FCS opening

Friendship Christian President Jon Shoulders holds the door open as he welcomes students back to school on Tuesday morning. DALLUS WHITFIELD

The president of Friendship Christian School reopened the Lebanon private school for on-campus learning this week, the first time that students in Wilson County have been in a classroom since mid-March.

Jon Shoulders, the school’s president for the past 19 years, said only a small percentage of families opted for remote learning. Tuesday was the first full day of classes and Monday was a half-day for the students.

“Our number one priority is the protection of students and staff and we are taking all precautions like spacing out, reducing class sizes and installing plexiglass, among mask protocols at times, sanitizing and a host of other precautions,” Shoulders said.

He said there will be about 500 students enrolled this year, with an uptick in new students.

“We see more and more new families every day,” he said.

Last Monday, six new families enrolled and last Wednesday four more signed up.

Shoulders said about 15 students are signed up for classes on Zoom. Some of those signed up as a backup plan and only five students were expected to start the school year with that option, Shoulders said.

“We finished last school year virtually and it was a phenomenal job,” he said. “Our teachers did a great job, as well as the students.”

Shoulders said the school bought 40 “superior cameras” and installed them in all classrooms.

“Students at home can see 120 degrees around the classroom and zoom in and out,” he said. “They are installed in the back of the classrooms and work with 40 television monitors we bought.”

Nine years ago, the school began providing iPads to all students.

“If on a dime we need to go full virtual, we can and will do it,” Shoulders said.

Every parent has to go to the school by 7:15 a.m. each class day and answer questions related to the health of their student. They also have to take their child’s temperature and report that. Temperature checks will be performed randomly and also throughout the day.

All of the precautions for safety are garnered from contact with the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We stay with all their recommendations,” said Shoulders, who said he holds discussions with about 40 leaders of private schools across the nation once a week to gauge their take on tackling this school year with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are planning everything we can for some semblance of normalcy,” he said. “We are concerned about our students’ mental, social, academic and spiritual experience here.”

Shoulders said all students will be encouraged to wear masks in places at the school they cannot social distance. There are partitioned areas in the building where there is only one-way traffic and water fountains are used only to fill up water bottles.

The younger grades won’t be required to wear masks; however, their teachers will be.

The classes have a maximum of 16 students. The classrooms are large enough to provide social distancing.

“That’s what people like about private schools,” he noted. “Small class sizes.”

The school has created additional seating in the Performing Arts Center — which is four times the size of the school’s cafeteria — for social distancing. The tables have just four seats each. There will be no self-serve and the salad bar is eliminated, but with prepared salads available. Someone will serve drinks. 

FCS had an in-person graduation July 25 with 49 graduates and about 340 attendees. The school rented College Hills Church in Lebanon for the delayed ceremony.

Shoulders said it’s been an almost 24/7 push to open school safely for students.

“I suspect a no school administrator in Wilson County has not slept through the night since March 1,” Shoulders said quietly. “I know I have not. No, I am not anxious, I am excited to see all the students.”

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