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California: boarding school to hold classes outdoors for social distancing

California, US: Students at a small boarding school in Southern California received an unusual set of instructions this summer: return to campus in the fall armed with a portable chair, a sun hat and sunscreen, ready for outdoor classes to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.

This might not be too big a stretch at Midland School, where students learn by experience in a classroom with only three walls, grow much of their food and heat showers by lighting a fire.
Holding classes outdoors is just one way Midland is preparing to bring its roughly 85 students back to campus in the fall. The school hopes testing will be available for all students before they return and has asked that they quarantine as much as possible before arriving at the 2,860-acre campus in Los Olivos, inland from Santa Barbara.

"It's very exciting and very daunting, but it plays to our strengths to be place-based, to be teaching outside, to be engaging with students experientially, to be taking a challenging moment and weaving that in to the curriculum and the student experience," Head of School Christopher Barnes said. Barnes initially had expected students to return to campus in late August, but delayed Midland's in-person start date to mid-September after California Governor Gavin Newsom barred counties with rising cases, including Santa Barbara, from opening schools.
Once the county is off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days, schools can start in-person instruction, Newsom said. Barnes is prepared to further delay the semester or hold classes online if necessary, but said he hopes that virus numbers will decline and that Santa Barbara will be taken off the watch list.

He recognizes that Midland, where full tuition for the next school year is over $62,000, is in a privileged position compared to other schools, particularly public ones. Though almost half of Midland students receive financial aid, the resources available per student and a 4:1 student-faculty ratio translates into academic and health benefits for students, Barnes said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed for schools to re-open in the fall, a move he sees as key to economic recovery and a way to boost to his re-election chances in November. But the Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts, citing "skyrocketing" coronavirus infection rates in California, announced plans on July 13 to resume instruction in August with online teaching only.

Barnes hopes the small residential environment on the large campus at Midland will help the school to create a coronavirus-free bubble if students return, though he acknowledged that the boarding school environment, where students often eat three meals a day together and share bathrooms, poses unique challenges in the event of an outbreak.
Unlike many boarding schools in the U.S., which have a mix of day students and boarders, all of the students at Midland and over half of the faculty live on campus. Roommates, who live in pairs in cabins, would become de facto family members for the purposes of social distancing and mask wearing, Barnes said.

And students would be asked not to travel from campus before the winter break in December, with the school having canceled the usual October break. Parents would be able to visit campus to see their child and hike, but will be limited from going inside cabins and other areas.
Raymond Carr, an incoming Midland senior, recognizes that his final year in school may not look the way he hoped, but is looking forward to taking advantage of the 35 miles of hiking trails on campus that faculty and others have been busy widening over the summer to allow for hiking six feet apart.

"I'm really looking forward to going back to Midland in person, hopefully, because it's just one of my favorite places ever. It really changed my life going there and made me a way better student and appreciate nature so much more than I did before," Carr said

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