EHS Creates Learning Hub for Faculty and Staff Children

When Alexandria’s elementary schools delayed their in-person opening this fall, Dean of Faculty Lucy Whittle Goldstein ’97 knew Episcopal had to get creative to support faculty and staff members with younger children.

Like a lot of Americans, Episcopal families had been forced to juggle jobs and children last spring when the pandemic moved schools online. Virtually overnight, they were homeschooling and caring for their children in between teaching EHS classes, preparing lessons, and meeting with advisories. Despite the occasional appearance of a fussy child on a Webex screen, they made it work and kept their students — and children — on track. 

Goldstein, however, knew that wasn’t sustainable this fall, particularly when students returned to campus and the faculty and staff resumed their 24/7 responsibilities as coaches, advisors, dorm parents, community leaders, and more. In order to give their all to students, faculty and staff needed a childcare solution.

“If we were going to open a boarding school in a pandemic, we had to have our faculty and staff able to work fully while not going completely crazy,” Goldstein says.

What was initially conceived as a one-room schoolhouse instead became a partnership with Headfirst, a professional camp program that has hosted programs on Episcopal’s campus for the past two summers. The result? A hybrid classroom in Hershey Athletics Center where 33 K-5 students attend virtual school under the supervision of trained facilitators.

In the Headfirst program, children grouped by grade work at stations set six feet apart to ensure proper physical distancing. Facilitators help them log on to their school’s classes via iPads and complete independent projects. The program also builds in time for exercise and recess. 

Goldstein worked with Chief Financial Officer Boota deButts ’76 to ensure Episcopal would cover Headfirst’s costs for families. Goldstein says that with the mental and emotional strain of Covid-19 already weighing on families, “We chose to cover it completely because it would have been an unexpected big hit to their budgets — almost the equivalent of a private-school tuition.”

Charissa and Sam Slack, parents of Riker, Sebastian, and Adella, enrolled all three children with Headfirst. “It was a complete game-changer for us,” says Sam, who teaches Spanish, coaches multiple sports, and serves on the Hummel dorm team. They no longer had to juggle five virtual schedules while teaching their children to adjust to new normals. “If anyone’s going to be able to pull this off, it’s Headfirst. They are the Disney World of camps,” Charissa notes.

“I can’t imagine how we could have done it this fall if Episcopal hadn’t made Headfirst happen.” says geometry and sociology teacher Natalie Davies, who with her husband, Chris, a social studies teacher, has a daughter, Emily, in first grade.