Successful COVID-19 testing leads to more ‘first days’

This school year, 2020-2021, has been a year of many “first days.” There was the first day of all remote learning in August. When CA Flex learning began, there was the first day of the arrival of the Rockies cohort. The first day of the arrival of the Mustangs cohort. Then there was the first day that all Lower School students returned to in-person learning. Now, CA is moving through another series of “first days” that will culminate in early February.

By February 3, Colorado Academy will be operating full-time with full, in-person instruction for all grades, Pre-K through 12. That has not been the case since March of 2020. CA has carefully planned and executed each step, as the school brings back students while continuing to mitigate transmission of the coronavirus COVID-19 on campus. The latest step in that plan has been on-campus serial testing for Middle and Upper School students.

Statewide, CA is one of two independent schools conducting campus-based student testing. COVIDCheck Colorado (CCC) says that the CA-CCC onsite testing partnership continues to be among the most innovative models in the country.

Why does this matter? CCC data indicates that student compliance rates are much higher with school-based testing than not, by a ratio of 4 to 1. Considering that 40-50 percent of all COVID-19 cases transmitted are done so by asymptomatic individuals, the benefit of serial testing is clear. It helps CA run a safer campus, even as more students return to the classroom.

With two weeks of remote learning and drive-through testing after Winter Break, students had a couple of trial runs with the SalivaDirectTM PCR test. Now, with the school’s Health Team testing groups of student advisories, the students are adept at providing samples. “The students really have been terrific,” says CA Health Assistant Mandy Batliner. “Their cooperation and participation show just how much they want to be at school and learning on campus. No part of this has been easy, but the community’s support for this effort has made it worthwhile.”

Welcome back, Seniors!

With the success of CA’s testing program, the entire Senior class was able to return for their “first day” as a class on January 19. Here is how Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels described the excitement of the day for the Class of 2021.

“With great anticipation and a touch of nervousness, teachers and staff greeted students back to campus this week. This was the first time we have had students in the Upper School since early December. Many adults stood outside the building to welcome the students, especially our Senior class of 2021, which was fully united once again. The Rockies and Mustangs cohorts were now a thing of the past for our Seniors, and they were excited to be together at last. We treated everyone to Jamba Juice and chatted about how nice it was to be having school in person.

“And then . . . students went to class and we carried on with the school day. Yes, we were still wearing masks and keeping our appropriate distance. Yes, there were still students tuning in remotely and, therefore, the usual juggling of OWL cameras, Zoom links, and occasionally glitchy connections. But other than that, everything felt more like, well, normal. It was a great step in the right direction. Every teacher I talked to remarked that it was great to have the energy and vitality of students back. And while everyone has been making the best of remote learning, school is inherently social, and person-to-person direct contact really matters.

“Back in school, we look forward to welcoming all the Freshmen next week. Many of the students in the Ninth Grade have never interacted with each other in person, only through Zoom. The opportunity to all be together will be a huge boost to this group of our youngest students, many of whom are new to CA this year. After that, on February 1, all the Juniors and Sophomores will return full time and at last we will be 418 strong. After nearly a year of disruptions and false starts, it will feel great to be at full strength.”