Second Grade teacher Jessica McCoy greets her first student, Henry Howe

Lower School students return to CA!

“Hello, Henry!” called Second Grade teacher Jessi McCoy, as her very first student, Henry Howe, bounded up to the exterior door of her classroom to greet her. They exchanged socially distanced air hugs, and McCoy knelt at his level to show him a sign on the door illustrating other ways students could greet each other: dancing, waving, and socially distanced fist bumps.

“I’m so happy to have students back in the classroom,” says McCoy. “It looks and feels different, but everyone is excited.”

And so began the first day of on-campus learning for the 2020-2021 school year in the Lower School at Colorado Academy. In so many ways, it was just like the first day every year—and in so many ways, it was completely different.

Parents unloaded students who carried loaded backpacks, teachers welcomed students with enthusiasm, some students had to overcome a case of nerves as they arrived at a new school, and others eagerly raced into their classroom.

But you didn’t have to look very hard to see what was different. Students and teachers were all wearing masks, indoors and outdoors. Some wore face shields. Only half the students—the Mustangs—arrived on Day One. The other half—the Rockies—would have their first day in 24 hours.

Arriving students were nearly outnumbered by the many teachers from all disciplines, including Science Teacher Jeff Goldstein and Director of Libraries Allison Peters Jensen, who helped escort students to the exterior door of their classroom, so they didn’t have to walk through the building.

Lower School Principal Angie Crabtree leading the way

Lower School Principal Angie Crabtree gently guided this carefully choreographed first day, balancing a warm welcome with a safe one. “This summer, as we anticipated the return of children to the Lower School, I constantly played the “return-to-school movie” in my mind, trying to anticipate what might work and where problems could develop in the daily flow of school life,” says Crabtree. “When I saw the first car arrive and a Kindergartner leapt out, I felt such excitement and joy because I was back at a school where I have the honor to witness extraordinary teaching and learning at every grade level.”

Head of School Dr. Mike Davis stops by to say good morning on the first day of school.

Within minutes, students were already at work, sitting at desks separated by six feet, with no more than 7-8 students in a class. Head of School Dr. Mike Davis made the rounds, greeting everyone with a wave.

Day One for both Mustangs and Rockies was part regular school and part learning how to safely navigate school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifth Grade students held onto a rope marked with their names at six-foot intervals to walk to P.E. “You are the Fifth Graders!” called their teacher Jessica Ohly. “You have to show everyone how to do this!”

P.E. class was carefully designed for social distancing—Sean Stedeford led soccer drills in the Sculpture Garden with hand sanitizer nearby, and Marcia Richards’ students practiced tennis skills.

Soon after the day started, Jay Leeuwenburg led his Third Grade class outside to sit near the tents on Stamper Commons and experience a mask and water break.

“Take a big breath,” he called out to the students. “Enjoy the fresh air.”

Outside her classroom, Third Grade teacher Stephanie Stone lined up her class and demonstrated “butterfly” or “helicopter” arms, designed to mark the appropriate distance students should keep from one another as they walk.

In Schotters Music Center, Music Teacher Brenda Bartel reinforced the need for frequent use of hand sanitizer. In the coming months, there will be more movement and less singing in music class, because of concern about airborne transmission of the virus. (Scroll down for more pictures of the Mustangs on their first day back at school.)

The Rockies arrive

Day two brought the Rockies to Colorado Academy for a repeat of day one.

Admission Office Coordinator Lisa Dean greeted students with a smile (behind her mask) and hand sanitizer.

In Angela Hottinger’s art classroom, students tried out their “travel watercolors,” which only they will use—no sharing allowed. If CA has to transition to remote learning, the watercolors will go home in individualized art packets with students.

Pre-Kindergarten Director Lizzie Rockmore celebrated a great start to the school year—not a single tear on the first days of school. “It’s working!” she says.

Later in the morning, the Pre-K students tried out the Owl camera system, connecting with another Pre-K student who was learning at home.

Elizabeth Landers introduced her non-Zoom self to her students…and introduced them to Spanish.

Kindergartners in masks made enthusiastic use of the playground equipment.

Mr. Goldstein was back in the classroom, starting what would surely be another year of engaging science lessons (he already has worms).

At lunchtime, students gathered at safe distances and enjoyed dining al fresco.

And across the CA campus, as students settled into the many new Adirondack chairs designed to encourage outdoor classes and relaxing mask breaks, there was a sense that even though things had changed, what really matters at CA had not.

More from the Rockies on their first day (scroll down for Mustangs)

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More from the Mustangs on their first day

To download individual images in this gallery, hover on the photo and right click. Select “Save Link As” and choose a location on your computer. At this time, you cannot download the images on a mobile device.