With remote learning in the rearview, parents are now looking toward fall, when children can return to in-school learning in a healthy way. Many schools are now studying how they can make this happen.
Eagle Creek Academy, a private school in Oakland Charter Township for children in preschool to sixth grade, is ideally suited to healthy in-person learning. Through intentional design and updated protocols, Eagle Creek families will return to their building with peace of mind.
“Of course, we are cleaning and sanitizing. Our parents trust us to do that already. We have focused our recent efforts on organizing each day to assure limited exposure through very small groups, which are kept separate all day,” explains Cathy Hammond, founder and principal of Eagle Creek Academy.
Ample space for every student
Rather than assign two teachers to a 20-student preschool classroom, Eagle Creek Academy has always limited preschool and young fives classrooms to an average of 10 students. Kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms have always averaged 12 students, and such small groups mean children are exposed to fewer germs, Hammond notes.
“We have a great building for keeping classes separate,” she says. “All of our classrooms are 1,100 or 1,400 square feet, huge compared to the typical 900-square-foot classroom. This gives the children space to spread out. Most importantly, each classroom is its own private living environment, with a bathroom and a kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator and microwave, so children can easily eat in their rooms.” All student lockers are also inside the classrooms.
Plenty of outdoor options allow for physical distancing. Set on 20 acres, the school has a soccer field, a baseball field and a basketball court, plus a wooded area with a pond and creek. Two large, new Little Tikes playgrounds offer space for climbing, swinging and sliding. Nearly every classroom has an outdoor deck with space for tables and chairs.
“With so many great outdoor options, we can do a lot of nature walks, nature art, nature writing and outdoor science experiments,” Hammond says.
Even Michigan winters pose no challenge at Eagle Creek Academy. With a 4,000-square-foot indoor playground and a 1,400-square-foot maker space, including a Lego wall, a ping pong table and other fun equipment, the school has ample space for gross motor movement.
A long-standing tech curriculum for all ages has been helpful
As a technology-focused school, Eagle Creek Academy requires each child in young fives through grade six to have a Chromebook and headphones, which means no one shares keyboards, keeping high-touch areas safe. And, because students learn in school how to log in to their Google accounts and access learning websites and use communication platforms like Zoom, everyone is well prepared should schools be required to return to remote learning.
“Having technology in place and the confidence that the children and their families knew how to use it was a big advantage to us back in March,” says Hammond. “We closed our building on a Friday and started a robust distance learning program on Monday, complete with live circle time, live social gatherings and live advanced math classes.”
Some little changes with health in mind
“We’ve put a lot of thought into practical measures to keep kids healthy,” Hammond says. Staggering the use of common areas and hallways will help keep small class units intact and moving safely to their destinations. Staggering start and end times will also keep children and their families a safe distance from each other.
While Eagle Creek Academy’s much-loved annual events may look different this year, the school is committed to moving forward with Trunk or Treat and Santa Breakfast, with modifications to allow for physical distancing. “We can still invite Santa to breakfast. We can spread out the dining tables, put the art projects on the tables instead of at stations, and ask everyone to enjoy horse and carriage rides as individual families instead of mixed groups,” says Hammond. “We want to continue as many community events as possible, but in a strictly healthy way.”
On a day-to-day basis, Eagle Creek’s teachers plan to teach children new ways to interact while reducing their risk of becoming ill. This means building a culture where nodding and waving replaces high fives and handshakes. “Even the youngest students can learn alternative ways to connect with friends, which is a great life skill,” Hammond says.
“Maintaining our super small groups, using the advantages of our large building, staying ahead in technology and teaching the children some new behaviors will help keep everyone safe,” she says.
Eagle Creek Academy is open for summer camp experiences that blend fun with learning in a healthy environment. Eagle Creek is also enrolling children in preschool through sixth grade for fall classes. Learn more at eaglecreekacademy.com.