Schools are beginning to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year and Carver County’s first public school to open was Cologne Academy. Their plan was to commit to their first day of school date of August 24 and to reopen as normal as possible while mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as the pandemic continues.

“We stuck to our original schedule,” said Dr. Lynn Peterson, executive director of Cologne Academy. “It’s been awesome so far. There is real joy in having children in the schoolhouse. Everything so far feels the way it should be.”

Cologne Academy’s hybrid plan is a little different from other schools in the area. Kindergarten through 5th grade students are on campus every day. Cologne Academy was already known for small class sizes, so the new strategy to reduce classes even further into what Peterson called “nests”. Normally there are three classes of each grade. Now, with the hiring of more staff, there are five nests of students per grade. The cohorts/nests do not mix; not even at recess or lunchtime.

The middle school students, 6th-8th grade, rotate their time on campus. One cohort comes Monday-Friday one week, while the other cohort distance learns from home. The next week the cohorts switch learning locations. The reason why the middle school students are on campus for a full week verses an every other day rotation is pretty straightforward.

“When you have the same students, you have the same air,” said Peterson. “When you swap students out every day, the air doesn’t get time to clear out. The weekend is just enough time for the air to clear out for the next group of continuous students.”

These cohorts aren’t just for keeping certain groups together. They are also a way to contact trace a COVID-19 case if one were to occur.

“The hope is to mitigate the spread as much as possible, so it makes sense not to cross cohorts during the day or the week,” said Peterson.

In addition, about 15 percent of the school’s enrollment has chosen the distance learning model only.

There were many factors that were considered when scenario planning, according to Peterson. In consultation with a health and safety consultant, Cologne Academy’s ultimate plan was to avoid shifts in models when/if the Carver County COVID case counts changed. The idea is if things change, such as an uptick in cases, that they will be ready instead of scrambling to adapt to the new conditions. The school is in a strict physical distancing model that maximizes every square foot of the school.

Throughout the day, high-touch surfaces are disinfected and nightly cleaning and disinfecting occur to help mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 throughout campus. Cologne Academy has also enhanced its HVAC units to reduce pathogens, allergens, and particles in the air.

New staff has been hired to help out with the smaller cohorts as well as assist with cleaning, recess, lunch, and subbing. It’s not just the staff that have stepped up to help out, though. Part of the help has been parents. Buses have been a challenge for many schools with distance restrictions, so many have asked that parents help transport their children to school.

Cologne Academy parents came out in droves to help out, forming a car line of over 100 cars every day to drop off their children. The kids are even adapting to new circumstances very quickly.

“They get out of their car and put on their masks right away and then grab their backpacks and water bottles,” said Peterson.

“We’re hopeful for the year,” said Peterson. “We get updates on the numbers every Thursday to help us keep track. We hope our school community recognizes their choices in social gatherings may impact our ability to stay open. We all know how important it is to keep schools open and in person.”

While things are different, so far it’s been working out just fine. Between happy students, prepared staff, and a solid plan, the fall semester will continue as normal as possible.

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