In March of 2020, Colorado’s first COVID-19 cases began to emerge. Just before spring break, Governor Polis ordered all schools to close, and faculty and students made a sudden pivot to remote classes for the remainder of the year. Over the summer, as public health experts began to develop a more nuanced understanding of coronavirus and how it spread, Kent Denver launched intense preparations to ready our campus for a return to in-person learning.
On August 26, Kent Denver began welcoming students back to campus for a staggered start by grade level and cohort. The Class of 2021’s cheering seniors lined the driveway—6 feet apart, wearing masks and costumes—for three consecutive “opening days,” ensuring that every student could experience this treasured school tradition.
With that joyful start, the year was underway! Most classes have been held on campus, with a short return to remote learning in October—when several cohorts were sent to quarantine simultaneously—and again from Thanksgiving through Winter Break when community spread in Colorado reached a critical level.
Throughout, students and faculty have faced the challenges of pandemic learning with amazing resiliency and optimism. With vaccines on the horizon, we all feel the hope of life returning to some degree of normalcy soon.
Scroll through the stories below to read more about:
- How We Reopened
- A Teacher's Perspective
- How Lunch Works (with video!)
- Athletics Programs in COVID times
- Teaching Music During a Pandemic
How We Reopened: Planning, Teamwork and Community
With input from our Medical Advisory Board—made up of alumni and parent experts—and guidance from TriCounty Health and other state/local local officials, Kent Denver has made numerous pandemic-related adjustments to our spaces, programs and procedures this year.
Throughout the year, our students and teachers have rigorously followed school safety procedures, and Kent Denver has been successful in preventing transmission of COVID-19 on campus as of early February, 2021.
Here are a few of the changes enabling in-person classes this year:
- Thanks to The Next 100 Years Campaign and our new, larger learning spaces, our classrooms allowed desk arrangements with at least six feet of separation for all 700+ students.
- New MERV 13 and HEPA air filters installed to increase air turnover in campus buildings
- Outdoor, tented classrooms were created for use during warmer weather.
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols
- Masks, masks, masks! Face coverings help prevent the spread of the virus, and students and teachers have been fully committed to wearing them at all times.
- Four Levels of Operational Readiness created to provide uninterrupted instruction.
- Students are assigned to one of six cohorts with their own dedicated areas of campus to prevent crowding and make contact tracing more manageable.
- Most teachers are teaching extra sections and taking on other duties to enable the cohort system.
- Our new, full-time school nurse oversees health practices, guides training, provides on-campus COVID-19 tests for employees and more.
- The heroic Dining Services team prepares and delivers more than 800 individually-packaged meals to classrooms and offices each day.
- Athletics programs continued with new CHSAA season alignments, outdoor workouts when possible, and a new Middle School sports program.
- Drama productions and music performances moved online.
- Speech and Debate, Model UN, Robotics, GSA, SUDA and other programs/clubs found creative ways to continue meeting, practicing and/or competing remotely.
Learn more about Kent Denver's reopening plan here:
NEXT UP: Teacher Q&A
In what ways do you think that the situation we are all facing has brought us closer together as a community?
Being remote last year helped us to realize how much we appreciate actually coming into school and seeing each other, and how much we appreciate that connection with other human beings that aren’t just our family. This year I feel that connection with everybody more and we are more appreciative of seeing each other daily; I think that has helped our community grow stronger.
Online or not, we have each other during this time... I am really appreciative of the people that I teach with, and I’m really appreciative of my students.
What part of the school year do you think has been hardest for everyone?
I think the schedule has been really hard on everyone. The teachers have all taken on a bigger workload, and not having any break or planning time has been challenging. Both students and teachers are just going from class to class, not really having any breaks other than a short lunch, and all of that feels really exhausting.
Do you find that the schedule feels harder/more tiring when we’re in-person or online?
Zoom has its own level of fatigue. In-person school is more fast-paced, whereas it is much slower when we’re online. In-person school is physically more tiring, but over Zoom that exhaustion is felt more in our heads. But the difference is that in-person, there is a lot of energy that I am putting out and students are giving back to me, whereas on Zoom, the classroom energy doesn’t come across in the same way.
How do you think that the bigger workload/ increased stress that teachers are feeling is affecting their daily life at school/how they do their job?
As a science teacher, trying to teach while keeping in mind all of the safety protocols has changed the nature of how we teach and how our lesson plan content is delivered. But there is also a lot of emotional stress that goes along with teaching in-person while trying to navigate the COVID-19 situation. We’ve had to make big adjustments in hopes that we can make our lesson plans fun while keeping everyone safe. A lot of us feel like we’re back in old-school teaching where we’re just lecturing more, and that’s been hard.
What advice would you give to our community as we all face this together?
Self-care is more important now than it ever has been. We are all constantly on the go, but taking the time to do something that lets your whole body and mind relax is crucial. When we are in a time like this, you have to be patient and focus on what you can control. So carve out that time to focus on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Note: This story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of The Sun Devils Advocate student newspaper.
NEXT UP: How Lunch Works (With Video!)
The Unique Challenges of Lunch During COVID
With COVID-19 safety precautions requiring a shortened lunch period and no in-person dining hall service, providing lunch to Kent Denver's 800+ students and employees has required our dining services team to completely overhaul their operations. Changes include:
- Providing individual boxed lunches to all students and faculty/staff, with meatless and gluten-free choices
- Delivering those lunches to classrooms, office and workrooms across campus according to where students and employees are during the period before lunch
- Minimizing waste by encouraging recycling and composting
While they certainly miss the variety and choices from pre-pandemic lunches, students are deeply grateful for the incredible amount of work the dining services team puts in each day to prepare and deliver individual meals to everyone on campus. Before Thanksgiving, student leaders made a video to share their gratitude and to show exactly what this year's lunch service entails.
NEXT UP: Athletics Adjusts Seasons, Maintains Sun Devil Spirit
Athletics During COVID-19: Maintaining Flexibility and Sun Devil Spirit
When new Athletic Director Jeff Hollway first visited Kent Denver's campus for in-person interviews in the fall of 2019, the global pandemic was not yet on anyone's radar. By the time he moved his family from Pennsylvania to Colorado over the summer, finding ways for students to stay active and safely participate in sports had become the main focus of his athletics department team.
In early August, state health officials and CHSAA finalized a plan for the school year that re-aligned high school sports seasons. Three fall sports—cross country, boys' golf and boys' tennis—were able to successfully compete during their traditional season. Other fall sports saw their seasons moved to March 2021, while winter and spring sports' start dates were pushed back to minimize overlap for multi-sport athletes.
To help keep student-athletes active, healthy and connected, strength coach Chris DeAntoni '88 and and his team provided after school, outdoor strength and conditioning workouts for individuals and teams throughout the fall. After winter break, these workouts transitioned indoors to the KDS weight room with limited numbers, physical distancing and masks.
Changes have also come to the Middle School sport program. With interscholastic competitions for younger students on hiatus, students are now assigned to smaller, co-ed cohorts that rotate through a variety of sports and wellness activities with Middle School coaches and other staff.
"We know athletics is an important part of the educational experience for all of our students, and we are committed to providing Upper and Middle Schoolers with a robust experience that supports healthy bodies, minds and spirits," Mr. Hollway says. "I am proud of the work our coaches and athletics department staff are doing to meet the needs of students, and I am also tremendously impressed by our athletes' resilience, flexibility and Sun Devil Spirit!"
With very few fans on campus, Kent Denver is offering free live streams of ice hockey and home basketball games. Visit www.kentdenver.org/athletics for schedules and links!
Next Up: KDS Music Programs Adapt
And the Beat Goes On... Teaching Music through a Pandemic
Last spring, as the novel Coronavirus spread across the world and sent students home for the rest of the semester, music teachers were faced with a dilemma. How does one teach music when singing and wind instruments are not allowed? When some instruments are not designed for regular sanitation? When gatherings for performances are indefinitely put on hold?
"Music is such a collaborative process," says Choir Director and music teacher Kali Paguirigan, "and so there were some pretty significant obstacles in moving to Zoom classes. It forced us to seek out software that the kids could use to create music." Ms. Paguirigan began using Soundtrap, a music-making program that allows students to collaborate together from their homes. "It's really useful and the kids love it," says Ms. Paguirigan, "and now I will always use it as a component of my teaching."
In addition to embracing technology, Ms. Paguirigan saw teaching online as an opportunity to share music via the internet and have more discussions with students about how music can elicit emotions, the history behind it, and even its role in expressing one's personal identity. "You can think of music as a performer would, but you can also approach music as an art form and as an appreciator of music," Ms. Paguirigan says. "I feel like sharing my own musical interests with my students is bringing more of my personality into my teaching."
For guitar students, Kent Denver was able to supply each with their own, labeled instrument that stays on campus. As we move through the school year, the music staff is balancing activities in music education that can smoothly transition between in-person and online learning, in the event of another shutdown.
From years of teaching private lessons to Kent Denver students before he became Producer of Commercial Music, Justin Adams was familiar with Kent Denver's high standard of performance for its musicians. He also saw areas for improvement for students who wished to pursue music as a career. "In any college music program, all students—no matter what their instrument—have to learn applied music theory by taking piano class in order to really understand music at a higher level," Mr. Adams explains. From the beginning, his vision for Kent Denver's Commercial Music program included building a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) piano lab to facilitate this learning, and to enable students to open up musically and get more creative.
When the pandemic hit, Mr. Adams seized the opportunity. Over the summer, with the support of Art Department Chair Sarah Mitchell, Middle School Director Carrie Green, Upper School Director Eric Chandler and Associate Head of School for Non-Academic Affairs Jerry Walker, the band room was transformed into a MIDI keyboard lab that could operate within COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Sturdy music stands that can accommodate students' laptops were paired with single desks supplied with MIDI keyboards—all that can be disinfected daily. The benefits of this setup are many: students can collaborate online, learn chords and harmony, record and listen to their playing and even arrange and orchestrate new compositions, according to their level of musical skills and ability. Students can also record their primary instrument at home and play it in class through the MIDI system.
"Piano learning is actually a quite basic fundamental of true music learning," says Mr. Adams, "but it does indeed allow for far more advanced things to unfold. My hope is that at the end of this semester, students will see improvement on their primary instrument. I'm betting that if the kids invest their energy, effort and time in this different approach, the music they will create will be better than anything I could ever engineer. The far-reaching educational value of this is effervescent. It's something that gives over time, a seed that turns into a tree. But it takes time to water that tree and to watch that tree grow."