Portsmouth Christian Academy Sees Greatest Enrollment Increase Since Early 2000s
Portsmouth Christian Academy Opens Additional Classes in Response to Increased Applications
Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover (PCA) is seeing a dramatic increase in interest for the 20-21 school year following announcements from area schools of their plans for the upcoming fall semester.
“Covid-19 has caused many schools to reconsider how best to deliver instruction to their students,” says Head of School, Mike Runey. “For some, the decision has been to move to partial or full-time remote instruction. For families who are comfortable with this option, they can continue with distance learning at their current school. Other families desire in-person instruction for their children that will allow them to engage with their teachers and peers in person, and build social connections in a way that’s familiar to them. It’s these families who are pursuing PCA for the year ahead, with a rate of enrollment growth the school hasn’t seen since the early 2000s.”
PCA is returning to campus this September, and has already been engaged in summer practice and workout sessions for its athletes in grades 9-12. The school’s return to campus is for students across all grade levels—Pre-K through Grade 12—and will be delivered in person, 5 days a week through its Enhanced Hybrid Learning model. This allows for safe and socially distanced learning, with the flexibility to go off-site in emergency situations.
New Protocols, Equipment and Processes Make for Safer Return
PCA has taken an accelerated approach to aggressive implementation of new health and safety protocols, procedures, and equipment, and has been regularly communicating its plan to families. In addition to standard daily health screenings and new traffic patterns for teachers and students, PCA has reconfigured the layout of its Lower School to create self-contained “Houses” for each school level, along with changes to how classroom instruction will be delivered for classes that normally take place outside of the homeroom, like foreign language, art and library. A nurse’s station has been established in each House to mitigate spread of sickness in the halls and throughout the rest of the school. Hand sanitizing stations, 6-foot distancing in classrooms, classroom disinfection between classes (Upper School) and masks for when 6 feet cannot be maintained are also part of the school’s plan. Additionally, PCA has invested in new fiber-optic and in-classroom technology to allow for improved connectivity for families who choose off-site education as the option for their students.
Runey says, “Most families want their children to return to the classroom in person for the year. And we’re ready to receive them. For a few families, however, remote participation is preferred because of their family’s unique situation. We’re equipped to serve them as well with new technology that will allow their children to receive the same, live, synchronous instruction as their peers, and interact with the teacher and their classmates.”
PCA’s plans have garnered attention from families who desire in-person instruction for the start of the school year. In response, PCA has opened up Wait Pools for several grades in anticipation of adding new classrooms for those specific grades.
A Great Education Knows No Boundaries
As a commuter school, PCA serves families from more than 40 towns across the New Hampshire Seacoast, northern Massachusetts, and southern Maine. This broad reach lends itself to generating interest from school districts across New England where return–to–school plans may not meet the needs for all families.
In addition to its broad geographic reach, PCA is prepared to deliver off-site instruction for some families who desire an excellent academic education and intentional spiritual formation but cannot begin the school year in person. This flexibility extends PCA’s geographic reach beyond its traditional borders.
One Family’s Journey Tells the Story of Many
Dan Schmunk and his wife began considering PCA as an option during last spring’s state of emergency when they found remote learning in their public school district to be difficult for their family. “What I saw PCA doing was significantly greater than what my boys received, [with greater] attention given to them on a weekly basis. PCA was working to have interactions with the students and with their families. There wasn’t a single day where I didn’t think, ‘Man, I want my boys to experience what PCA is offering’.”
A few weeks ago, when the Schmunk family’s school district plan was released, they realized they wanted something different for their boys and immediately took steps to apply to PCA. Schmunk says, “My wife and I both work. There are parents who have to facilitate [at home learning] who need to be working at the same time. And with three boys in 5th grade, 3rd grade and Kindergarten, whoever was at home was a full-time substitute teacher. We looked at what that would mean for the fall semester, and there was no way it was going to work or be a good experience. On top of that, our boys had difficulty with the ‘learning from home’ piece of it.”
Aside from being a PCA dad, Schmunk works at PCA and had recently transitioned into a role on the back–to–school taskforce, helping to lead the initiative for Enhanced Hybrid learning. When asked whether his involvement on the task force had a hand in his family’s decision to pursue PCA, he confirmed that it did. “I was able to have a unique insight into what we were planning. Knowing the faculty’s desire to make the next year possible for in-person teaching meant a restructuring of the entire approach to what they’re doing in the classroom. That’s a major commitment. PCA has demonstrated a commitment to doing what it can do, working all summer in preparation to transition into the new school year.“
Schmunk noted that it was not only an understanding of the dedication and care of the staff and faculty that helped his decision. Seeing the quality of both on-site and off-site education and community connection through Enhanced Hybrid Learning’s use of technology was also part of making that choice. That investment in technology means that students who are remote—whether because that’s their preferred construct for the year or because they’re home sick for a few days—they will be able to see, and be seen, by their teachers and classmates.
“For a lot of people, hybrid has come to mean ‘every other day, and on the ‘off’ day, when not in the classroom, you’re doing some kind of learning activity, but you may not be able to connect with anyone. For our family, there was no guarantee that our boys would be in class with their friends. But at PCA, everyone is going to feel they are a part of this community, whether they’re on campus or they’re off campus. Being able to utilize technology to accomplish that is what makes PCA’s approach to hybrid learning so special.”
When asked about the difficulty of switching schools for his family, Schmunk reflected on his family’s recent tour, “I think the boys are more excited than anything. I’m sure there will be some butterflies, but when we did the tour, they were just so pumped!”
Schmunk went on to describe his appreciation for the school’s commitment to differentiated learning, as well as the distinctive culture, noting the loving and nurturing community and reinforcement his family’s core values.
Many families, like Schmunk’s, are beginning to pick up on the distinction that schools like PCA offer.
Receiving over 100 applications since the beginning of July, this is the most substantial enrollment interest within a single month that PCA has seen in years.
Safety and Communication are Keys to Building Confidence
Some in the community have raised questions about the health and safety of returning to school in person, asking about courses of action for everything from travel to confirmed cases of Covid. As a response, PCA has been conducting Facebook Live broadcasts and developed return–to–school guides to reference these questions, addressing concerns and building relationships with parents and community members.
In a recent Facebook Live event, Runey responded to questions about the reliability of the safety protocols PCA is taking. “If the situation in New England starts to change, our posture will adapt. Looking at the environment, we’ll clearly communicate with you what operating level the school will be in. We have different protocols in place for different situations.” said Runey. You can view the full event here.
Parents appreciate the regular and consistent communication and sharing of the school’s plans, and the openness to questions. PCA parent Elaina Russo says, “The school has been amazing about communicating with us, inviting us to join live events and sharing recordings afterwards. We feel like we are lockstep with the school and have a clear picture of how the year is going to start off. Additionally, we’ve been able to raise questions and voice concerns, and the administration welcomes that dialog as it endeavors to build the best plan for the school year and simultaneously, build confidence and relationships with the families.”
Another PCA parent noted the confidence being built before the school year even starts. She says, “We recognize this is a whole new world and some things may have to change along the way, but the plans that have been communicated lend our family confidence that PCA is setting the bar high for the new school year in terms of safety.”
She goes on to share an example of that high bar she recently witnessed on the soccer field. “The soccer coach was wearing his mask the entire session and had designed the drills so that the boys were 6 feet apart. During water breaks, he regularly reminded the boys to maintain social distancing. Even their backpacks and water bottles were 6 feet apart. If they can do this on the soccer field, I have great confidence they can execute this in the classrooms.”
School starts August 31st. As the date approaches, newly opened classrooms continue to be filled.
PCA currently has seats available in Preschool and Grades 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10. To apply for one of these grades or to inquire/be added to the Wait Pool for another grade, fill out the form below, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit pcaschool.org/apply.