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Setting NHA Schools Up for Success Starts with Safety

Kelsey Pardue  |  October 23, 2020

While safety has always been a top priority for all National Heritage Academies (NHA) schools, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic created the need for enhancements to the pre-existing safety practices and procedures.

NHA encourages schools to recognize Safe Schools Week, a dedicated time to remind students of the importance of school safety. In an effort to allow school leaders and staff to give their full attention to higher priority tasks, Safe Schools Week celebrations were moved to the spring of 2021. Safe Schools Week 2020 offers an opportunity to highlight and celebrate leading safety practices taking place at NHA as a result of the pandemic. 

To best support school leaders, NHA provided a variety of tools and resources to ensure a safe school environment was provided to students and staff. With the addition of online learning, this included online safety. To support the online safety of students, NHA utilizes trusted software and has a team of skilled professionals on the IT Security team to support students and families.

A game-changing tool was a phone app that was launched and serves as a one-stop-shop for all things COVID-19-related. This includes hosting parent and staff letters, answering frequently asked questions, and more. The hope is that this will limit the number of locations school leaders need to navigate to locate the resources they need.

“The phone app was and continues to be a great resource for our team,” said Kelly Osterhout, principal at Quest Charter Academy. “As leaders, we are always on the move and the app provides a resource at your fingertips. We use the app several times a week to check our decisions before reaching out to our director of school quality.”

Osterhout continued to share that the ease of the app and resources allows for a quick response and keeps her focus be on students and staff. “This year continues to bring unpredictable moments and having these tools has been beneficial for our entire Team One and lessens what is on our plates,” said Osterhout. “We appreciate the work NHA and the Safety team have put into ensuring our safety and the safety of our staff and students.”

NHA believes the well-being of children comes first and, that young people, like adults, learn best when they are happy, safe, calm, and cared for properly. All teachers and staff received additional training and resources around how to handle both the social and emotional well-being of students during this time. An important part of school for younger students is learning the routines and procedures that make for a productive learning environment. NHA staff is well-experienced at instructing, modeling, and reinforcing routines and procedures with young learners. Social distancing falls into this category, and teachers have remained vigilant in enforcing consistent social distancing practices.

In addition to following guidance around regular hand washing, hand sanitizing, daily cleaning, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and encouraging social distancing, NHA provided reusable face coverings to students and staff, supplied disinfectant wipes and portable hand sanitizer dispensers, to name a few.

Staff at the Service Center (SC), NHA’s headquarters, worked with a service-driven mind and heart to provide schools with the tools and resources needed to provide a safe learning environment. This allowed for SC employees to focus on ensuring additional safety measures were implemented and taken, so teachers and school leaders could concentrate on educating students and supporting staff.

“Safe Schools Week is a great time to remind our NHA staff, students, and parents of the importance of building safety into every day,” said Brian Gard, director of safety and health at NHA. “Safety skills learned in the school and work environment are applicable everywhere. It’s impressive to see what our schools and Service Center are doing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the health and safety of our scholars.”

The NHA Safety team provided several scenario walk-throughs and conversations which prepared school leaders as actual situations occurred. “We were able to take the tools provided and provide consistent action plans,” said Osterhout. 

One crucial resource was the Decision Tree, a tool created by the Safety team, which aimed to help school leaders navigate the situations they encounter due to COVID-19. It also provided an opportunity for discussions or questions with school staff. The tree can also be found on the app for convenience and accessibility.

Any decision NHA makes regarding health and safety is guided by the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and laws, regulations, and orders from federal, state, and local governments, as well as consultation with healthcare professionals.

With more than 80 schools, it’s no small feat, but a challenge that has been approached with care, thoughtfulness, and teamwork.