‘Bring a Chair and Sunblock‘ Say Boarding Schools

04 August 2020

Students at a small boarding school in California got an unusual request this summer: Come back in the autumn with your own chair, a sun hat and plenty of sunblock.

Moving classes outdoors is a central piece of Midland School's plan to get its 85 students back to in-person classes. By holding classes outdoors, the school hopes to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

It will not be a huge change for Midland students. They already grow much of the food they eat in the school's garden. They also heat water for their showers by lighting a fire. And they hike through the school's 1,157 hectares of land.

A blackboard counting homegrown vegetables is seen on the campus of Midland School, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Olivos, California, U.S., July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A blackboard counting homegrown vegetables is seen on the campus of Midland School, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Olivos, California, U.S., July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The school hopes students will be tested for COVID-19 and will stay home as much as possible before coming back to the grounds in Los Olivos. The town is about 200 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles.

Christopher Barnes is Midland's Head of School. He told the Reuters news agency that he tells the students they are creating a "special year. Don't expect it to be like any other."

Midland's return to school has been delayed until the middle September. Governor Gavin Newsom has barred counties in the state with rising virus cases from restarting in-person classes.

Cases continue to rise across California. Barnes is prepared to further delay the autumn term or hold classes online if needed.

He knows that Midland is in a better position than many other schools. Although almost half of the students receive financial aid, the full cost of attendance is over $62,000 a year.

The school puts a lot into each student and has very small classes -- one teacher for every four students. That means a high-quality education as well as great health benefits, Barnes noted.

President Donald Trump has pushed for schools nationally to re-open in the fall. It is a move he sees as central to economic recovery. It also is seen as a way to help Trump's re-election chances in November.

But school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego have said classes will return with online teaching only in August. The districts note the sharp rise in coronavirus infection rates in California.

Barnes hopes the small community in Midland will help create a coronavirus-free place. He knows boarding school environments have their own health safety concerns. For example, students are used to eating meals together and sharing bathrooms.

Outdoor classes

Across the country, boarding schools are quickly making changes to get students back to in-person classes while keeping them safe.

The Association of Boarding Schools represents around 200 nonprofit U.S. schools with a total of 90,000 students. Half of those students are boarders.

Meera Viswanathan is Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut. She told Reuters that the school is buying tents and outdoor chairs so students can have some classes outdoors.

Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts is one of the country's oldest boarding schools. It is making changes so that every student will have a single room. It is also remodeling a building where students can quarantine if necessary, Head of School John Austin said.

At Midland, roommates will become like family members for the purposes of social distancing and wearing face coverings. And the school plans to cancel the usual October break to limit students' exposure to the virus away from school grounds.

Parents will be able to visit to see their child and join them on hikes. But they will not be permitted in some areas.

Melia Collard will begin her final year at Midland in the autumn. She said she is happy to return to school. But she worries that all of the restrictions could be emotionally hard on new students.

Missing home is already hard when you know you will see your parents in six weeks, Collard said. "But, for a few months – that's going to be really, really difficult."

This fall, Raymond Carr will begin his final year as a student at Midland. He knows his last year in school may not be the way he had hoped. But he says he will make more use of the 56 hectares of hiking land.

"There were a lot of things that I wanted to do as a senior that now I don't know if I'm going to be able to do," Carr said. "So, the fact that I still have the outdoors and I haven't really explored it is what I'm really holding on to."

I'm Alice Bryant.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

boarding school - n. a school where students can live during the school term

shower - n. the act of washing your body with a device that produces a spray of water for you to stand under

hike - v. to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise

benefit - n. a good or helpful result or effect

district - n. an area or section of a country, city, or town

association - n. an organized group of people who have the same interest or profession

tent - n. a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of cloth (such as canvas or nylon), and is held up with poles and ropes

quarantine - v. to keep a person or animal away from others to prevent a disease from spreading

roommate - n. a person who shares a room, apartment or house with someone else

senior - n. a student in the final year of high school or college