Raleigh school uses classroom tents during COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- St. David's School in Raleigh found a creative way to mitigate the risk of returning to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic -- with classroom tents.

"The tents have served, essentially, as an extension for our indoor spaces, for class activity so class instruction, discussion, collaborative work between students, lab investigations," said Matt Hillegass, Head of School for St. David's School. "That's the kind of stuff that's happening in the tents every day for all of our grade levels, pre-K through 12th grade."

The tents are climate-controlled for when it gets cold or hot out.

"We had fans and misters," Hillegass said. "Now we have the tents heated with gas-powered blowers but really, it's the circulation of fresh air so students can get out there. You can take a class out there and they can be six feet apart and they can have a mask break."

Hillegass said some of the tents have windows. Not all classrooms are in tents and teachers can sign up to use the six large tents.

The independent school also has sun-shade sails up and smaller popup tents around campus.

In addition, St. David's School installed hand-washing stations.

The school purchased some of the tents and rented some.

"I can't give an exact number for what they cost right now but I can say that it was an investment," Hillegass said. "It was one of those things that among others, including things like hand-washing stations and enhanced cleaning protocols and the instructional technology I was talking about. It was an investment for this year that we made knowing, as I said before, that the best conditions for learning for our students was going to be on campus."

Hillegass said they've had very few COVID-19 cases. They've been linked to off-campus encounters and they don't know of any on-campus spreading of the coronavirus, he said.

The tents have been up since August. The school has 600 students with some students doing remote learning. Hillegass said they started the school year off with tents covering the amphitheater, which will go up and down during the year depending on the weather.

"We've been able to host larger, physically-distanced gatherings of students for assemblies and our chapel service under the tents," he said. "Also, the tents serve as additional locations for spreading out during lunch, places for students to connect with each other and have some fun playing yard games."

He said they've gotten positive feedback from parents about the tents.

"The response has been very favorable to the many different risk-mitigating factors that we've implemented this school year," Hillegass said. "It's been a very positive response across the board."
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