Our Response to COVID-19

Looking Forward to 2020-21

Welcome to Emma!

For more than 200 years, Emma Willard School has served as a beacon for girls to find their voices, create their own pathways, and to serve and shape our world. The school has faced world wars, civil unrest, and a previous global pandemic. Once again, we face unprecedented challenges that call upon all of us to be extraordinary in these extraordinary times.

Looking Forward to 2020-21

We’ve created this page to serve as a guide, to share our preparations for the opening of school, and to share updates and new information. This information includes the adjustments communicated to our community on August 7.
We have listened to the advice of public health experts, medical professionals, educational advisors, local and New York State officials, and the Centers for Disease Control to form the bedrock of our planning for the 2020-21 school year. Our utmost priority is the safety and wellbeing of the Emma community. New information from the study of COVID-19 will continue to require us to be vigilant and responsive to our safety protocols. Our planning is predicated on compliance with public health guidelines and other governmental restrictions.
Emma Willard School’s history of excellence will continue to shape and define the academic experience we offer our students. The best learning occurs in relationship, so we have paid particular attention to building community and nurturing those relationships. We see these connections as vital to the joy and depth of learning in addition to our carefully engineered environment of safety. This year will surely be unlike any other, but our core values and commitment to providing an exceptional learning experience are unwavering.

In light of these changes, we have adjusted dates and details in the Looking Forward plan outlined here. These adjustments reflect our best thinking at this time, and may be adjusted again in the future as the situation evolves.

  • New York State Department of Health Opening Plan (pdf)
    The plan linked here was developed in accordance with the New York State Department of Health requirement that all schools submit their plans for reopening and operating during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The plan was submitted to NYSDoH on July 31, 2020.

Webinar Archives

Parents and students may view the archives of Question & Answer Webinars on the Looking Forward & COVID-19 group in the MyEmma portal (log-in required.)

School Protocols

For ease of reference, we’ve categorized the information below into sections. Highlights include our approach to minimizing campus density, phased arrivals, testing and screening strategies, a new academic schedule supporting deep learning and flexibility if we need to pivot to online learning, and an altered 2020-21 calendar to reduce travel but still provide respite time. Our priority is to be on campus as much as possible. We are also planning for potential interruptions over which we may have no control and will adjust our calendar and protocols accordingly.

A Staggered Beginning for the 2020-21 Academic Year
  • We will begin the 2020-21 school year virtually for all students in the month of September 
  • We will suspend the boarding program for the fall semester
  • Our campus will be opened to day students (and any boarding student who might be able to commute to campus) beginning October 1, if the right conditions continue to be present (low infection rates in the Capital District and a reliable testing plan). 
Our entire community start together at the beginning of the year. We are one community, and weaving us together as we all engage in the same way with each other at the start of the year will help build the connected and relational environment that defines the Emma Willard experience. 

Visit the New York State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control websites for more information about the latest COVID-19 considerations.

Protocols for Opening Week

To protect the health and safety of our students and employees, we will institute a number of public health best practices. A key element will be limiting the density of gatherings. Many of our new campus routines reflect the habits we’ve grown accustomed to during this pandemic and will require additional time and consideration. 

List of 4 items.

  • Arrival, Testing and COVID-19 Honor Code

    All students, employees, and accompanying family members will be required to wear masks in public spaces at all times during the first two weeks on campus. All employees and students will be tested and checked for symptoms as part of the arrival process.

    All community members, day and boarding, student and employee, must have previously submitted the COVID-19 Honor Code (available online in late July). This practice of adhering to community standards to facilitate mutual understanding and safety will be extended to visitors, cleaning practices, food sharing, and honest communication when concerns arise.

    No employee will be allowed into the school buildings until they’ve been tested and their results are clear. 

    Please be sure to wear a mask once on-campus. 

  • Arrival Schedule for Employees

    More details for employees will be available soon.
    • August 17—New employees arrival 
    • August 19—Employee meetings
  • Arrival Schedule, Opening Events, and Orientation

    We will begin the school year with all students learning online. Day students will return to campus in October.
    Read More
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    If you have questions, please contact Assistant Head of School Meredith Legg, PhD.
Our COVID-19 era campus lifestyle will include testing and contact tracing, social distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing, and limits on the number of people who can gather together. We will have isolation and quarantine protocols for those who test positive for COVID-19 and the people with whom they have been in contact within our community. We have analyzed and are currently amending all campus spaces to conform with COVID-19 public health guidelines. To meet social distancing requirements, we are reducing capacity in dormitories and classrooms and are redefining protocols for how we will use public areas on campus.

List of 7 items.

  • Daily Safety Protocols

    Required For Start of School: Every student is required to sign the COVID-19 Honor Code (available for students in MyEmma).

    All students and employees will wear masks during the school day and only remove masks (or appropriate face coverings) in designated mask-free areas when social distancing is possible.

    Students and employees will have daily temperature checks and will need to answer a brief health questionnaire before entering class or beginning their workday.
    Read More
  • Health Center

    There are two health centers now on campus which will both have nursing personnel in supervision. Full details of the health center hours will be available later in the summer.

    1. Well Center for well visits (1st floor, Sage) 
    2. Care Center for sick visits (Ground floor, Hyphen)
  • Masks/Face Coverings

    The use of masks or appropriate face coverings are an important precaution to slow/stop the spread of the virus and protect each other. Everyone on campus is required to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when indoors.
    Read More
  • Testing/Monitoring

    We are adding a second, separate health center to assist in the screening, testing, and any necessary isolation. Our health protocols are being updated to meet the unique circumstances presented by the risk of COVID-19 infection. New hygiene standards for community members and mechanisms for routine symptom-checking will be established. Every student and employee will receive a COVID-19 test as follows:
    • Upon arrival to campus 
    • 14 days after their return to campus 
    • At the return of all major breaks (e.g. winter, spring) 
    • Retested 14 days after their return from a major break
  • Containment

    All students and employees who report COVID-19 symptoms or who are exposed to the virus must follow the testing, contact tracing, and quarantine protocols established by the school, and the Rensselaer Department of Health. 
    Read More
  • When to Stay Home

    Safety is a collective effort. All students and their families must commit to supporting Emma Willard School’s health, wellness and safety protocols. Day students and employees must agree to stay at home when they are not feeling well, have COVID-like symptoms or have potentially been exposed. Each member of the Emma Willard community will be required to complete the COVID-19 Honor Code. The COVID-19 Honor Code is available to students when they log in to MyEmma and must be completed with the other medical documents required for the start of school.
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    If you have questions about health and safety protocols, please contact Director of Nursing Jen Bliss, RN. You may read the answers to questions others have asked here.
    Read More
The school gained important learning from the rapid move to Virtually Emma earlier this spring. We have surveyed students, parents, and our faculty to discern how improvements can be made. This information is providing insights into how we can improve and intentionally meet the unique needs of our Emma community and is guiding our planning over the summer. Our approach for the 2020-21 academic year assumes some degree of remote instruction. We have taken into account circumstances that likely include visa and/or travel restrictions, as well as physical capacity limitations.

List of 8 items.

  • Learning Program Outline

    In preparing for the fall of 2020, Emma Willard School has focused on preparing for three scenarios: live learning, hybrid live-asynchronous learning, and fully online learning in the event of a New York State shutdown. The 2020-21 program has been designed to offer flexibility in meeting the needs of the student body, and preparing for transitions between face-to-face and online learning. Emma Willard School’s program will be offered in two models for the 2020-21 school year:  Synchronous Learning and Asynchronous (Online) Learning.
    Read More
  • Advanced Studies

    Updated 07.07.2020
    In the fall of 2020-21, a select group of AP classes will be the school’s first iteration of our new “Advanced Studies” program. These Advanced Studies courses will largely continue to align with the Advanced Placement™ curriculum. The curriculum covered will continue to prepare students to sit for the AP exam, however, Advanced Studies courses will not prepare students as fully for the AP exam as the Advanced Placement™ courses. Advanced Studies teachers will provide students with additional resources and recommendations for self-study to allow students to prepare fully for the AP exam.
    Read More
  • Students in Classroom Spaces

    • Emma Willard School is following CDC and New York State guidance for social distancing in classrooms. To ensure adequate social distancing, class size will be capped at 10 students. Students will sit at individual desks spaced six feet apart, facing the front of the classroom. 
    • To allow students to participate in courses whether they are on campus or learning remotely at any time during the school year, video conferencing technology will be installed in all classrooms. 
    • Where possible, the school is working to build cohorts of students who are in the same classes. Cohorts will be most readily implemented in grades 9 and 10 where the majority of students are enrolled in the same classes.
  • Revised Class Schedule

    The 2020-21 school year will feature a semester block schedule. The block schedule will allow students to take three or four classes in both of the 17-week semesters. Students will complete the equivalent of a year-long course in one semester and will have a new schedule of courses each semester.
    Read More
  • Academic Calendar

    The 2020-21 academic calendar has been updated to allow for even fall and spring semesters, with the fall semester concluding at the end of January. Click to read more details.
    Read More
  • College Counseling

    The college admissions landscape is changing rapidly for the class of 2021. Emma Willard School’s College Counseling Team is staying up to date on the latest changes in college admissions to be able to best guide our students through the process.
    Read More
  • Textbook Purchases

    07.08.2020 - Ms. Balton's letter regarding textbooks

    Students should purchase textbooks and complete summer assignments for their planned course list for the 2020-21 school year.

    Textbooks for the 2020-21 School Year can be purchased online through the BNC Direct bookstore beginning July 9, 2020.
    Read More
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    If you have questions about the academic program, please contact Assistant Head of School and Academic Dean Meredith Legg, PhD. You may read the answers to questions others have asked here.
    Read More
Emma Willard School will reinvent student experiences, gatherings, operations, and events to ensure a vibrant and healthy student experience on campus. Our focus will be on student-centered and learning-focused engagement. Each new year, we strive to create a sense of belonging for each of our students. We know the challenges brought on by COVID-19 will make this academic year unique. We understand that there will be new demands on each of us and it will require us to extend grace and goodwill to one another. It will be in this mutual striving that we foster growth within our own selves and create a memorable and fortifying community. Go JESTERS!

List of 6 items.

  • Gatherings and Events

    Large Student Gatherings
    All large student gatherings e.g. All-School meetings, Morning Reports, Class meetings, gatherings with more than 50 persons will occur virtually or, when appropriate, outside.

    Major Events
    Major school events will happen in safe, unique, and meaningful ways. Details will be shared as each event approaches: 
    • Virtual Fall Family Weekend (October 9-10)
    • Concerts, plays—to be determined
    • Revels will occur in Spring 2021
    • Virtual Spring Family Weekend (April 22-23)
    • Spring events—to be determined
  • Athletics and Movement

    In a letter to parents on July 23, Dean of Students and Wellbeing announced to parents that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) voted to delay the official start date of the NYS Fall 2020 sports season and cancel fall championships. 
    Read More
  • Dining Services

    Breakfast and lunch will commence being served on October 1 for the school community.

    We are working with our food service provider, Sodexo, to ensure the safest meal and snack provision. We anticipate that we will be providing a combination of ‘grab and go’ and served options which will also include set meal times as well as cleaning time between rotations. Self-serve options such as salad bars will not be offered in campus dining facilities during the pandemic.

    Scheduled meal times will be assigned for all students and employees.
  • Weekend Activities Beginning in January

    We will be adjusting our weekend activities in various ways. We will still undertake off-campus activities, however, these will be carefully planned and will involve more adult chaperoning. Please see the Frequently Asked Questions for more detailed information. 

    Boarding students will not be allowed to go to day student homes over the weekends (this will be reviewed before second semester commences) and day students will not be permitted in dormitories, at any time.
  • Visitor Protocol

    Only essential visitors, as approved by senior leadership of the school, will be allowed on campus beyond campus safety. Essential visitors must answer the following questions and wear a mask at all times while on campus. The visitor policy will continue to be revised as the pandemic evolves.
    • Have you or those you live with had close contact with a person under investigation for COVID-19 in the 14 days prior to your visit?
    • Have you had a fever and respiratory symptoms in the 14 days prior to your visit?
    • Have you experienced flu or cold-like symptoms in the 24 hours prior to your visit?
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    If you have questions about campus or community life, please contact Dean of Students and Wellbeing Shelley Maher. You may read the answers to questions others have asked here.
    Read More
    • 2020 > Diversity Image

We are creating several spaces on campus for all students to congregate between classes and meet with friends with appropriate density and physical distancing expectations in place. We ask all day students (and employees) to conduct daily temperature and symptom checks, not come on-campus if feeling ill, and to be masked unless in a designated mask-free venue. As with all of our students, maintaining good hand hygiene must be frequent and routine.

List of 4 items.

  • Arrival and Departure

    • We will have several arrival locations on campus. Specific details of arrival plans will be provided closer to the start of the school year.
    • Students should plan to depart campus as soon as possible after their final commitment of the day.
    • As we get closer to the start of the school year, the school will establish a departure time after which all day students should be off campus.
  • Lockers

    Once classes begin on-campus on October 1, students will be able to use lockers with social distancing in place. The extended passing time between classes will allow for socially-distanced locker use.
  • Spaces On Campus

    All common use spaces will use visible signs/markings to provide socially distanced seating.

    Outside mask-free spaces will be identified in designated areas.
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    If you have questions about the day student experience, please contact Dean of Students and Wellbeing Shelley Maher. You may read the answers to questions others have asked here.
    Read More
Although the boarding program has been suspended for the fall semester, we anticipate allowing boarding students back on campus at the beginning of the spring semester, January 30, 2021. The following protocols will be in effect at that time.

In order to allow for social distancing in the dormitories, we have developed strategies to reduce the population density within the dorms by adding an additional dormitory for the spring 2021 semester. In addition, we will have restricted access to the dorms and family cohorts to allow for mask-free spaces.

List of 8 items.

  • Travel-Related Quarantines

    Students coming to the United States from other countries or from states considered “hot spots” by New York State (NYS) guidelines should monitor CDC guidelines for reentry and NYS Travel Advisory, which currently include a 14-day quarantine. Local lodging options that may be useful to you as you plan for any travel quarantines can be found on the "Accommodations" listing herePlease contact Tammy Miller if you need assistance with finding nearby lodging.
  • Family Cohorts

    We will be using the notion of a “family cohort” to provide a mask-free space in the dorms for our boarding students. After every person residing on a hall has completed their 14-day mask-on period, students on THEIR HALL ONLY will be permitted to be mask-free while on their hall. The size of a family cohort will be dependent on the number of students on each hall. Any student or adult visiting another hall will be required to wear a mask. All dorms including the satellite dorms will be treated in the same manner. 

  • Dorms

    With full enrollment, the school plans to have all dormitories open for spring 2021 and we are adding an additional satellite dorm, the Alumnae House.
  • Dorm Density

    We have adjusted the number of double rooms to ensure that social distancing is possible by reducing population density. Student beds and desks will be at least six feet apart.
  • Rooms

    Students will be housed in single and large double rooms. Final housing assignments, excluding student leaders, will be confirmed early in 2021. As in prior years, we will use our lottery system for all returning upperclass students, but please note that some adjustments may be necessary with our adjusted space requirements.
  • Travelling Home on Weekends

    If a boarder travels home or away for a weekend, they will be required to return to wearing their mask in their family cohort for a 14-day period before they go mask-free on their hall again.
  • Accommodation Over Breaks

    Dormitories will remain open during all long weekends and spring break for spring 2021. 
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    If you have questions about the boarding student experience, please contact Dean of Students and Wellbeing Shelley Maher. You may read the answers to questions others have asked here.
    Read More
At the core of all our planning for the coming year is our commitment to providing our students with the very best educational experience at Emma Willard. We will not compromise the quality of an Emma education whether delivered in-person or online. Given our plans for the coming year, we will offer all families greater choice and flexibility with regards to their Emma education. 

List of 3 items.

Our Decision-Making Process

The COVID-19 Response Team has been meeting weekly since early March and has been proactively planning and reacting to the pandemic with considerable care and thought. In recent months, the focus of the Response Team has been on the safe opening of the school year and the associated plans. The composition of the Response Team reflects the complex nature of the endeavor.

We have recognized interrelated areas of work and have established task forces to focus on these areas with the following leadership:
  • Teaching, Learning, and Community—Chaired by Meredith Legg and Shelley Maher
  • Health and SafetyChaired by Shelley Maher, Jen Bliss, and Laura Bernard
  • Operations—Chaired by Virginia Arbour, Laura Bernard, and Saytra Green
  • Communications—Chaired by Suzanne Romero Dewey, Jamie Hicks-Furgang, Meredith Legg, and Ann Dejnozka
  • Legal and Finance—Chaired by Jenny Rao, Virginia Arbour, and Laura Bernard
  • Strategic Planning and Long-Term Sustainability—Chaired by Jenny Rao, Meredith Legg, and Virginia Arbour

Contact Team Members

Jenny Rao
Head of School 

Meredith Legg, PhD
Assistant Head of School and Academic Dean


Virginia Arbour
Chief Financial Officer 

Ann Dejnozka
Head of Advancement 

Suzanne Romero Dewey
Head of Strategic Communications 

Jamie Hicks-Furgang
Head of Enrollment Management

Shelley Maher
Dean of Students and Wellbeing
Laura Bernard
Director of Business Services

Jen Bliss, RN
Director of Nursing

Jacki Cioffi
Executive Assistant to the Head of School

Saytra Green
Director of Human Resources

Trustee and Alumna Ann Gambling Hoffman ’70

Trustee and Current Parent Tom Sternal P'21
285 Pawling Avenue, Troy, NY 12180 | P: 518.833.1300 F: 518.833.1815
Welcome to Emma Willard School, a private day and boarding high school for girls in Troy, NY, and a leader in girls' education for over 200 years.