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Immaculate Heart Academy reopens with success, and readies for in-person open house

Immaculate Heart Academy (IHA) in Washington Township opened its campus to students on Sept. 9 for a hybrid model of in-person and virtual instruction after months of careful and diligent planning by the school’s Reopening Committee and administration. The comprehensive hybrid plan was created to keep with the mission of the school while providing students and staff the safest and healthiest environment possible.

IHA is an all-girls Catholic regional high school of the Archdiocese of Newark presently celebrating its 59th year. A Blue Ribbon School, IHA enrolls approximately 700 girls in a competitive college preparatory program from more than 100 towns in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Hudson and Essex counties in New Jersey and Rockland and Orange counties in New York.

The hybrid model of in-person and virtual instruction introduced a three-cohort, rotational schedule that permits two-thirds of the student body to be on campus each day for in-person instruction. Students in the rotating at-home cohort are required to sign into their classes virtually via Zoom, following along in real time. Additionally, families were able to opt-in to an all-remote cohort where students follow their full class schedule via Zoom. This gives students who are working/studying from home the ability to remain engaged with their teachers and classmates and stay current on all schoolwork while reducing their potential exposure to Covid-19.

There have been many upgrades, additions, and changes to the IHA campus to allow staff, students, and families to feel as safe as possible and to reduce the impact of Covid-19 conditions.

“I am so incredibly grateful for the flexibility, understanding, and adaptability our students and staff have shown as we reopened our campus,” said Jason Schlereth, the school’s principal. “So much hard work went into IHA’s reopening and that hard work continues as we navigate the first few weeks of school. Our students have been very cooperative and compliant with all the new procedures, and I believe it’s because they really wanted to be back at IHA. We are truly blessed to have community members who take seriously the health and safety of themselves and others.”

One of the key upgrades was the installation of a Bipolar Needlepoint Ionization Air Purification system in each classroom ventilator unit, as well as in central HVAC units for larger common areas.

After extensive research on various systems that can provide a safer environment at IHA, the school installed this system over the summer, which is effective in removing particulate matter from the circulating air.

Additionally, students’ and staff members’ temperatures are checked every morning at all assigned entry points. Anyone with a temperature at or above 100.4°F is not permitted into the building.

Everyone on IHA’s campus is required to wear face masks at all times. Face shields can be worn as additional protection, but not as replacements for masks. Students’ desks are spaced six feet apart in socially distant rows, and all teacher desks are equipped with plexiglass shields.

Students travel with personal plexiglass desk shields throughout the day that are then left in their last period class every day for disinfection.

Every classroom and entry point is equipped with a touchless hand sanitizer dispenser.

Custodians disinfect high-touch areas numerous times throughout the day and perform a more intense disinfecting routine every afternoon.

As students enter the classroom for each class, teachers spray disinfectant on the students’ desks and chairs. Students are required to wipe their desk and chair with a paper towel from a wall dispenser, and then use hand sanitizer before sitting down.

Additionally, hallways and stairwells are one-directional; floor markings and signage indicate traffic flow. Students are not permitted to congregate in hallways, stairwells, or at lockers at any time throughout the day.

Homeroom, locker break, and lunch have been eliminated from the schedule, allowing for a shortened school day that concludes at 12:45 p.m.

Within the six-day rotating schedule, there is a 10-minute break daily at the end of Period 5 when students and teachers may remove their masks to eat a snack brought in from home. They must remain in their seats and behind their desk shields while eating.

All families were required to sign and return Immaculate Heart Academy’s Social Contract before the start of school. Additionally, parents/guardians view a questionnaire every weekday morning and must notify the office and keep their daughter home if there is an affirmative answer to any of the Covid-19 symptom-related questions.

The kick-off of the 2020-21 academic year at Immaculate Heart has gone incredibly well, Schlereth said. Both the resilient young women that make up IHA’s study body and the dedicated faculty and staff members have adjusted well to the policies and procedures now in place and have shown great understanding and flexibility, he said.

IHA will host in-person tours during its fall Open Houses on Oct. 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Oct. 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. To read Immaculate Heart Academy’s full Reopening Plan and a case study on the air purification system, and to register for either fall Open House, visit www.ihanj.com.