Students arrived at Capital Christian High School on Thursday in small doses for the first day of instruction. The scene repeated on Friday and Monday morning.
Teenagers checked in at the main entrance, had quick temperature checks and were provided masks if they did not bring one. This was an unusual sight in that this is the only high school in Northern California that has any sort of on-campus instruction.
Capital Christian has used a day care provision to make it work this far, which has impressed students and parents, but also caught the attention of the Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson.
He told The Sacramento Bee on Sunday that he planned to call Capital Christian, adding that If the school is violating the state and county COVID-19 rules, “We would shut them down.”
Capital Christian Head of Schools Tim Wong said Monday he had not heard from anyone from the Sacramento County public health department, but said he is transparent and invites anyone to come on campus for a peek.
He said Capital Christian is not trying to be sneaky nor is ignorant of the pandemic.
“We’d be glad to talk to them,” Wong said. “They are invited to come by campus and see what we are doing.”
Wong defends his approach. He said the school is adhering to safety measures and is helping students and families not be camped at home all day in front of a computer screen.
In the challenge to navigate the coronavirus that shuttered schools across the state in March, Wong never stopped thinking of a way to keep students connected with teachers.
Wong said he was thorough in his research, mindful of doing it the right way and safe way.
“No one has to be on campus. It’s all voluntary and we wanted to be able to provide something unique, different, but safe, as we serve our communities and families,” Wong said. “We have a lot of high school parents who work essential jobs and can’t be home with their students for remote learning, or prefer to have them on a campus. So they’re here.
“We looked into special provision guidelines and thought that we can do this. We can go down this road. We have K-5 day care licensing, so what about the high school?”
Day care for high school
In a speech class at Capital Christian last week, five students were scattered in a spacious room. Teacher Danielle Gloudeman also provided distance-learning sessions with students who elected to start their academic year remotely.
Across the hall, a calculus course taught by Mindy Hills included 10 students spaced out, with more online instruction for those who did not attend in person.
Wong and principal Erick Streelman, both hired from out of area within the last few months, offered students a chance to study remotely or on campus after polling students and teachers. Fear of contracting the coronavirus polled lower on the list, Wong said, trailing concerns of falling behind academically, of suffering a mental toll, and others.
Understanding that the K-6 portion of Capital Christian, on the same grounds off Highway 50, has on-campus day care options for children, the administrators sought that course of action on the high school side.
Capital Christian has what it calls 20 high school “life groups” on campus. No room has more than 14 students and most have 10 or fewer. Students stay in the same room with the same instructor for the day, changing subject matters to be in alignment with students doing their classroom sessions remotely.
When fatigue sets in, students on campus head outside for a walk or a sit in the shade, with masks.
“Anyone caught without a mask,” Wong said with a laugh, “has to sing the school fight song. Teachers included. We’re all mutually held accountable.”
Each Capital Christian High teacher earned day care licensing before the start of the school, similar to that of the elementary school side.
Some Capital Christian parents celebrated this launch last week by wearing T-shirts bearing “I love CCHS Daycare 2020” or “Proud Parent of CCHS Daycare 2020.”
“We’re a college-prep school, and we’re giving our kids a chance on how they want to learn – here in a study pod or from home,” Streelman said. “What works best for them? Every parent wants to be back to some sort of normal, and every kid, too. We’re here to help.”
Wong said they checked accrediting agencies and other sources and were not told they couldn’t follow this path.
“It’s basically a study place for students,” he said. “We like to think of ourselves as academic anthropologists.”
A different model
Beilenson, the Sacramento County health chief, said Sacramento county guidelines technically allow for day care for young students. He said it is improper to attempt to reclassify teenage students as being in day care if they are in fact in school classrooms in learning situations.
“Day care is allowed, but it is up to kindergarten,” he said. “It’s day care, not elementary school. I don’t know exactly what they are doing. If they are running a high school, that is clearly not allowed.”
Capital Christian offered this model while all other high schools in the state are closed for on-campus instruction. What further prompted Wong to attempt this model is the low number of students – under 300 – and the vastness of the campus. The school opened in 1977 and was designed to house up to 700 students.
“I think this has been a great idea,” said Capital Christian junior Emma Olsen. She is a sophomore, a 4.0 student and a three-sport performer. “It feels better to be around peers, and it’s great to have a teacher in your room and not just on the screen. I just think it helps keep us more focused.”
Jeff Olsen, her father, said, “we are thankful for CC and what they are doing for the kids.”
Also the booster club president at Capital Christian, Olsen said parents did not like the idea of paying full tuition – upwards of $10,000 a year – for distance learning. He added that he expects some to have issues or concerns with Capital Christian’s day care model.
“It meets the standards and solves the problem, too,” he said.
The Bee’s Tony Bizjak contributed to this story.