The Peak School takes advantage of the outdoors and small class sizes in new school year

Cody Koeliker, an 11th grader at The Peak School, participates in an outdoor science class during the first week of classes in late August at the private school in Frisco.
Photo from The Peak School

FRISCO — The changes to education brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic aren’t unique to public schools. Private schools, like The Peak School in Frisco, also are having to face a new normal. 

The Peak School is at a bit of an advantage when it comes to the coronavirus. With a 6-1 student-to-teacher ratio, there’s less risk of a major outbreak.

“Our small size does give us some advantages because our class sizes are all smaller,” Head of School Travis Aldrich said. “So we’re able to socially distance that much easier.”

Less risk doesn’t mean less preparation, however. Aldrich said the school is being extra careful in its approach to the pandemic. 

Before school began Aug. 24, every family signed a social contract, agreeing they will abide by all public health guidelines, Aldrich said. The school is also doing symptom screenings and wellness checks at the start of each day.

In the first weeks of school, students have been attending class outside. Every student has been asked to bring a folding chair to school, which they move around to their different classes, Aldrich said.

“Our focus really has been to utilize the outdoors,” he said. “We’ve created outdoor classroom spaces, and our plan is to be outdoor as much as possible.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor spaces for spreading the virus. Having class outdoors allows students to more easily remain 6 feet apart, Aldrich said. 

Students participate in class outside in late August at The Peak School in Frisco. The school has taken classes outside to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Photo from The Peak School

To accommodate for the outdoor learning, teachers have been using portable whiteboards, and the school has increased its internet coverage to allow for better access outside. While it’s focusing on outdoor education right now, the school is prepared for winter, when learning outside won’t be an option. 

“Our plan is to be outside as long as we can,” Aldrich said. “When we do move inside, we have capped some of our classes so that we can still social distance inside.”

The school also has worked to make the indoors more compatible with learning during the pandemic. This includes changing air filters in the building, reconfiguring the layout of classrooms, putting up signage to remind people to wear masks and physically distance, and installing plexiglass barriers between teachers and students.

For students who aren’t comfortable going to school in person, the school is allowing a completely remote curriculum. Unlike the Summit School District, which has opted to use a third-party learning platform for remote students, The Peak School students will be attending live sessions via video chat. 

“They actually go through the same curriculum that our in-person learners are going through,” Aldrich said. “We actually have a laptop that moves with the classes so that they stream live each class.”

The school is also continuing to partner with the Summit School District to allow its students to compete in sports at Summit High School. Aldrich said The Peak School will follow Summit High School’s lead in decisions surrounding which sports are able to practice and compete. 

One of the unforeseen benefits to private schools during the pandemic are changes in enrollment. For the most part, the school’s enrollment has remained on par with past years. However, with more people embracing the work-from-home life, the school has seen more interest from second-home owners in Summit County.

“Families are reaching out to us because they’re actually committed to moving into their mountain home,” Director of Admission Jessie Hoehn said. “They’re realizing they can do a lot of work from home, and they’re wanting to get out of their big city.”

Currently, the middle school is fully enrolled and a few spots are left in the high school, Hoehn said.

Aldrich said he’s focused on ensuring everyone is in the best learning environment possible this year.

“The primary goal is to make sure that you’re creating the best environment for your teachers and students for learning,” he said. “You want to make sure that they’re feeling supported and heard.”

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