MONTECITO, Calif. - Cold Spring School in Montecito reopened its campus for in-person learning on Tuesday.
It's the first public elementary school in Santa Barbara County to do so since the pandemic began. Cold Spring began the school year with fully remote learning on Aug. 18.
“The first day of school is always magic,” principal and district superintendent Amy Alzina said Tuesday. “This is the day that our kids just live for. You know, to get to start school and that enthusiasm and love for learning.”
Cold Spring, the only school in the Cold Spring School District, was approved for a school waiver earlier this month after consultation with the Santa Barbara County and State Public Health departments. Other private elementary schools in the county have also been approved.
Cold Spring enrolls fewer than 200 students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Alzina says about 90 percent of the students have returned in-person, while roughly 10 percent have opted to continue remote learning.
Teachers and staff are already seeing the benefits of returning to campus.
“It was really critical to get them back into this environment,” said Yuri Calderon, the school’s Chief Business Officer and legal counsel. “Even though they were doing the remote learning, it’s not the same as being with the teacher and having that loving support from all the staff at the school.”
“They understand that it’s not like it used to be, but it’s nice to be together,” said teacher Lara Wooten, who also has two children that attend the school. “I think for the kids the most important thing is the socialization. They’re just so happy to see each other and be around other kids.”
Class and recess schedules have changed drastically from last year and are flexible. In most cases, in-person students learn through the morning hours and are then dismissed, while students learning remotely do so in the afternoon.
Many outdoor spaces have been converted to classrooms. Anyone indoors or unable to distance themselves from others must remain masked at all times. In indoor classrooms where students have less space for distancing, plexiglass barriers are installed on desks.
Students are grouped into cohorts, which do not mix or share classroom areas. During recess each day, different areas of the school's outdoor space are reserved for different cohorts. Hand-washing for at least 20 seconds is required before and after recess, as well as throughout the day.
Alzina says a cohort would be shut down for 14 days if one of its students or its teacher were to test positive for COVID-19.
"We're hoping that that doesn't happen, but we are prepared if that does happen," she said. "We're doing everything we can do to ensure that our campus and our kids are safe."