POWHATAN – Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School has announced that it will be open for in-person classroom instruction five days a week for all students when its new school year starts on Aug. 25.
Blessed Sacrament will have record enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year, with the local private school already experiencing a long wait list for its early childhood and elementary school classes, said Paula Ledbetter, head of school.
The school’s maximum capacity for early childhood and elementary school is about 200 students, which has already been met, she said. The school still has spots in its middle and high school classes, but she added the middle school is filling up quickly. The school’s ideal capacity is about 350 students total, and enrollment is currently on track to meet that goal, she added.
“There are moments where it is overwhelming, but I am extremely grateful because for years we have worked to be in this place. Despite enrollment is increasing because of COVID and a health crisis, we have worked very hard to have our school in this position where we can accommodate an increase in enrollment,” she said.
BSH staff received word in late June from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond saying that the school would be permitted to open its campus for full-time instruction for all students if the state stayed in Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan, Ledbetter said. While they are building contingencies for how they would operate in Phases 1, 2, and 3, they began moving ahead with the full intention of being back in the classrooms.
After that, “word got out,” Ledbetter emphasized. The school saw a spike in enrollment applications when Chesterfield County announced it would be opening the school year in an all virtual model.
“The phones started ringing in early July. Once Chesterfield made their decision we were flooded with phone calls and emails,” she said, adding there have also been several applications for Powhatan families.
A return to school task force started meeting in July, with subcommittees focusing on questions surrounding transportation, environmental cleaning, communications, health and safety, technology, athletics, and instruction – both on campus and virtual, Ledbetter said.
From the start, their goal in planning a return to the classroom was about finding a balance between following safety guidelines and giving students a sense of normalcy, Ledbetter said. There will still be rules about face coverings for staff and students, depending on their ages, as well as social distancing guidelines, changes to cleaning schedules, and adjusting class schedules for safe movement around the school.
One of the school’s biggest advantages when planning how movement around campus would work is that the individual classrooms all have outside access with covered walkways, making for a very different environment than a single enclosed building with shared hallways, Ledbetter said.
“We have always known our outdoor campus is a unique opportunity for us. So we knew we wanted to make every effort to utilize our outdoor space for students to be able to eat in the cafeteria, to really make sure they are not sitting in one classroom all day every day – they are still able to move about,” she said.
Ledbetter said the fact that the school is capable of meeting the increased need is directly because of the generosity of donors. In 2019, Keith and Kathleen Brower, the grandparents of the late Arabella Stuart Brower, a former BSH student, donated more than $1 million for renovations and upgrades to the school in her honor. Their contributions and the donations of others were responsible for renovations to facilities, technology updates, and new equipment purchases such as Chromebooks.
“I truly think that happened for a reason and the timing happened for a reason. Without that and even just the simple addition of additional Chromebooks, we would not be able to be in such a good position where we are prepared for the opening of school,” Ledbetter said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.