Responsible Community 2020-21

Photo above: A line of small blue napping tents for Nursery students set up across the lawn of the historic Columbine Hill House at the Farm.  (See more photos of the Farm Campus below)

Wheeler has begun rapid testing of its students, faculty and staff on campus.
Read more about the process here.

Wheeler is working day and night to provide you with clarity about the year to come.


Wheeler “Back to School’ Video Fall 2020 from Wheeler School Broadcasting on Vimeo.

This plan represents our best thinking about what reopening will look like. Please understand that this is what we know and can predict at this time. Our parent/guardian Community Guide (also found at your login portal)  will be updated frequently as necessary.

The first day of school occurred Thursday, September 10 in the hybrid scenario. Wheeler has been approved by the RI Dept of Education to open in our hybrid learning model for September 10. Wheeler’s hybrid reopening plan meets the criteria for partial reopening as required by RI Dept of Health.  We have also been cleared to open in person but have decided a hybrid model best meets our own standards for risk mitigation and allows time to teach all the protocols to our community.

Link to V3 of our Responsible Community Guide

Images of the Providence Campus Sign and Farm Campus Red Arch on cover of latest version of Responsible Community Guide.

With three scenarios prepared — in person, virtual and hybrid, our priority is to accommodate all students at once on both our Providence and Farm campuses for full days, with restrictions on the number of students in each classroom, and a layering of physical distancing and other health-promoting strategies throughout our campuses. Our guide will continue to be updated based upon local, state, and public health recommendations. Parent communications will be sent to all families.

QUESTIONS?  Email us.  Also, please add your comments to the Healthy Reopening Survey link on the last page of the Community Guide. Updates to the guide are dated on its first page.

Guiding and organizing principles:

  • Ensure high-quality programming and courses in all divisions
  • Reopen our campuses for 20-21 in a healthy, risk-mitigated way including new routines and protocols (eg. dismissal procedures, recess rules, cleaning, etc.)
  • Provide full days for students and the families who rely on this resource
  • Maximize community and on-campus learning
  • Maximize outdoor time and air circulation
  • Maximize technological preparedness to provide solutions for community members with individual health concerns
  • Prepare Virtual Learning Term and Hybrid plans to implement, when and if needed by mandate

De-Densifying through use of both Wheeler Campuses

With the expanded academic use of the Wheeler Farm, we have been able to create conditions on the Providence campus to reduce the potential for community spread of the virus and to enhance the educational experiences of our student body. The reexamination of our instructional spaces and structures has afforded us the opportunity to continue high-quality teaching and learning while incorporating health-focused risk-mitigation strategies.

To accomplish optimal learning conditions for all students, our Nursery, Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Sixth-grade students (Wheeler and Hamilton) will be located for the 20-21 school year at the Wheeler Farm in Seekonk, MA. Sufficient renovations of Columbine Hill House, retrofit of the Field House, as well as a modular “Sprout Space” classroom (seen in the gallery below in an architect’s mockup) will both enhance the program in those grades (which already make great use of the Farm) and increase outdoor time for our youngest children who will struggle most with physical distancing. The Sixth grade will continue with its well-known Farm Program and will be joined by the full Sixth-grade teaching team for the year in a mini-campus. Both a nurse and lead administrator will support daily programs in person at the Farm as well.

Using our second campus will enable students on our Providence campus to spread out, avoiding any potentially crowded classrooms and make room for physical distancing to be upheld to the 6 ft (and sometimes greater) maximum extent possible.

The following information will provide an overview of our plans. There are many questions that will be answered later, either because we do not have the proper information from health officials, or because plans are still in formation. Divisions will share information in August with much greater specificity, and we plan to include a video for students before school begins in September. Orientations will also be geared towards learning new ways of moving throughout school.

Summer Preparations Completed and Underway before Reopening

Our general approach is to layer strategies for health promotion and campus preparation while maintaining an academically consistent and developmentally supportive program for the campus community.    Here is a relatively comprehensive list of our ongoing preparations:

Preparing for health promotion for employees:

  • Assessing faculty and staff readiness and soliciting concerns (personal and practical)
  • Revising employee sick and leave policies to align with new COVID programs from the local and federal government
  • Reviewing various work or leave scenarios with individuals as necessary
  • Increasing staffing as needed and possible to support possible leaves or other permutations of employee accommodations

Preparing our campuses:

  • Renovating Columbine Hill and to placing a modular classroom for N, PreK, and K
  • Retrofitting of a full basketball court within the Field House complete with self-enclosed classrooms (including HVAC, technology, etc.) for our 6th grade classes
  • Expanding the Health Center on both campuses to facilitate isolation of individuals who show symptoms
  • Planning for key improvements of air filtration and ventilation systems in line with ventilation recommendations (per the recommendations of a third-party engineer)
  • Reviewing office spaces for density and installing plexiglass shields where needed
  • Ordering new furniture where required, cleaning supplies in bulk, masks for every child and employee, and additional PPE for our Health Center staff
  • Improving the wireless infrastructure at the Farm and remote learning technologies for every classroom on both campuses

Overall health promotion: 

  • Installing plexiglass in high traffic areas (e.g. Front door)
  • Developing a document that chronicles protocols for those with symptoms and general health promotion across the school
  • Cleaning and sanitizing protocols across both campuses
  • Securing grief and trauma guidance for a full faculty and staff presentation for opening week
  • Offering training to help faculty and staff support students and one another during the pandemic
  • Awaiting further guidance from DOH and RIDE on contact tracing and testing efforts
  • Preparing to launch an app for daily health self-attestation for all faculty, staff, and families
  • Increasing Health Center capacity by securing additional nursing support and expanding the Providence Health Center space into the current gym fitness room
  • Assigning health center professionals to the Farm Campus

Academically consistent and developmentally supportive program and schedule:

  • Assessing technology needs to ensure that students who are learning remotely can engage in learning via video conferencing for each class
  • Working with Department Heads such as Performing Arts and Science on preparing for reopened classrooms with different guidelines
  • Reviewing schedules in all divisions to stabilize groups as much as possible, and to look at places of intersections during lunch
  • Expanding social-emotional supports in all divisions through our work with RULER
  • Planning within teacher teams moving to the Wheeler Farm to prepare for the move and the program
  • Creating schedules and room assignments aligned to 6 ft physical distancing guidelines across campus
  • Creating afterschool and athletics plans that are alternatives that promote stable groupings and avoid interscholastic play should that be necessary
  • Reviewing schedules and plans in lower school in particular to increase stabilization of pods, especially related to specials teachers
  • Reviewing traffic and movement throughout campus both before, during and after school
  • Developing lunch and snack options and possible distribution methods
  • Working with Teacher Leaders on Virtual Learning Term plans, 2.0 in case of 100% campus closure
  • Developing protocols and securing information for busing and transportation based on up to date information

Key Areas In The Responsible Reopening


We know that the pandemic and events of this spring have been extremely challenging for all of us, and for our students. We are anticipating that students will need additional support, and that faculty and staff will need additional training, in identifying indicators of increased needs.

We are grateful to have begun a schoolwide implementation this year of RULER, an evidence-based approach to social-emotional learning which puts us in good stead to increase our support and awareness for all students for the coming year.


New arrival and dismissal procedures will be implemented on both campuses to ensure that health and hygiene standards are met. All movement around and within the buildings is to happen with the expected 6ft distance between each person. Reminders in general include health screening procedures, including a new mobile app for employees and parents to use daily, new arrival/dismissal guidelines, hand hygiene upon arrival, and before dismissal.

MASKS, HAND HYGIENE, CLEANING Hand Hygiene, Cleaning and Disinfecting

All members of the school community will be required to wear a mask during the school day. Wearing a mask for specific age groups may be challenging, but the staff will support students in managing this task as appropriate. We are consulting with DOH about Early Childhood mask-wearing and will share this information in the summer. More information on masks, hand hygiene, cleaning, and disinfecting can be found in the parent/guardian guide.

More specifics on frequency and methods will be shared before school begins in our Back To School Guides.


Students showing any signs or symptoms of illness that could be passed onto another child or adult may not attend school. If well enough to attend classes, students who are at home for health or quarantine reasons will have the option to “call in” to a Google Meet or Zoom conference for each class. A procedure for the screening of symptoms for faculty, staff, and students will be implemented. More information will be shared on this process as it becomes available.

Illness protocols will be created to support the guidance provided by public health experts. Guidelines provided by the RI DOH for returning to school after illness will be followed. We will work closely with RIDE and DOH and await guidance from CDC on recommended testing protocols. While Wheeler is following testing research closely, we believe guidance on this topic will be best received from the state.

Wheeler will be expanding our Health Center this summer to accommodate a greater need for physical distance and isolation as necessary. Additional space will also be created at the Farm Campus for the Health Center staff based there.


Students will be grouped based on physical distancing requirements for room capacity. While we recognize that remaining 6 ft apart will be challenging and perhaps not possible at every moment in time, our classrooms and other learning spaces will be set up to maximize this practice. Intensive retrofitting work is being completed to enable us to best meet this expectation.


The virus is primarily spread between people via droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Increasing air ventilation in the indoor spaces will reduce the risk of transmission of the virus within these spaces. We are reviewing all buildings for circulation patterns and possibilities, which vary by building and unique system features, with the goal to maximize circulation.

  • Building operations staff will ensure that all ventilation systems operate properly and have any features that maximize circulation or filtration operating optimally.
  • Circulation of outdoor air will be increased as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors, with mindfulness of various allergies where applicable.
  • The use of outdoor spaces will be maximized whenever possible.


The School and family partnership will be critical to encouraging health and behavioral norms that will support a healthier environment in both settings. Our collaboration will be essential to promoting good health across our school and caring for our whole community. The school will continue to keep families updated regarding preventative measures and protocols that can be applied by students at home and school.


We are working closely with our new lunch and snack partners on protocols for managing food at school. This will likely include eating in the classrooms with physical distancing protocols and increased cleaning, rotating lunch schedules, and pre-packaged lunch options. Many families may wish to send lunch from home. In all cases, there will be increased cleaning protocols throughout the day with students learning to wipe off their desks after eating when possible.


A revised recess schedule will be created to provide outdoor playtime for all students as well as limit the number of students on the playground at one time. Visual cues on the ground will help remind students to keep 6 ft distance while playing. Certain types of high touch playground items may be closed. If open, routine cleaning of the structure is recommended per the CDC guidelines.


Each division has designated several Teacher Leaders who will be updating the divisional guides for Virtual Learning Terms this summer. This past spring’s curriculum design was created with the developmental, curricular, and emotional needs of our students while at the height of a global health emergency.  The 20-21 school year’s curriculum and plans will be created with the intention to continue curricular offerings apace to the extent possible if needed during a required Virtual Learning Term.

For students who cannot attend classes for health reasons, or who are in quarantine, there will be remote access into campus and classrooms. A form to enroll in the remote option when necessary will be sent to parents and guardians.


>Will Wheeler put its new 8-day rotating schedule in place?

Due to the positive changes associated with our new schedule, we will be putting this schedule in action for the fall. While we know that this will add an additional adjustment to many other changes, we have seen adaptability in action, and we’ll work together to manage through any unanticipated challenges on this front. The Main Calendar on the portal will have each numbered day, as will other tools for students and families we will share, including a refrigerator calendar for major dates/numbered days.

>Will there be modifications to the Main Calendar?

Naturally, many large group events this fall, and perhaps for the entire school year, will need to be modified to occur online or be canceled. Our Main Calendar is being adjusted appropriately to indicate which events may have to be changed. We hope that some in-person family events can take place at the Farm and in the Miller Courtyard. More information will be available about those as we approach the school year. Every date on the Main Calendar can be found when you log in to the parent portal and will be numbered with the new rotating schedule. Weekly calendars are printed in the e-newsletter as well as downloadable monthly calendars.

>Who will be allowed on campus?

For at least the first few months of the school year, to exercise as much risk mitigation control as possible over our campus, we expect that whenever possible only students, faculty, and staff will be allowed on campus. Tutors, small Aerie courses and tutorials, parent meetings, and conferences will take place over teleconferencing whenever possible.  We will significantly limit any visitors on campus. Any visitors allowed will be subject to all health screenings and campus protocols.

>How will Wheeler Athletics function?

We have good reason if things continue to improve, to believe that athletics programming can continue, though students may not be able to participate on teams or could see seasonal sports changes. This information is fluid, and as we have more information from RIIL and from health officials, we will share this with you. See the Back To School Athletics handout for more information.

>Will trips take place?

At this time, we do not plan to take any overnight trips for the first few months of the school year. Field trips will also be limited. Cityside students will travel to the WaterFire Arts Center on a bus; the same bus will be used to travel to any sites. Site visits will be limited strictly based on safety precautions. Waterfire Arts will adhere to the same cleaning protocols as the Wheeler campus.

>Will bus transportation continue for both private and district bus lines?

We are working with our bus transportation partners, both private and connected with the public school districts, to gather information as it becomes available. Some families may want to consider alternate modes of transportation for the coming year, such as ridesharing or carpooling. Relatedly, we will provide information regarding busing to and from the Wheeler Farm for sports practices, as appropriate. Visit our Transportation page for more information.

>Will our After School programming take place?

Those enrolled in after school programs will have to follow COVID precautions. Those students who are permitted to stay on campus after school will only be allowed in certain spaces related to their specific activity or enrollment in athletics or after school care. The Auxiliary Programs Office’s After-School Programming Guide is linked in the Reopening Guide and on the Back To School page.


Do you have questions or ideas?  Please continue to reach out through our survey link on the last page of the Community Guide in your parent/guardian portal. You are helping us identify questions we need to answer that we may not anticipate, so don’t hold back.

Healthy Reopening Task Force
Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School
Judy Diaz, School Nurse
Gary Esposito, Director of Operations
Laurie Flynn, Director of Strategic Communications
Kathy McKenna, Head School Nurse
Natasha Ramirez, Executive Assistant to the Head of School
Young Un, Head of Strategic Innovation and N-8 Divisions