Groves Academy

State of Groves Academy Fall 2020

In 2020-21, back to school meant back to something entirely new.

Groves Academy is using this blog post to explain how we developed our return to the classroom plan, how it is working and what the future may hold.

Yes, it’s all different at Groves Academy, yet, it’s all the same.

Students and staff are deepening relationships, while the continuity of the learning experience is intact. In short, the plan is working.

As Groves Academy parents and students know, our school opened up in-person Monday through Thursday, with Friday being a distance learning day. While the schedule is nearly unchanged, the school day looks very new. It now complies with the latest Minnesota Department of Health standards, recommendations, and practices for COVID-19.

We also made accommodations for the Groves Learning Center and how we conduct learning diagnostic testing. No aspect of our institution was left unaddressed.

Our First Priority at Groves Academy Was Respect

In making preparations for in-person learning, the biggest challenge Groves Academy confronted was individual perceptions regarding COVID-19.

Our role was not to judge beliefs on addressing the virus. Instead, our objective was to ensure staff, students, and parents feel safe, respected, and heard while complying with government mandates, practices, and regulations.

We strived to strike the right balance. Our answer isn’t perfect for each person. Rather, we created a plan that would accommodate people to the best ability of our reason and resources.

Why Return to In-Person Learning at Groves Academy?

From the moment private schools and specialized schools went to distance learning last spring, it became our goal to return to in-person learning when safe and practical.

As a specialized school, Groves Academy believes in-person classes are far-preferable to distance learning models. Our belief is rooted in the enhanced needs of students with learning disabilities.

Much of our curriculum uses hands-on, multi-sensory tools to address our students’ learning disabilities. Additionally, the importance of social and emotional relationships between students and teachers, as well as students and peers, cannot be understated. These factors drove us to find a way to return to the classroom.

For example, the Orton-Gillingham-based curriculum is designed for face to face instruction. Like other schools in Minnesota, we did the best we could to adapt it to distance learning. That said, it was not an equal replacement for our classroom experience.

A Summer of Planning

Groves Academy assembled a team of 30 staff members from across our educational ecosystem to plan, prepare and determine how our school and the Learning Center at Groves Academy could continue creating a transformative learning experience for students with learning disabilities in a safe, compliant manner.

  • Four teams addressed:
  • Curriculum
  • Health and Safety
  • Facilities
  • Communications

These teams held weekly meetings led by Dan Morgan, President of Groves Academy. In this capacity, Dan coordinated the efforts and shared thinking amongst each of them. Doing this ensured a fully coordinated effort. While Dan led the four teams, it was 30 staff members that were the heroes. They did the heavy lifting that allowed our doors to re-open.

  • Among the team’s accomplishments included:
  • Coordination with experts from Ecolab® and other scientists to understand factors such as spacing, dwell time, and how to properly disinfect areas.
  • Identifying ways to keep materials unique to each student by ordering extra supplies, and backpacks to reduce the need to share assets.
  • Reconfiguring entrances and exits, vehicle traffic flow, building spacing, and classroom configurations.
  • Facilitating input and communicating the new protocols among teams, staff, parents, and students.

A Summer to Learn

In preparation for the school year, Groves Academy was able to beta test the reopening ideas using the Groves Learning Center summer programs. This capability put Groves Academy well ahead of the learning curve in preparation for the beginning of school. It allowed the four teams to see what ideas worked, what ideas needed adjustment, and how these alterations impacted the staff and student experience.

Back to School Success

We are happy to report that the planning, testing, and refining worked.

The students’ adoption of the new practices and their behavior is exemplary. In fact, issues relating to conduct or discipline are down year over year.

Conversely, issues connected to mental health have ticked upwards. This scenario is entirely understandable. Everyone’s “emotional backpack,” as we call it, is at, or near, capacity. It doesn’t take much for this backpack to spill over and express itself in various ways.

Another issue connected to mental health are challenges resulting from mask-wearing. It is difficult for anyone to read emotions when there are no facial expressions to assess. This is especially difficult for students on the autism spectrum. For this reason, Groves Academy ramped up our ability to respond to mental health challenges and will continue to do so moving forward.

Other keys to ongoing success are creating mask break opportunities for students and staff. We think everyone needs and deserves some throughout the day. These, of course, are done in compliance with all MDH guidelines. Continued input from teachers, parents, and students has also been vital. We want to understand what’s working and what could be done differently or better to improve the Groves Academy methods for addressing COVID-19.

Planning For All Possibilities

Today is not forever. But what tomorrow will look like, and when it comes, is impossible to forecast. The answer will likely vary whether it is a public school, private school, or specialized school.

That said, Groves Academy is doing all we can to prepare for our students’ needs.

The Groves Academy teams developed contingency plans in the event schools need to revert to a distance learning model as we did last spring. We also created plans for migrating back to a conventional school model without (or perhaps, reduced) restrictions.

It’s amazing how much we learned, improved, and applied across our programs. A year ago, COVID-19 caught everyone off guard. Today, we stand prepared for what comes next.

As preparation continues, we are exploring areas for additional improvement, including:

  • Dedicated time for executive functions
  • Strengthening connections between their advisor/homeroom teacher
  • How to better shape video conferencing sessions
  • Investigating technology offerings that get augment what is in place

Thank You, Teachers, Staff, Parents and Students

The headline for this year has been teamwork. On every level and in each interaction, the Groves Academy success belongs to everyone involved. We accomplished this together and will continue to confront all challenges ahead as a unified force.

To our teachers, we thank you for the herculean effort and trust you placed in our decisions.

To staff, we thank you for adopting, adapting and taking on challenges well beyond anyone’s expectations.

To our parents, we thank you for your support, kind words and input. Your feedback has been invaluable.

To our students, you continue to shine while astounding and inspiring us. You stepped up, met the challenge, and proved your ability to overcome adversity.

Groves Academy is and will be better as a result of COVID-19. It’s forced us to look more closely at what we do, why we do it, and how to do it best. This outbreak will pass, but the lessons we gathered will improve us for years to come.

If you have questions about what you’ve read, we encourage you to visit and see how we are approaching in-person learning, while also supporting distance models of tutoring and Groves Literacy PartnershipsSM training.

Kimberly Peeples | Head of Groves Academy
Kimberly Peeples is the Head of School at Groves Academy in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She is the eighth Head of School in our school’s history charged with upholding its mission of building confidence, success, and purpose through transformative learning experiences.
Curtis Olufson | Director of School Operations
Education & Experience: 
Colin Roney | Assistant Head of School
Education & Experience: 
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