When The Out-of-Door Academy transferred to remote learning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alicia Chalmers had some concerns for her son, Colt.
Chalmers said the semester ended well as teachers provided live instruction and ensured students were actively engaged in class, but she’s excited for her son, a rising seventh grader, to get back into the classroom.
Starting Aug. 25, more than 500 middle and high school ODA students will head back to the Uihlein campus in Lakewood Ranch to start the new school year with full-time, in-person classes.
“We’ve spent every moment since we closed our campuses thinking about the preparations necessary to reopen,” said David Mahler, ODA’s head of school. “We feel like we’re well positioned and in good shape to welcome students back to campus on [Aug.] 25, assuming parents feel comfortable sending their kids.”
Mahler said a survey parents completed showed that “overwhelmingly,” parents want their students to return to campus.
If families don’t feel comfortable returning, remote learning will be available for students.
In preparation for the new year, students will be brought on campus in small groups before the first day of school to go over protocols and how to navigate campus. ODA is still finalizing when students will come on campus in these groups.
The school’s new middle school facility, which was completed this summer, adds 13,500 square feet of space for students on campus. As a result, Mahler said there will be plenty of space for everyone to social distance while on campus.
“Without the new building, we would have significantly more challenges, and we probably would be looking at a variety of different creative solutions,” Mahler said. “The fact that we have all that additional square footage means that we can run our academic program exactly how we want to run it. Our kids are not going to have to sacrifice or give up anything when it comes to our program.”
The campus has been mapped out for students to walk in certain directions, much like how some grocery stores direct customers to walk down an aisle one way and go the opposite direction in the next aisle. Students will enter a building from one direction and exit from the opposite direction.
Before coming to school, families will be asked to go on an app the school purchased that asks each student about their current status of health and if they have any symptoms. When students, faculty and staff arrive on campus, they will undergo temperature scans.
Students and staff will be given a gaiter mask to wear while on campus. Gaiter masks are a sleeve that goes around a person’s neck that can be pulled over the nose and mouth.
“The nice thing about them is they stay with the kid all day long,” Mahler said. “You’re not worried about putting a mask down somewhere and what happens to that mask or [if] it potentially contaminate[s] something. It’s user-friendly as it can go on and off quickly.”
Mahler said quarantine spaces have been established on campus in case someone presents symptoms while at school. ODA would then contact the health department for further guidance.
Chalmers believes ODA’s plan is well thought out and doesn’t have concerns with her son going back to school. She said she looks forward to him being able to connect with his classmates once again and hopefully participate in athletics.