By Karrie Meyers –Highlands Ranch, Colorado …The health safety of students and staff remains a top priority for Mile High Academy during this unique school year. Many changes to the school routine have been forced by the COVID pandemic, changes that aren’t taken lightly by school administration, teachers and staff.

“COVID has certainly changed the structure of our school day and the appearance of our campus and classrooms,” said Brenda Rodie, MHA VP of operations, admissions and records. “We work closely with the Tri-County Health Department and a contracted nursing team from Children’s Hospital to make sure we consistently follow all pandemic guidelines.”

What has become a new normal for students includes daily temperature checks and health screening before students leave their vehicles each morning. In turn, students are given a wristband after screening, showing clearance to enter their classroom. They also enter and leave the premises through separate doors.

Two-layer masks are required for all students in fourth-grade and above and staff and teachers inside the facility and classrooms, with preschool through third-grade are required to wear masks during transitions from one classroom to another. Plexiglas is installed in classrooms and common areas where social distancing space can’t be maintained. Students are required to handwash frequently for 20 seconds. Hand-sanitizing stations are available outside classrooms and in other key locations on campus. A specific COVID sickroom has been identified with another room set up for injuries and those without COVID-like symptoms.

Classrooms are divided into cohorts, the Lower School cohorts, by grade, and Middle School and Upper School separate cohorts. In addition to cohorts, the campus is divided into zones, allowing cohorts to maintain social distancing while outside.

“A blessing about living in Colorado is our beautiful sunny days,” said Rodie. “We are encouraging our teachers to utilize the outdoors as much as possible, including moving classroom instruction outside.”

Teachers remain with their cohorts throughout the day, and the school week has moved to four-days.

If a teacher needs to enter quarantine for any reason, including the chance their own child may have COVID-like symptoms, they have the ability to teach via Microsoft Teams, while an on-site proctor monitors students in the classroom. Students also have the ability to learn remotely from home in case they need to self-quarantine due to COVID exposure by someone in their family.

Signage reminders are found throughout campus, including reminders to maintain social distancing and floor circles depict where to stand to social distance properly, “Because we are Mile High Academy” graphics are on rotation via the school’s digital boards reminding kids to wear masks, take their temperature, wash their hands and social distance. Every other sink is shut off in restrooms, again enforcing proper social distancing regulations, and supporting signage from the Colorado Health Department can be found throughout the campus.

The school has also ramped up its cleaning procedures. Not only do teachers wipe down high-traffic areas in the classroom, but a contracted cleaning service is on-site during the school day. The cleaning crew is responsible for cleaning high-traffic areas such as restrooms and sinks at least three times during the school day. In addition, the crew wipes down doorknobs, chairs and other items that are frequently touched as well as assisting with any general clean-up requests. The school undergoes a deep-cleaning process in the evenings and on Fridays when students aren’t on site.

Most notably missing from campus are the traditional events and parent volunteers. This year, parents are required to remain in their cars and are not allowed to enter the facility. Students are only allowed to be dropped-off or picked-up through the school’s detailed drop-off or pick-up procedures. If a parent needs to get something to their student, they are requested to call the front office and a staff member will go out to get the necessary items. Special events, such as Alumni Weekend and Back-to-School evening, have gone virtual, and Parent-Teacher Conferences are mostly via scheduled Zoom meetings. All other events, including Fall Festival, have been cancelled. “The administrative team and teachers are continuously looking for ways to host our events in a virtual format and will communicate through email, the weekly school newsletter and the school calendar on our website of any date, time and format changes,” said Rodie.

Another addition is the contract with a Children’s Hospital nursing team. An assigned nurse checks in daily with the administrative team, also checking on students with possible symptoms including their general health and well-being. The nurse also makes routine visits to the campus, to make sure immunizations, staff medical training and medical procedures are up-to-date and followed.

“I work with many childcare facilities and schools throughout the area,” said Donna Anttila, BSN and Children’s Hospital school/childcare health consultant. “From the start of our partnership, Mile High Academy and I have worked closely together in preparation and collaboration for this school year. We continuously review the latest guidelines for keeping everyone safe on campus. This collaboration and hard work have translated into what parents and students experience now. I am very, very pleased with how well the school year is going.”

–Karrie Myers is Mile High Academy’s communication assistant; photos supplied