Fenwick High School reopened its doors 11 weeks ago. With Coronavirus cases spiking late last month, students and teachers took a one-week hiatus from in-person learning then returned to school yesterday and today. Half the student body is physically in school on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other half e-learns from home. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the mask-wearing classmates switch. After each in-class period, teachers diligently disinfect desktops.

So far, our 92nd academic year – with its hybrid, “A-B Schedule” – has been like none other in our storied, Dominican Catholic history. Body temperatures of students, teachers and visitors are taken upon entry; anyone with a fever is not admitted. In addition, faculty, staff and students must answer a daily health questionnaire before entering the building.

Acknowledging that there is no “correct” solution to the dilemma we face, Fenwick is doing school the way we feel it needs to be done for us right now. The continued academic and extracurricular flourishing of our young people is at stake. We believe that the social and emotional needs of all call for us to be together in person – albeit part-time and in a socially distanced manner. That said, our leadership team has never taken our eyes off the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

The safety and security of our students and our employees is the Friars’ first and foremost priority. Families of 111 students (<10%) have opted for remote learning exclusively. Some of our educators are teaching from home as well. To date, our Health Office has reported 36 positive cases of COVID-19 (3.08%) in the building, all of which seem to have been contracted off campus. In addition to those infected, anyone identified through contact tracing has quarantined for 14 days.

In preparation this summer, Fenwick purchased additional technology to facilitate e-learning, including new laptops, software, cameras in every classroom and an app for health screening. We spent more than $300,000 on health and safety protections:

  • Upgraded the HVAC system to increase air circulation by 30%.
  • Added plexiglass partitions in classrooms.
  • Installed a rapid-read, infrared “camera” temperature scanner in the lobby.
  • Provided personal PPE for all faculty and staff.

Fridays during the Coronavirus pandemic are for first-year students only, and we are happy to report that our freshman Class of ’24 is 273 members strong! Last spring, we were concerned about total enrollment dipping and prepared for the worst. The school’s board of directors budgeted for 82 fewer students as administrators, faculty and staff braced for salary cuts. And, we all prayed fervently.

Thankfully, the economic situation improved: Fenwick’s enrollment stands at 1,127 students, down a mere five students from last school year. We acquired 12 students from Guerin Prep in River Grove, which has closed, and a dozen more transferred from other private as well as public high schools in the area. Our business office is working with families that have undergone financial challenges. God is good, and we all continue to forge ahead, hopeful for a better spring semester and a return to some type of “normalcy” in 2021.

Hundreds of families signed up for limited-capacity open houses in October, leading up to the Archdiocese of Chicago’s eighth-grade admissions test date on Saturday, December 5 and 12. (Registration opens November 13 at www.fenwickfriars.com.) This year, members of the Class of 2025 will have the option of taking the exam online.

We remain #FenwickStrong and, as always, the Friars appreciate ongoing support from our surrounding Oak Park community. May God bless all of us and bring an end to the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rev. Richard Peddicord, O.P., is in his ninth year as president of Fenwick High School.

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