Celebrating the new Year of the Ox

February 15th, 2021: It’s another new year, this time in the Chinese lunar calendar.  Our students enjoy learning Mandarin Chinese under the vibrant teaching of Yulin Zhang.  It’s fun to dress in beautiful, traditional costumes and parade. In addition to this YouTube link are a few stills:

The preceding days Yulin decorated the school:

Students started with fun games and crafts:

 

Sodium in water experiment -finale

11 December 2020: students in our grades 6-8 science class finished a series of experiments with a dramatic show for the younger students.

Teacher Vince Gutschick bought sodium metal online after the students and he planned a series of experiments on reaction rates.  Sodium is a very reactive metal, combining vigorously with water to generate its hydroxide plus hydrogen gas:

2 Na + 2 H2O –> 2 NaOH + H2

The reaction varies in vigor with the water temperature and with the size of the lump of sodium; as expected, it’s faster with warmer water… rather dramatically.

At moderate water temperatures – say, cold tap water at 20oC = 68oF, a lump of a centimeter across and a millimeter thick with a mass of about 0.1 grams will start fizzing, propelling itself around the vessel containing the water like a small boat.  It soon melts (at 98oC, just below water’s boiling point of 100oC).  It becomes a small, active ball that lasts about 30 seconds.  Bigger pieces of sodium have shorter “lives,” but not in proportion to their mass or original flat area – we’ll do more analyses next week.  The biggest lumps, with masses closer to a full gram, occasionally created short-lived electrical sparks that died out or ignited a tiny bit of the hydrogen gas (it’s mixing with air, note, and hydrogen plus oxygen is flammable or even explosive over wide ranges of concentrations).

We did colder water, later, and found the rate of reaction decreased (more analyses to come).  Before that, however, we tried warmer water, at about 59oC or 139oF.  In about 3 seconds it exploded, even ejecting some liquid sodium.  This was dramatic enough that younger students in an adjacent classroom came to watch, and, when we repeated it with some of the ejected sodium, they applauded.  We did the demo again for all the grades 3-5 students today.  (It’s a demo in this case, not an experiment, since we didn’t have time to go into the science much or to test a hypothesis.)

Among the interesting questions is, Why does the hydrogen ignite and explode at higher temperatures that might not be at the autoignition point?  We did see sparks that could be generated in several ways – more things to look into!

Here’s the video of the explosion (don’t get too close; there’s a danger of getting burned a bit, and the cloud of smoke contains some sodium oxide and hydroxide, not worth breathing in):

Home redo2

Our school

The homepage display has been disrupted by a problem we are resolving in the next few weeks by changing our hosting and our Web engine to Squarespace.  We’ll have some weeks to transition as we convert text and then migrate about 1,000 images in small batches.  The site will remain in WordPress until we finish.  Meanwhile, we’ll add recent news.

The biggest news is that we just finished two weeks of in-person learning in a very COVID-safe environment, with social distancing in classes and in play and when eating, with sanitizing all desks, computers, doors, etc., with reduced student movement between classrooms, and more. The students love being in class and seeing friends again! Teachers have more work to do than in pre-COVID times but enjoy seeing the students thrive.

Important details on how we operate with in-person education are linked here.

Home redo

Our school

The homepage display has been disrupted by a problem we are resolving in the next few weeks by changing our hosting and our Web engine to Squarespace.  We’ll have some weeks to transition as we convert text and then migrate about 1,000 images in small batches.  The site will remain in WordPress until we finish.  Meanwhile, we’ll add recent news.

The biggest news is that we just finished two weeks of in-person learning in a very COVID-safe environment, with social distancing in classes and in play and when eating, with sanitizing all desks, computers, doors, etc., with reduced student movement between classrooms, and more. The students love being in class and seeing friends again! Teachers have more work to do than in pre-COVID times but enjoy seeing the students thrive.

Important details on how we operate with in-person education are linked here.

In-person education

Operations of the Las Cruces Academy for the 2020-21 academic year

Classes will begin on September 8th for in-person instruction 5 days per week

We, teachers and administration, have reached this decision to open to classroom instruction on the basis that it is the best choice for the good of both students and their families. We used diverse sources of information and our recent experience with distance education from mid-March to mid-May. Our teachers, Lou Ellen, and Vince worked individually and then in a number of 3-hour group meetings this summer to develop the suite of plans we present here. Vince and Lou Ellen participated in an online meeting on July 13th with 25 other private schools throughout New Mexico, all of whom also plan to open to in-person instruction. We also follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who emphasize the hazards to students’ mental health and their academic and social development, as also risks of adverse family relations if students are provided with only online education.

At times in the coming semester we may be required by the Public Health Department to move to online instruction (distance education, virtual education). We have separate scheduling in these cases, as outlined later in this page.

Our operations are independent of the operations of the Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS), who operate under the jurisdiction of the Public Education Department.

We are developing accommodations for students who must remain home. We will provide a link to many classrooms via either Zoom or Google meetings. Our teachers have developed a suite of ways to communicate with students and parents during online education. For fiscal stability, we will not be able to rebate tuition when a student or the school as a whole moves from in-person instruction to online instruction.

Our annual parent-student contract has new elements. It is essential this year that it be returned with signature(s) before classes begin.

The protective measures we will employ are as follows:

Entering the school

  • We require all persons entering the school to:
    • Wear masks at all times other than when eating or doing outdoor exercise
    • Bring a spare mask in case one mask gets significantly contaminated, as by a sneeze.
      • Masks can cause eyeglasses to fog up. It can help to place students who wear glasses at the front so that they may work without glasses.
      • A few students may be uncomfortable with masks. We consulted with an international virus researcher, Prof. Kathy Hanley who agreed that a face shield with a cloth barrier at the bottom and sides can be used instead of a face mask.
      • Wearing a mask for long times can irritate the ears. We will provide stretchy bands that go around the back of the head if it is a great problem.
    • Parents or students must answer three questions when the students are brought to school: Do you have a fever? Do you have a cough? Have you been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19? Parents may need to assist students in answering.
    • All people who enter the school will be screened for their forehead temperature. We have a quick scanner.
    • The staff will do the screening outside the doors; the temperatures will be recorded.
      • Parents must advise us if a child was given a fever-reducing medication (e.g, ibuprofen, Advil).
      • It is possible that a person’s temperature may read high from exercise or being in a hot car; we will ask the person to sit in the shade outside for a re-reading
      • Parents will drop children off while remaining in their cars. They must wait for the child to walk into the school before they leave.
      • We’ll have marks on the sidewalk to advise social distancing for students while they await screening.
    • Parents are not allowed inside except in circumstances that we make clear – e.g., accompanying a student for a book fair.
  • On entry in the morning, students will go to designated places in order to maintain social distancing. These places will be classrooms or in the courtyard except in adverse weather
    • Each student may get their bag with reading material to pass the time before classes begin. Students can talk to each other but must maintain social distancing.
    • Students will have a water bottle labeled with their name, a spare face mask, and a spare change of clothes.
  • If it becomes necessary we’ll have a sign-up for families for arrival times to reduce congestion and waiting times.

Social distancing

  • We’ll do social distancing in classes:
    • We have determined room capacities using the 6’ guideline. We use these to determine class schedules. There may be new guidelines from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics for  distancing. Best judgment will be used in applying new guidelines.
    • In each classroom we have removed unnecessary furniture to make room. We have bought and had donated to us additional furniture that further enables social distancing.
    • Small blankets with central pillows are being provided for younger students to sit on to enforce social distancing. Parents will be expected to launder these blankets weekly, picking them up on Friday and returning them on the following Monday.
    • We are aware that a number of students will be insecure and may need hugging. “Air hugs” are a good alternative.
    • Some students may worry that they will be viral spreaders. We need to assure such students that there is evidence that younger kids are rather poor spreaders.

We are providing a curriculum (e.g., video) that teaches students about the risks of COVID-19 spreading and reassures them about the efficacy of protective measures.

  • We must insist that families abide by social distancing and mask use in their lives to reduce the risk of catching the COVID-19 virus. This includes times of play dates and parties. We learned of unfortunate breaches of these rules this summer and ask for parental diligence.
  • We are controlling all class changes so that the flow of students to and from restrooms and classes does not have them getting too close.

Hygiene and cleaning

  • Washing hands will be a frequent thing for all students. We have installed dividers between sinks in both restrooms.
    • Hand washing takes time. We have completely revamped the structure of the schedule into six longer periods, from 11 used in the past, to accommodate this time.
  • We will continue our enhanced cleaning:

Daily:

    • Each morning before students arrive the building will be properly cleaned; most surfaces, including floors and shared surfaces, such as door handles, sinks, toilets, and tables will be sanitized with diluted hypochlorite bleach as the CDC recommends.  Aluminum and steel surfaces will be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide, which does not damage them.
    • During the day, teachers will disinfect tables and desks with diluted bleach after snacks, lunch, and change of classes. They will also frequently wipe down doors and bathrooms
    • Computer keyboards and monitors will be sanitized with alcohol
  • If a student or teacher has contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19:
    • If the person is not symptomatic, the person self-quarantines
    • Standard cleaning continues
  • If a student or teacher tests positive:
    • If the person became symptomatic 3 or more days earlier we close for 3 days and continue cleaning; the virus will clear from surfaces

Eating

  • Classes and snack/lunch breaks will be outdoors as much as possible.
    • We have bought eight 12’ X 12’ canopies to cover areas in the courtyard.
    • We will need permission from parents or guardians to apply sunblock, mosquito repellent, or Vaseline that the parents provide.
  • Birthday celebrations are important to students. Parents may bring in treats such as packaged cookies.

Reducing contact transmission

  • To reduce contact transmission:
    • We require that students bring only the minimum of personal effects to school. No toys, etc. They need to bring their food for snacks and lunch, a change of clothes, a water bottle labeled with their name, and a spare face mask.\
      •  Food containers must not need adult help in opening; this reduces the risk of spread of COVID-19 by contact.
      • We bought individual supplies for the use of each student. Students will not need additional supplies.
    • We’ll use some precautions on passing materials such as class papers. While non-smooth papers are a very small risk, we may wait 1-2 days to return papers passed from student to teacher or vice-versa.
  • We will encourage socializing games, such as those that involve talking, or shadow tag.
  • Students must leave in timely fashion after classes end. That avoids grouping of students who may break social distancing. If necessary, families will sign up for their choice of dismissal time. Families with students in both early dismissal grades (3:35 PM) and late dismissal grades (4:10 PM) can have the young students wait and then all family members leave at 4:10+).
    • Teachers must release the children to waiting parents.

Dealing with illnesses

  • Students and their families MUST report illnesses and possible exposure to COVID-19 cases, before entering the school.
    • Clearly, any child who is visibly ill must stay home. Our standard policy, following the CDC guidelines, requires that a student with vomiting or a fever not return until it has been at least 24 hours since the students health returns to normal, no fever or no vomiting.
    • A student who is just fatigued may be infected. Even if the student is not infected, he or she should stay home and be monitored; the student won’t be able to learn much even if only fatigued.

Handling positive cases in school or among contacts of students or teachers in the school

  • We will use the CDC decision tree, with extensions.  This is how it works:
  • Definition of close contact: being within 6’ or less of a person testing positive for COVID-19 for 3 minutes or more (this is a strict interpretation; the CDC seems to use 15 minutes)
  • For all cases:
    • We notify whole LCA community of the case and of the way it will be handled for all of us.
  • Case: a student or teacher tests positive:
    • If the person is symptomatic:
      • The person is isolated (quarantined) for 10 days from the onset of symptoms and must be fever-free for 3 consecutive days before returning to the school
      • If it is a teacher testing positive, we have to develop alternative ways to teach that teacher’s class remotely or to cover in-person teaching
    • If the person is asymptomatic:
      • The person is isolated for 10 days from the date of the positive test, before returning to the school
  • Case: a close contact (not a family member) of a student or teacher tests positive:
    • The person must be tested and is isolated for 14 days from the date of last contact with the positive case
  • Case: a parent or guardian of a student or teacher tests positive:
    • The children of the parent or guardian must be tested and are quarantined for 14 days from the date of the last contact
    • Any teacher who has had close contact with the teacher or parent must also be tested and be quarantined for 14 days from the date of last contact
  • Handling possible positive cases arising in the school day– if a student or teacher becomes ill at school with fever or vomiting:
    • The person is immediately isolated on site in a designated outdoor canopy (or other area in inclement weather) until the person can be safely transported for care, which may be at home

The schedule for in-person education:

  • Classes meet all 5 weekdays
  • Classes begin at 8:30. To avoid congestion and inadvertent lapses of social distancing, if necessary, parents will sign up for arrival times. They can start arriving at 8:00. We take the precautions noted under “Protective measures,” including having parents answer 3 questions about their child’s health and waiting for their child to be screened for temperature and then enter the school.
  • Classes end at 3:35 for grades early K through 2 and at 4:10 for grades 3-8. To avoid congestion as well as long student waits, if necessary, parents will sign up for pick-up times.
  • We have 6 periods, each with staggered end times to allow students of different age groups (early K-2 and 3-8) time for moving between classrooms and for handwashing.
  • The schedule minimizes changes of classrooms for students, reducing contacts and reducing cleaning times.

Distance education:

  • It is impossible to do both distance ed and in-person ed at the same time. There is an insupportable burden on teachers and a major cost to the education of students attending in person. We believe that parents appreciate the magnitude of the burden.
  • We expect very few students to require or request distance ed. We will make accommodations to them that don’t interfere with our regular teaching. That means that the distance ed work will be limited:
    • We expect distance ed to be an episodic event for any given student. We don’t expect any student to be continuously on distance ed for the semester or year. Should a family request that, it’s at their acceptance of lowered performance.
    • We have a selection of tested technologies for providing Zoom sessions to students at home.  Teachers are able to hold selected Zoom sessions simultaneously with in-person classes.  We have upgraded our DSL Internet connection at the school so that our network can support at least 4 simultaneous Zoom sessions at once, when needed.
    • Teachers use ClassDojo or Google Classroom to distribute lessons and assignments. These will be outlines and/or links to websites (e.g., videos) that do not take excessive time to prepare.
      • Teachers did this in March-May. Parents indicated they preferred to get the assignments only once a week.
    • When a student is in distance education, his or her language classes require some level of direct participation in electronic meetings.  The teachers will establish schedules for the online meetings
    • Distance ed, over and above electronic presence in classrooms during the school day, will begin after the end of the in-person school day – e.g., 4:50 PM.
    • Notifications will be sent also by email.
  • All-school distance-ed mode: If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 we then teach by distance education. Teachers work from home, as do students.
    • The schedule for online instruction will be ready for distribution immediately when required
    • The duration of this interval of distance ed depends upon the time of the positive test.
  • The case of a teacher testing positive:
    • The class may be quarantined if the timing indicates that the teacher was in the interval of spreading virus
    • The teacher will teach by distance education, if possible.
  • Utility of Zoom or Google G Suite and of recordings: In most classes students and families made very little use of class recordings, which are a burden to create and curate. Still, in language classes the teachers may choose to make selective recordings that will be served by YouTube or the like.