Providence School’s two Santa Barbara campuses are open for on-campus learning, and its principals report great attitudes among students and staff.
The preschool and elementary campus in the San Roque neighborhood opened late September under a waiver approved by the California Department of Public Health.
Its principal, Matthew Knoles, wanted to open to provide better instruction and improved relationships.
“We really value relationships. It’s one of our distinctive qualities,” he said. “We also felt it was safe for our school to reopen.”
The upper school, which encompasses middle and high schools, opened in the red tier mid-October. Principal Rodney Meadth said he had been planning for reopening since March.
“In every parent communication and every leadership meeting, we said we were fully committed to coming back in person everyday, full days as soon as we were given a green light by the state,” he said.
It took him months of extra work and tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for a safe re-entry. The main facility upgrade was an overhaul of bathroom fixtures for touchless operation.
The school installed a camera in each room to broadcast lessons to students over Zoom. Principal Meadth estimates that 5% of students are still learning online.
“I think people are glad to be off Zoom and back together. There was apprehension at first, just like when we switched online,” he said.
He sees students and teachers smiling under their masks as he oversees campus. A senior even stopped him during the first day back to tell him how grateful he was to be back on campus.
Principal Knoles said his students are also thankful. He was worried about enforcing CDC guidelines, but he said kids have adjusted well.
“At first, we felt like we had to have a lot of those [reminders]. The younger teachers were talking about ‘airplane arms,’ and we had to reconfigure some of the games and options at recess,” he said. “The students have gotten used to it, so we don’t feel like they need any reminders.”
He said the teachers have been adaptable as well.
“I can’t say enough about our teachers and how hard they’re working. They’re showing a lot of perseverance and grit to teach in these unlikely conditions,” he said.
The upper-school teachers have been resilient too.
“We had a completely all-in attitude here. We have teachers of a whole range of situations, but they just exhibited such a strong trust in our leadership decisions. They have exhibited great bravery,” Principal Meadth said.
“They are turning up to their extra supervision duties. They are pulling extra duty, and they’re not complaining about it. If that were not the case, this would be one big, exhausting difficulty,” he said.
When school administrators heard from parents that seniors struggled to find places to take the SAT test, they applied to hold a test day on campus.
Principal Meadth said he has gotten inquiries from parents who want to send their students to Providence School, though he doesn’t think the school can accept many and keep classrooms spread out.
The lower campus has enrolled new students over the past seven or eight months.
“People strongly desire for their students to learn in person,” Mr. Knoles said.
He likes greeting families as students get screened for COVID-19 from their parents’ cars and welcoming them onto campus.
It took adaptation, but they are now seeing the fruits of their efforts.