Magnetic name tags affixed to lockers line the hallways where colorful billboards display smiling photographs of Hebrew Day School teachers. Meticulously placed desks with fresh folders, writing journals, math manipulatives, and art supplies occupy classroom spaces. The walls are supplemental teachers, displaying signs explaining the HDS Mensch code of conduct and the proper method for washing hands.

And the sounds of laughing, happy, mask-wearing children fill the air. 

On August 31st, Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor opened for in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, bringing with it all that families have come to expect from this school in a typical year – a deep commitment to providing excellent academic instruction in general studies, Judaic studies, and Hebrew, a warm and welcoming environment, a community, a family.

However, this year is, and the road to reopening was, anything but typical. 

It started with a task force. Led by Head of School, Jennifer Rosenberg, and composed of teachers and administrators, the HDS Safe Reopening Task Force began its journey in June. Meeting frequently throughout the summer, the group’s data-driven, safety first approach left no stone unturned. Incorporating guidance from the state of Michigan and the CDC, in consultation with myriad local experts in the fields of medicine, public health, and psychology, the educators became the students, expanding their vocabulary to include terms such as risk mitigation and viral load. They learned to ask new questions and to integrate their own expertise – the education of children – with their newly acquired knowledge. They learned that the task before them was daunting, the data and protocols at times overwhelming, and the territory uncharted. And they learned that their passion for their profession, their dedication to the students and families who hoped to walk through the school’s doors in the fall, and their commitment to navigating this new path would help them overcome the challenges of their charge and emerge with a plan.

In July, a twelve-page roadmap to reopening was sent to parents and staff. With that document’s release, HDS moved into a new phase – implementation. Teachers revised lesson plans to stay true to both the school’s educational philosophy and social distancing protocols.  Indoor classrooms were completely redesigned while outdoor classrooms were created from scratch. Everything was rethought, and health and wellness became the theme for the year. Teachers were now tasked with not only teaching math and English and science and Hebrew and Judaic Studies, but also how to wear a mask properly, how to transition between activities safely with appropriate distance, and how to teach their students to take care of themselves and each other. An already agile group of professionals, the teachers learned that their flexibility seemed to know no bounds.

But there were still questions. How would the students feel about the new protocols? Would they accept the new norms? Would they have the stamina to make it through a full day masked? Would they long for the days before Covid and be distracted by the protocols now required?

And then the teachers learned one more important lesson.

The power of adaptability. The kids came back to school. Smiling with their eyes, these masked, joyful children followed the rules and learned to accept the new norms. They washed their hands and stayed at a safe distance. They learned math and English and science and Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and they returned, in person, to their home away from home – Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor.