- Bennett Ranch Elementary School
Staff and Students Return to The Campus for School Year 2020-21
The Campus, home of Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, Pikes Peak Early College and the Falcon Homeschool Program, is working with a fresh formula to start a new school year: A blend of the familiar Google-meets-Starbucks learning style with a shot of additional learning space, topped off with a heightened awareness for safely navigating in-person learning in unprecedented times.
“I’m excited. I love it,” said SSAE Executive Principal Dave Knoche. “I’m a ‘person’ person. I need people around.”
Getting people back to campus took some time as District 49 flexed the start of the school year in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Staff began settling into the recently expanded campus at the end of July. Students started learning in-person August 17, finding new classrooms for subjects like coding, chemistry and college coursework along with a large common-area in the center of the 21,000 square foot addition.
The expansion provides more room for the three iConnect Zone schools to engage with students. A similar, blended-learning model shared by SSAE and PPEC combines online and in-person learning for students on alternating days, which eased the return in the middle of August.
The typical day of in-person learning on campus is wrapped in a now well-known package of safety protocols. Students wearing face-coverings use designated doors equipped with hand-sanitizing stations to enter. Inside, individual desks are separated by three to six-feet of distance and clear, plastic barriers also divide tables where students sit.
“I think this is the mantra in education right now,” Knoche observed. “We have to make sure kids are safe, and we have to make sure they’re healthy.”
PPEC Associate Principal Rochelle Kolhouse noted her smaller classes make managing physical distancing in available learning space smoother. Utilizing the large open space for group learning helps keep Fridays one of the busiest days of the week on campus, especially for PPEC.
“This is really more about building a sense of community,” said Kolhouse. “A lot of our students that are cohorting are brand new-- they are only seeing half of their classmates on Monday or on Wednesday, so this is a way to say, ‘Hey this is who we are, this is Pikes Peak Early College, these are your peers.’”
Knoche agreed, noting the importance of safely returning to the in-person setting after the interruption to the end of last school year followed by another surge of COVID-19 cases over the summer.
“That’s what our kids want right now. They want their friends back,” Knoche chuckled. “The education will be a byproduct of seeing my friends again.”
So far, the school leaders agree the formula is working. Meaningful learning is resuming and students are engaging. Knoche acknowledged the typical pace of settling into the new normal may be a more gradual process on the unique campus than in previous years, but bringing students and teachers back together is critical to the pursuit of excellence.
“We want your kids to be here, we believe they will be safe with the protocols in place,” Knoche said. “We know that we may have some issues that we’ll have to address as time goes on, but if you don’t know the kids, this does not work very well. Education in general doesn’t.”