Santa Cruz Co. private school pivots to outdoor education during pandemic

Many Bay Area school districts and schools are still deciding how to handle learning in the upcoming academic year. But one private school in Santa Cruz County is moving forward with its plan to incorporate one of California’s strengths to facilitate in-person learning.
At the Mount Madonna School, any education confusion brought on by COVID-19 has been replaced with clarity. Administrators and staff are moving forward with plans for in-person learning for the coming school year with classes held outside.
“Mount Madonna has always embraced outdoor learning. And our program has a rich tradition of outdoor education,” said Head of School Ann Goewert.
She said the 41-year-old institution, nestled in a bucolic setting in Santa Cruz County, is moving all 180 students to outside learning for the school year. Wifi will be available in some classrooms, as well as whiteboards and other teaching staples.
The Madonna campus sits on 375 picturesque acres with a view overlooking Watsonville.
“The kids love outside time. And we already have outside classrooms set up, where the kids will bring clipboards or books or whatever it is they’re reading. And they’ll do whatever it is they do inside, outside,” said Kami Pacheco, the lower school director at Mount Madonna. She oversees grades Pre-K through 5th grade. 

This private school has an impressive track record using non-traditional teaching methods for grades Pre-K through 12th grade. Each grade level only has about 16 students.
March’s COVID-fueled closing presented an opportunity for reopening, using one of California’s greatest assets – great weather, as an educational asset.
“So it really just facilitates the learning, anywhere we need to be on campus. And on beautiful days, why not go outside and learn” said Goewert.
Administrators said when the weather becomes inclement, indoor learning is still on the table. Some of the outdoor classrooms are in tents with heaters. And students are encouraged to dress in layers.
“They’re willing to be a little bit more cold, or maybe hotter than they’d be in a traditional classroom, in order to be here on campus,” said parent Linda Manzur.
Manzur has two daughters attending Madonna. She gives going outside the green light and said the entire approach to teaching has been beneficial.
“Teaches them how to be stewards of the environment. To be global citizens,” she said.
Mount Madonna’s grand move outside, complete with masks and appropriate social distancing, begins September 8.