AACS is proud to announce the finalist of the School of the Year Golden School Award, Avenue Five Institute.
In most years, the categories of community involvement, facilities, marketing, alumni, placement, culture, and advocacy provide adequate standards towards evaluating the Golden School of the Year. It’s no surprise however, that a year as unique as 2020 provided us with a new criteria worth consideration, COVID-19 response. One of their proudest achievements over the last year was the response to the unexpected challenges presented by the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Emergency Response Training
Every year, their staff receives comprehensive training on the school’s “Action Plan for Specific Emergencies.” This training includes specific responses staff should take in situations such as active shooters, earthquakes, power outages, or biohazard events. Unfortunately “global pandemic” wasn’t ever included in this training program. Nevertheless, at the core of all of the emergency training is planning and preparation, which undoubtedly helps their staff and students to survive and even thrive during the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regulatory Relations During the Emergency
Nearly a month prior to any confirmed COVID-19 cases in Austin, the Avenue Five Institute leadership team was already working closely with NACCAS executive director, Tony Mirando, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and the US Department of Education to respond to the continued spread of COVID-19 and possibility that campuses nationwide would be forced to shut down. This early communication with regulators was arguably the most important part of their response, because all campus activities must remain compliant with state and federal agencies.
Avenue Five Institute’s favorable and longstanding relationship with these state and federal regulatory agencies made communication productive and collaborative. Through daily emails and phone calls with top officials, they were able to negotiate swift changes to the administrative rules that would allow students to avoid hardship or educational setbacks while maintaining safety. Relationships like this take time, nurturing, and mutual respect but reveal their true value when an unexpected emergency like this arises.
Zero Down Time or Class Interruption
The decision to move all students to remote learning was a tough one, but it was the surest way to keep students and staff safe. Due to some thoughtful planning and a bit of good luck, Avenue Five Institute is extremely proud that their students experienced zero down-time as they transitioned from on-premise learning to 100% temporary distance education. At no point did they have to pause student learning or adjust student schedules during the pandemic. This unprecedented and near seamless transition was only made possible thanks to our foresight and existing technologies put in place prior to COVID. These include:
Prior to COVID:
- 2014—Submitted hybrid distance education curricula for regulatory approvals.
- 2015—Became first school in Texas to be approved to teach distance education esthetics.
- 2016—School policy documents, including educational materials, were migrated to a cloud.
- 2017—School launched iOS app to allow students to see their progress and grades remotely.
- 2018—Chromebooks and Milady MindTap software was added to student kits.
- 2018—Financial aid centralized and administered virtually and remotely.
- 2018—Student records digitized and transition to paperless secure cloud environment.
- 2019—Human Resources paperwork moved to remote with e-signature and HRIS.
- 2019—Instructors issued Chromebooks upon hire and trained on Milady MindTap.
- 2019—Admissions and enrollment paperwork conducted remotely with electronic signature.
- 2019—Staff and directors meetings migrated to remote videoconferencing.
- 2020—Online student payment portal launched for students to pay electronically.
- 2020—Students enrolling in approved hybrid distance education programs.
Transition to Distance Education:
As an organization, Avenue Five Institute did have to take some additional measures in 2020 order to successfully shift to 100% temporary distance education:
- Issued face shields and other personal protective equipment to students at no cost.
- Launched a dedicated COVID-19 resource page and FAQ on their website.
- Implemented work-from-home employee screening policy to evaluate workspace suitability.
- Relocated all hardware, phones, and furniture so that employees could work from home.
- Purchased new laptops, docking stations, and teleconferencing equipment for admin team.
- Bypassed time clock geofencing restrictions so that employees could clock in remotely.
- Created interactive admissions presentations in order to provide immersive virtual tours.
- Created collaborative DE attendance tracking policy, system, and instructor certification docs.
- Waived overtime tuition charges for student absences related to COVID.
- Provided employees with paid COVID time off during quarantine.
- Sought NACCAS approval for up to 75% temporary distance education.
Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Certification
Although Avenue Five Institute’s cosmetology and massage programs offer students comprehensive training on infection control and sanitation, the COVID virus presented greater risks than they were accustomed to. This is why they turned to the healthcare industry, where for decades workers have used a process known as “contact tracing” to slow down and contain the transmission of infections and other illnesses. After doing some research, we decided that these same contact tracing principals could be effectively applied to their campuses and could actually expedite the ability to safely reopen. In order to learn best practices, some of the staff, including the vice president attended a Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 course and received a certification in COVID-19 Contact Tracing.
In accordance with best practices, when a person tests positive for COVID-19, campus officials follow the below process:
- Immediately contact the infected student/staff and encourages him or her to self-isolate before others can be.
- Work with that person confidentially to determine with whom there might have been contact during the time he or she was.
- Notify those people and explain the risks and symptoms of COVID-19 so they monitor their health and self-quarantine.
- Log record of infection and exposure in a secure portal.
By closely following these procedures, Avenue Five Institute was able to stop numerous instances of community spread within their campuses. The students and staff also reported that they felt safe and appreciative of the proactive communication and documentation efforts!
All students and staff were required to earn this specialty certification in order to return to campus. This training covers industry best practices in infection control for salons and spas.
Barbicide COVID-19 Course
All students and staff were required to earn this certification in order to return to campus. This training covered industry best practices in advanced infection control specifically related to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in salons and spas.
Lucas-Cide Safe Space
All students and staff were required to earn this certification in order to return to campus. Upon completion of this training, students gain knowledge, confidence, and best practices for proper sanitation and disinfection.
Dermalogica Clean Touch
All esthetics students and staff were required to earn this certification in order to return to campus. This training covered the 12 key principals for enhanced service safety in skincare and spa environments.
By working with these industry-leading partners, Avenue Five Institute was able to quickly provide supplemental training to all the staff and students. They believe that this knowledge helped reduce community spread within our campuses.
While in distance learning, students and staff were surveyed periodically to gauge interest and sentiment on safely returning to on-campus operations. After 3 months of 100% remote learning, survey results began to lean in favor of a partial reopen. Phase one of the partial reopening consisted of very small student populations working on one another; no clients were available in the student salon. Months later, they reopened the student salon to limited guests. The touchless check-in and advanced POS system allowed guests to wait safely in their cars before entering the facility.
Peak Student Satisfaction
Avenue Five Institute’s goal throughout this pandemic was to keep everyone safe while preserving the educational experience for our students. As they reflected on how their campuses responded to this pandemic, there have been many lessons learned. What they can say for sure is that none of the decisions that had to be made were easy. Emotions were often running high and there was rarely a situation where we could please everyone. Student satisfaction is critical to the school’s mission, and so they were hopeful that student feedback about their time during the pandemic would remain positive.
As part of the standard assessment of overall institutional effectiveness, Avenue Five Institute require all students to complete a satisfaction survey prior to graduation. Change like this is never easy and so this year the administration were certainly concerned that exit scores may decline. Much to their surprise and excitement, they were thrilled to see that exit scores had reached an all-time high, even amidst the unprecedented change.