After Six Weeks of Hybrid Learning, Falmouth Academy to Return to In-Person Model


Amy Galvam

8th graders study in Hutker Yard. From left to right: Aubryn Dubois ’25, Sophia Kahn ’25, Maggie Ward ’25, Sara Valle ’25

Theo Harding and Noah Glasgow

On Monday, Oct. 6th, Falmouth Academy Head of School Matt Green announced that the student body would return to a full in-person learning model from October 19th to November 20th. This decision came after six weeks of hybrid learning that helped pilot the school’s coronavirus precautions. 

Mr. Green addressed the schedule change in an email to the student body late Monday night: “In considering all of the data, particularly our own run of good health, local case counts that remain relatively favorable, [and] the opportunity to take advantage of the outdoors while we can… I have come to the conclusion that this stretch of time presents us with an opportunity that may not avail itself for much longer.” The stretch in question will last from the 19th of this month through the beginning Thanksgiving break in November. Mr. Green stressed that with dropping outdoor temperatures and the rise of flu season in December, it was likely the school would return to a hybrid learning environment before the end of the year. 

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in March, the Falmouth Academy administration has actively monitored public health information to determine what type of learning we would pursue this fall – in-person, hybrid, or remote. Around midsummer, the faculty “September Committee,” in charge of FA’s back-to-school plans, decided that a hybrid reopening was the only safe option.

“If [going back in person] was going to happen, it would have been because of a gradual decline in the numbers,” said Mr. Michael Earley, Assistant Head of School. “And that didn’t happen.” Throughout July, as the school remained cautiously optimistic about an in-person opening, COVID-19 continued to spike erratically across the Cape.

“It’s not that [the data] got significantly worse, but it didn’t keep improving,” said Mr. Earley. The September Committee had already drawn up plans for all three modes of learning. “We knew from very early on that we needed a model for fully in person, a model for hybrid, and a model for fully remote,” said Mr. Earley. Until better conditions and results about the pandemic emerged, Falmouth Academy would not be able to open their doors and welcome all of the students back on campus. Public health data proved the ultimate barometer for the back-to-school forecast.

“Let’s have more teachers in the building, fewer students, and really take the first month of school to surface any tension points,” said Mr. Green, describing his conversations with the September Committee. With hybrid learning, they could “iron out any systems that weren’t working – that sort of thing.” 

Mr. Green stressed that student and family feedback as well as public health conditions had influenced and would continue to influence Falmouth Academy’s plan for in-school instruction.

As most returning Falmouth Academy students will know, our school schedule has had quite a few changes. When we reopened on the hybrid model this September, there was a maximum of four grades at any time allowed on campus, while the other two grades took classes through Zoom five days a week. The total number of classes has been reduced from seven to five classes daily, and the length of the classes has been extended from a 40-minutes model to an hour-long model. All School meeting only occurs three times a week and extended “fourth-period” electives have been compressed into After-School Activities, or ASAs. 

“If you’re going to be mixing the grades, we felt that after school would be better,” said Mr. Earley, shedding light on the move to ASAs. “You’re reducing the number of people that are involved, because you have people that go home and people that are outside doing sports.”

Falmouth Academy’s school schedule will remain relatively constant through any transitions in learning – each learning model is “nested” within the others. Your teachers, advisors, meeting times, and class times remain fairly consistent regardless of learning model. 

Academic Dean Dr. Petra Ehrenbrink informed The Chandlery that the September Committee began meeting again in late September. Undoubtedly, these meetings yielded Monday’s verdict: that FA would return to in-person learning. At the time, many in the student body doubted that the year would continue only on the hybrid model. The question lay at large: How would this year go down? 

The answer to that question has left members of the student body curious and concerned.

“I feel safe with the precautions we have in place,” says Sarah Thieler ‘22, who is excited for the transition back to in-person learning. “I think as we get used to [the precautions], the day will run a lot more smoothly. I also think that social connection helps mental health overall and it makes FA’s community benefits stronger.”

Recent reporting from the Boston Globe has emphasized that Massachusetts’s coronavirus case count has not meaningfully decreased from the heights of the summer, and that recent calculations of COVID-19 positive test rates have been deflated by a surge of testing at university campuses. Additionally, the town of Falmouth was recently shaken by a Woods Hole party attended by dozens of Falmouth High School students who took no social distancing precautions. This caused the high school to go completely virtual for one day.

It is likely, however, that within Falmouth Academy, the school remains confident enough in its own precautions and the good will of its students to believe it can safely welcome all students back on the 19th. The school also completed a recent ventilation inspection that certified the efficiency of our new classroom filters and has confirmed that the school will not need to keep windows open into the winter months.

Maisie Saganic ‘21 was excited by the prospect of a full month of in-person learning. But in the week since Mr. Green’s announcement, her enthusiasm has lost ground to caution. 

“This feels almost like a mad dash to restore normalcy before flu season and the inevitable [return] to remote learning,” she said over text. For her, even in-person learning is a far cry from normalcy. “I’ve had a really difficult time adjusting from teachers trusting in me and my responsibilities last year and prior to now where there’s about five teachers hovering around me and my friends in Hutker Yard.”

 Coupled with the fatigue of masks, hour-long classes, and hard-back chairs, Maisie can’t shake a sense of apprehension. She’s quick to note that she understands the need for teachers to enforce the school’s new rules. Looking forward to college next fall, Maisie knows that students will have to stick to social distancing regulations in order for colleges to welcome back a fall class.

For Maisie, the proof will come out in the pudding. After four weeks of in-person school, will she emerge refreshed? Drained? Will Falmouth Academy’s public safety measures have continued to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the school? Like all Falmouth Academy students, she’ll be in school on October 19th, waiting to find out.