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Charter school will bring nearly 700 students back for in-person learning after successful summer school

Academy of Advanced Learning executed COVID-19 protocols and believes it worked so well it will bring all students back for fall semester.

AURORA, Colo. — In the middle of a strip mall in Aurora sits a place that may have just devised a system for bringing all students back to classrooms.

"I was little scared, a little nervous in the beginning. With children, you never know," Amy Parrott said.

Parrott is a teacher at the Academy of Advanced Learning in Aurora, a charter school for students from kindergarten through eighth grade. For the past six weeks, it has held summer school with in-person classes and a plan to handle COVID-19.

"The first day was really rough and I have this expectation it was going to be great," Parrott said. "It was rough to figure that out and it took a day or two to get into a routine."

RELATED: DPS: Students will not return to in-person learning until Oct. 16

The routine includes capping each classroom at 10 students with up to 10 more students learning in a room next door or in desks set up in the hallway watching the teacher through Zoom and a paraprofessional providing oversight.

"It's working," Parrott said. "Right now, I have a class where I have 10 students on a Zoom call and I have nine students in my classroom."

Students switch places to be with the teacher in-person every other day. Parrott said consistency is the key.

"When I'm asking my students in class a question, a follow-up question, I'm also asking my Zoom kids and their expectation is to answer it," Parrott said.

Principal Linda August said a team of teachers and administrators worked hard to come up with a plan to make all learning work in-person or remote.

"We want kids to come back," August said. "If the kids feel safe enough to come back and they're trusting us to come back to school and keep them safe. How do we do that as well as also not degrading the education for the kids who are online or at home."

August said this system of small groups for in-person learning keeps kids separated in case of a COVID breakout.

RELATED: Cherry Creek announces hybrid learning for older students

"We know which groups of kids that we need to send home and who can stay and continue to learn," August said.

The Academy of Advanced Learning did have one student test positive for COVID-19, August said, but with the protocols in place there was no spread at all.

"All the research is showing us that if they are keeping six feet apart that that will dramatically decrease their likelihood of getting the virus," August said.

Strict social distancing, regular disinfecting, and everyone wearing masks while on the go or interacting with others leads August and Parrott to believe they can handle the nearly 700 students starting the fall semester in-person on Aug. 5.

"It will require a little bit of grace when we first start and looking at what needs to be adjusted after the first couple days of school," August said. "But, in terms of health and in terms of what we're doing with our academics, we're feeling good about that."

They're feeling good about the plan to keep everyone safe during COVID-19. A plan that, August said, is being copied by other school districts. 

"It's happening," Parrott said. "It's not impossible."

Academy of Advanced Learning is part of a charter school network with schools in Colorado Springs and Texas.

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