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Carmel Valley school takes learning outside with open air classrooms

Some schools have gotten creative during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAN DIEGO — A Carmel Valley School said it has figured out a way to keep kids safe during this pandemic by setting up outdoor classrooms.

Cal Coast Academy has students ranging from sixth grade through high school. It now has six outdoor tents for in-person learning. Up close, they seem like your typical classrooms, but from afar, you'll see they’re not. The tents are all hard wired to include lights, internet, and tv’s.

"We felt like this was the safest way to go," said Jan Dunning, the owner and founder of Cal Coast Academy.

The small private school started in Del Mar 20 years ago, then moved to Rancho Santa Fe. Once the pandemic hit and everything went online, she and her board members decided to revamp a Carmel Valley property, which had already been designated as the future home for the school.

The problem was that there was no structure there. So, they pulled weeds, put up hospital grade tents and came up with classrooms.

"Thinking outside the box, we saw that in Hawaii they were thinking about doing open air classrooms," said parent and board member Diane Korsh. "It started [getting] me thinking - why can't we do it here in San Diego?"

Two thirds of the school's 30 students are learning this way. The others are at home, joining online simultaneously. For in-person students, their temperatures are monitored daily. There are also hand-washing stations, mask requirements and desks spaced out.

Parent Spencer Spicker said he's confident is his son's safety.

"And so all the things the CDC has recommended have been implemented here," said Spicker.

As for the changing climate, the tents are UV-protected and include fans. During the colder months, heaters will be brought in.

"We wanted an environment we can just stay in," said Korsh. "We can stay in this environment for a year, for two years."

“I really like it," said Junior Grace Szczuka. "I think it's almost better than normal school."