Breaking: Mr. Kowalik announces transition to “Bright Yellow” plan, with three grades on campus every week


Doug McLane

Following Spring Break, students will return to campus with three grades in “Bright Yellow” mode.

Isabel Engel, Executive Editor

In an email sent to the Potomac community on March 5, Head of School John Kowalik confirmed the school’s intention to expand the number of students on campus, in a plan to be named the “Bright Yellow” mode. A shift from the past few months of yellow-mode-learning with two grades on campus, this transition will allow three grades to be on campus at the same time —something not possible since March 20, 2020. 

Upper School head Doug McLane explained, “Because Potomac values so much our on-campus learning, and because we know how important it is for health and wellness, we know that being on campus as much as possible is really beneficial. We’ve been developing a plan that would increase the number of students on campus for the months of April and May so that three grades would be on campus.”

The goals behind the schedule change were multi-faceted, according to Upper School administrators. The shift to three grades provides seniors with more on-campus time, allows interaction between students in all four grades, and furthers progress toward an eventual green mode next fall. 

Dean of student life Jake Westermann expressed his enthusiasm for Bright Yellow: “One reason for the change in schedule is the emphasis on seniors, and getting them as many days on campus as possible. The second reason is the success we’ve had with conservative, gradual approach to reopening. We’ve started in Red Mode (and gone back into Red Mode when we’ve needed to coming back from breaks) and gone from Orange with one grade on campus to Yellow with two. If we want to get to four in September, this lets us accomplish the goal of getting seniors on campus while testing how that schedule works.” 

The plan to move to Bright Yellow mode was contingent upon a number of factors, the first of which being favorable weather. According to the CDC, outdoor, socially-distanced interactions are optimal in preventing virus transmission. 

“With the weather starting to turn very favorably, in April we know we can get tents, and outdoor classrooms, and breaks and lunches outside. We also have been able to use Chester Gym, so we have more spaces now that we can use,” Mr. McLane said. 

“We’ll have six tents instead of the four we had in fall —and that’s a huge bonus,” Mr. Westermann added. 

In addition, Potomac’s success in preventing the spread of Covid-19 on-campus over the past five months has enabled more students to be on campus in the coming weeks. 

“I know we’re prepared to deal with [more students on campus] because our contract tracing is so seasoned now and there still hasn’t been any community transition,” Mr. Westermann said. 

A shift of this nature, with the number of US students on campus growing by 50%, entails work from all parties involved: the administration, faculty, and student body. 

Antoinetta Pilkerton, Upper School Registrar, has been hard at work modifying the schedule and classroom assignments to better accommodate the three grades on campus. 

“Regardless of which grades are on campus, a student will always be going to the same class, so in that way it looks much more like a typical schedule. Our main priorities are to keep teachers from moving around and make sure we are staying aware of classroom capacities,” she said. 

Furthermore, an increase in the number of on-campus students requires an increase in adult supervision. “We are asking faculty to be on campus and be more of a presence. We’re asking teachers to come in even when they only have virtual class, so there’s more of an adult presence on campus, which is exciting but it’s new,” Mr. Westermann said. 

Above all, Potomac’s administrators stressed that the move to Bright Yellow mode is reliant upon strict adherence to the Potomac pledge to keep the growing number of students safe. 

Mr. McLane added, “We know that while we are not out of the woods with this pandemic, and that this will require continued strict adherence to our safety measures and health pledge, it does feel like a great time that if everything continues to progress, with the rates of transmission and cases staying where they are, it’s the perfect time to move to three grades on campus.”

Mr. Westermann echoed Mr. McLane’s optimism. He shares the excitement of the senior class (and undoubtedly all Upper School students) about the chance to come together for the first time in over a year. 

“Our faculty is largely vaccinated, the regional numbers look good, we’re testing weekly: we feel like we can do this,” said Mr. Westerman. 

With better weather, and continued Covid-19 guidelines, Potomac students can look forward to a spring of togetherness —something the class of 2021 has been yearning for all year.