Verde Valley School welcomes back boarders

Alexandra Wittenberg, Red Rock News
While summer break is often a time of relaxation and rejuvenation for teachers and staff before a new school year, that wasn’t the case at Verde Valley School, as the staff created a COVID-19 Task Force amongst themselves, figuring out how they could have a successful fall semester despite the pandemic.

“Over the past few months our staff have worked tirelessly to research, plan and put into action the necessary steps to keep our community and students safe while also continuing to follow our school’s principles, specifically to provide academic excellence, service to others, the value of world citizenship, environmental stewardship and the value of physical labor,” Assistant to the Head of School * Vanessa Trujillo-Tenbrink wrote in an email.

That said, 60 boarding students arrived on campus on Aug. 30. Another 33 students that live in the Village of Oak Creek or Sedona area and commute every day, or other students waiting to return, will not start in-person learning until Oct. 5, if area COVID-19 cases remain relatively low.

“Our opening has gone incredibly smooth and we couldn’t be happier to finally have [most] of our students back on campus,” Trujillo-Tenbrink said the day after the students arrived. “The months of planning have finally come together and our VVS family is motivated and complete again.”

Although boarding students will be quarantining for the first two weeks, it will be a far cry from being stuck in their dorm rooms all day.

“We are grateful to be situated in a place where so much of our learning and activities can happen outdoors on our closed campus, so we are able to practice physical distancing in an open environment,” Trujillo-Tenbrink wrote.

During those first two weeks, the students will spend lots of time outside, grouped into cohorts while staying six feet apart “to allow for socialization while minimizing exposure,” according to the school’s reopening plan.

During this time, boarding students will receive an introduction to VVS campus life, academic classes and health and wellness practices, and participate in fun activities where social distance can be maintained, like ice cream socials, movies on the quad, hikes and scavenger hunts.

Seven days after arrival, all boarding students will be tested for COVID-19, a $125 cost for parents. Boarding students also must provide documentation of negative coronavirus test results that were taken within a week prior to arrival.

Both boarding students and day students began classes together on Sept. 1 using the school’s Virtual Learning Program. In-person instruction will be phased in gradually.

“During the course of the year, in the case of student or teacher absence, the Virtual Learning Program will remain active to ensure that students and teachers can access courses remotely to minimize disruptions to the academic program,” the reopening plan states.

The dining hall will be closed for dining in, but students can pick up their meals from there and then eat outside or in their dorms.

The school is also creating a new Snack Shack for students to purchase snacks, food and drinks outside of dining hall meals. This is also in part to make it easier for the teens to stay on campus as required, without needing to venture out and go shopping.

“There will be no off-campus weekend activities [movies, shopping, etc.] for the time being,” the plan states. “This may change as we are allowed to lessen restrictions while maintaining the safety and health of all students and staff members.”

Other health precautions that VVS now enforces include:
  • Daily health screenings and temperature checks
  • Periodic COVID-19 testing as necessary
  • Increased cleaning of high touch areas, dorms, classrooms and the dining hall
  • Installation of HEPA filters in bathrooms and dorm common rooms
  • Increased hand washing and sanitizing stations on campus
  • Everyone on campus must wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible
  • Designating specific rooms for isolation/quarantine if a student becomes ill

In addition, VVS hired a new director of health services, Julie Pompos, who has a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of New York, Albany campus.

“With an international and domestic medical background encompassing over 30 years, Julie has expertise in highly specialized surgical arenas to writing policy and procedure for the Department of Defense as a naval officer,” Head of Schools Paul Amadio wrote in a VVS August newsletter. “In addition, she has held numerous positions of leadership in dynamic capacities from the Veteran’s Administration to serving as a Clinical Educator in one of the nation’s leading trauma hospitals.

“With a fundamental passion and commitment to bettering the health of each generation, Julie’s decision to pursue nursing within educational institutions has become her foremost conviction to making a positive difference.”

VVS’ efforts to maintain a safe on-campus atmosphere, despite the challenges, have appeared fruitful thus far. Trujillo-Tenbrink said that there are 20 freshmen, only three less than last year.

 
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Verde Valley School is a co-educational, International Baccalaureate boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12.
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