. They want them with their teacher in the room,” Chaisson says.

“Technology does a lot, but there is something about being in that classroom with your students and interacting with them that makes an educational environment more conducive to learning, and that’s something that we’re able to provide given our numbers.”

As a small school, she says, Richard Winn has the ability to implement social distancing in ways that might be difficult in a public school setting – and the school is planning to follow state and federal health recommendations on social distancing to whatever degree is practicable.

The school, which prides itself on small class sizes and a family atmosphere after more than 50 years in operation, is putting in place a long list of cleaning and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of illness at school.

Among the new rules: more spacing between desks, more hand washing and sanitizing, one-way foot traffic, schedules that limit traveling between classrooms, virtual assemblies, and interaction arranged in a “family” or “cohort” model where students only have contact with their own and one other grade level during times like lunch and recess.

Masks will be required at school for everyone third grade and above except during classroom instruction, where masking and social distancing rules will be at each teacher’s discretion. Each day will begin with daily reminders about social distancing, and each night the entire school will be disinfected.

Chaisson says the demand for in-person schooling is being seen statewide, and most of the state’s independent schools are opening for in-person instruction.

At Richard Winn, increased enrollment means a couple of grade levels are now at capacity, though they still have about 50 spots left, spread across grave levels K3 to 12.

There are only two scenarios that would shut the school down for in-person instruction, Chaisson said – If the governor mandates it, as occurred last spring, or if a Covid-19 outbreak occurs that’s severe enough to trigger a shutdown mandated by the state health department.

In the event that a student or staff member tests positive for the virus, she said, the school will follow the recommendations of health professionals on how best to proceed – and the school year will continue.

“I think Covid has been frustrating for everyone. It’s frustrating on so many levels, and I think people are wanting to get some normalcy back in their lives,” Chaisson said.

“What we’re doing is focusing on the positive aspects [of what] we can do as a school. I want to focus on getting the kids in here, keeping them safe, keeping our teachers safe, and doing everything that we can to make this a successful and healthy school year for these kids.”