Wednesday was a biggie for The Juniper School.
Not only was it the first day of school in a year that will be marked with extra precautions to deal with the novel coronavirus, it was also the first day students were welcomed to the elementary school’s new building in Bodo Industrial Park.
About 45 fourth and fifth grade students were the first to enter the new building, or more precisely their outdoor classrooms, which have been set up under the large overhead protective awnings that remain in the parking lot from the building’s old tenant, CenturyLink.
Juniper has created a staggered opening for the school with second and third graders returning Thursday and kindergartners and first-graders returning Friday.
“We have a lot of space, a 4-acre campus, and that really came in handy with COVID,” said Head of School Katie McCullough. “Outdoor classrooms were always in the plan, but there was just an extra push to make them happen with COVID-19.”
Plans are to add protective canvass mesh sidings to the overhead awnings to protect from the elements and to offer outdoor learning at least through September. At any time, teachers have the option of moving classes to indoor classrooms that offer more space than Juniper’s old home, on the second floor of the Big Picture High School building.
Students spent Wednesday touring their new buildings, a modular has been added to house fourth and fifth grades. In addition, they learned about increased precautions that will be practiced to reduce the chances of transmission of the novel coronavirus – frequent hand-washings, mask-wearing and social distancing.
Tables have been set up in indoor classrooms that maintain a good space between two partners who can share a table.
McCullough said the mesh walls that will be added to the overhead awnings in the parking lot will allow air to circulate through them, ideal for meeting ventilation needs in the era of the novel coronavirus, and if portable heaters are needed before Oct. 1, the school has begun work with the Durango Fire Protection District to get the OK.
“We really feel confident we’re able to create a safe environment that follows all the guidelines from the governor’s office and the other state and federal agencies and still keeps our values at the forefront – student and staff safety and supporting families to take on learning in 2020,” McCullough said. “We’re trying to create a re-entry plan that’s gentle and supportive.”
For 2020-21, The Juniper School has 150 students, with spaces open for 10 additional students, McCullough said. The 150 students have been broken up into 12 groups, called cohorts, to minimize the number of personal contacts students have during the day.
The schedule has been adapted to COVID-19, with the school offering a four-day school week for in-person learning. Families have the option of registering their children for either full-day or half-day sessions. At-home learning lessons are provided to students for a fifth day.
A full remote-learning option is offered, but McCullough said almost all families have opted for an in-person learning model for their children.
Heather Houk, president of The Juniper School board of directors, said, “We bought this property in February, and we’ve been moving as fast as we could since March getting this place ready for today.”