Columbus Academy officials work to offer in-person classes this fall

MARLA K. KUHLMAN
mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Tentative plans are in place for students at Columbus Academy, 4300 Cherry Bottom Road in Gahanna, to return to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year.

Bob Lee, director of communications and marketing, said the opening day of classes is scheduled Aug. 24 for grades 6-12 and Aug. 25 for students 3 years old (called Explorers) through fifth grade.

He said the school’s estimated enrollment is 1,138, but officials project it could be 1,158 by the time classes begin.

He said about 25.6% of its students live in New Albany, 20.4% in Gahanna, 8.5% in Columbus, 7.8% in Westerville, 6.6% in the Powell-Olentangy area, 6.1% in Dublin, 5.6% in Bexley, 2.9% in Pickerington and 2.7% each in Upper Arlington and in Worthington. The remainder comes from 40 other ZIP codes throughout central Ohio.

Melissa Soderberg, head of school, sent an email to families in late June saying the school is striving to strike a balance of lowering the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus while preserving the in-person school experience through a modified, but familiar schedule.

“To follow our fundamental principles, we will need full cooperation from our families in preserving the sense of safe health practices in our community as will be outlined in future communications,” she said.

“They are likely to include a daily release of each student to the school through an everyday medical questionnaire, willingness to participate in testing and tracing with your doctor should the school ask you to do so and following quarantine expectations when asked by the school.”

Soderberg said the school is likely to have no visitors, or very few, on campus.

Lower School

For the fall semester, all Lower School students – Explorers through fifth-graders – will be placed in small homeroom groups, based on age level and physical room space, that will go out to recess, take physical education and eat lunch with the same teacher and fellow classmates, she said.

The school has created multiple additional homeroom spaces and planned for co-curricular teachers to either travel from class to class or remotely teach each homeroom group depending on circumstances around use of space and/or COVID-19 regulations, according to Soderberg.

Lunch will be delivered to classrooms for all of students.

Whereas all Academy students and teachers will wear masks, the small class sizes – as few as six per room in the Explorers program – and 6-foot distancing will create spacious classrooms in case the youngest students struggle with keeping their masks on during the day.

She said students would get mask breaks and more liberal mask use would be allowed when students are outside and able to create greater distance between themselves and others.

“It is likely that all students’ days will involve increased time outdoors on our expansive campus, and it will be as important as ever that they come to school with the appropriate outerwear ready for their day,” Soderberg said.

Middle and Upper Schools

Middle and Upper School classes will range in size by accommodating 6-foot distancing per the square footage of each classroom, she said.

“There is a good chance that students will travel fewer times to classes and have fewer visits in the hallways (which will likely have one-way designations to them).” Soderberg said. “Lunch will be served either in the dining hall or in a classroom, and this may change on a rotating basis as the dining hall will be used in a much smaller capacity than its size permits.”

The school’s food-service provider is eliminating self-service bars while working to maintain the variety and quality of lunch that is familiar, she said.

Soderberg said the school recognizes some students would not be able to attend classes in person because of health concerns – their own or their families.

She said the school is testing technology options that would allow “broadcast by streaming” a number of classes to students so they would be able to participate in real time.

“As we all know, there is the possibility that the spread of COVID-19 worsens over the fall, and Columbus Academy may have to change its plans from having all students on campus every day to a hybrid model, or we may be forced to vacate our buildings (as we did from March through June) and return to temporary online learning,” Soderberg said. “We have spent the resources, time and energy to make our school experience as familiar as possible under unprecedented circumstances.”

Lee said the only thing that has changed since Columbus Academy’s plan was formulated is that Gov. Mike DeWine announced color-coded COVID-19 threat levels.

“So we are aligning our plans to each level and that will be announced by the end of this month,” he said.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla