Donning masks and staying at least six feet apart, students returned to the halls of Southwest Covenant Schools on Thursday.
Headmaster Steve Lessman said 496 students are enrolled at the school, located adjacent to Covenant Community Church.
“We’re ready to start. We’re excited and a little anxious. We are excited to have kids back on campus,” Lessman said.
Lessman is beginning his eighth year as the school’s headmaster.
During that time, enrollment has steadily climbed from 290 students. He said there is a waiting list of students who want to attend.
Lessman said preparing for this year has been challenging. The school is utilizing some classroom space at the church to help with social distancing.
And while virtual classes are available, only about six students are currently utilizing it.
Lessman said the school is trying to limit the number of virtual students to those who have illnesses or are more likely to become infected by the coronavirus.
Older students are required to wear masks while in the hallways or at other specific times. Younger students also have the option of wearing masks, he said.
Thursday was the first time since spring break that students have attended classes on campus.
They finished last year with virtual learning.
That also will be an option this year if the school sees an uptick in the number of cases.
Thus far, no one is infected at the school.
“We finished out the fourth quarter with online learning, and we had success with it. But we realize nothing compares socially, educationally and spiritually to having them on campus,” Lessman said.
The decision to return to campus was difficult, however.
“It was difficult to weigh through so many views and opinions , but the decision-makers were in agreement that returning was the best thing for the school at this time,” Lessman said.
Covenant Community Church’s decision to allow the school to have access to some of its classrooms helped make that decision easier, the headmaster said.
That makes it easier to keep students apart.
“We were going to have room, but due to COVID concerns, they graciously offered their building,” he said.
In addition, Lessman said teachers will continually discuss hygiene with students and still will work to sanitize the facilities.
Additional training for the staff has been offered, and the school purchased an air-cleaning system.
To handle the changes, the school also hired additional part-time staff.
Meanwhile, the foundation has been poured for Southwest Covenant’s new high school.
Lessman said steel should begin going up on the building in September after working through some issues with Oklahoma City on the permitting process.
The project, which will include classes for ninth through 12th grades, also will have a new gymnasium and other athletic facilities.
“It’s been quite an accelerated time of growth. We’re now in our second building project in seven years,” Lessman said.