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Out-of-Door Academy takes a phased reopening approach

Students won't be all together on the Siesta Key campus until Sept. 11.

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  • | 6:24 p.m. September 1, 2020
Sailor Fleming and Adam Ulrich complete activities outside on Out-of-Door Academy's Siesta Campus. Photo Courtesy Out-of-Door Academy
Sailor Fleming and Adam Ulrich complete activities outside on Out-of-Door Academy's Siesta Campus. Photo Courtesy Out-of-Door Academy
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As Sarasota County Schools have plowed ahead, reopening all at once, Out-of-Door Academy has taken a phased approach. 

Students on the Siesta Key campus were welcomed back the week of Aug. 24 by scheduling one-on-one meetings with their teachers. Each of the campus’ 250 students scheduled an individual meeting with their teacher and completed individual assessments so teachers would have a benchmark to customize the year’s learning. 

Beginning Aug. 31, the school began hosting virtual classes, with optional outdoor work spaces on campus for students in pre-kidergarten through second grade to allow them to get used to the campus and its new precautions. 

Virtual classes will continue until the week of Sept. 7 when a new grade level, starting with fifth grade, will be brought in each day to allow the school to slowly reach capacity. The first day all students will be on campus at the same time is planned to be Sept. 11. 

“The safety and security of our students and faculty and their families is our top priority,” Head of School David Mahler said. “A phased approach, we believe as the best probability of not just reopening, but keeping the school open for the longterm.” 

Mahler said the phased approach helps each student understand campus procedures and protocols to keep them safe. 

“We want to walk first, because school is going to look so different than any other year, then we want to jog and then run,” he said. “Our goal is keep our door open and fully operational in the long-term, not just the short-term.”

Aside from a phased approach, all students will be required to wear masks while on campus, except when eating or drinking. Everyone arriving to campus will go through a thermal scanner, and classrooms are set up for social distancing. 

Flow patterns were added throughout the campus to facilitate one-way traffic, hospital-grade air purifiers were added to the campus, and UV lighting was added to the HVAC systems. Finally, a staff member was added to each of ODA’s campuses to clean the schools throughout the day. 

Like Sarasota Schools, ODA is offering an online learning option. However, while Sarasota School students are learning concurrently by Zooming into a classroom, ODA’s online learning option features a teacher for an all-online class. Those teachers spent a portion of the summer in professional development to learn best practices for online teaching.

About 80% of the school’s population chose to return to campus, while 20% chose the remote learning option. Students on the Siesta campus are asked to stick with their choices for the first quarter, after which they can switch. 

If a child or staff member tests positively for COVID-19, a contact-tracing staff will begin notifying those affected. The school will work with Department of Health officials to determine what precautions to take. 

If students need to quarantine for 14 days, Mahler said they will begin utilizing the school’s online learning program. 

“At ODA, we’re a family,” Mahler said. “At the end of the day, I want to know that we’ve taken every possible measure to keep our school community healthy and safe.”


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