Local Day School Leverages Covid Restrictions to Accelerate Innovation

After successfully launching a Distance Learning Program within days of the shelter-in-place order in March and further refining remote learning over the spring, Mount Tamalpais School, an independent day school in Mill Valley, was ready to find a way to return to in-person instruction safely. The administration worked tirelessly over the summer to develop a comprehensive Covid-19 plan. As of October 7, the school has all kindergarten through eighth grade students back on campus, five days a week.

While navigating the education landscape during a pandemic is inherently challenging, the staff at Mount Tamalpais School has risen to the occasion using all the creativity, dedication, and joy they would in a typical year and pushed it even further. The difficulties posed in determining the best way to reopen the school for in-person learning has increased innovation. As Head of School Andrew Davis puts it, “Rather than seeing Covid as a hurdle or roadblock that is forcing a pause on innovation and growth, this year is truly allowing MTS to accelerate innovation.”

While working within the constraints of new health and safety protocols, the MTS administration realized it needed to rethink its program completely. Davis sees four ways in which the school’s response to Covid has unlocked innovation: creative use of new spaces, a new schedule, more effective technology use, and hybrid and distance connections.

New Spaces

As part of a strategic campus renovation, the school created a new STEM center with indoor/outdoor flexibility. MTS remodeled two lower school classrooms to make three brighter and more effective classrooms. The school installed five large tents to provide additional learning spaces, and every teacher has needed to rethink the “where” of their teaching. “While disruptive, it has also been invigorating,” says Davis.

Use of Technology

The new tech skills and appreciation for how technology can deepen learning gained during Distance Learning have returned to campus with the teachers and students. Rather than using technology as a substitute for pen and paper, MTS teachers are redefining what they can teach and how students can share their understanding.

A New Schedule

To make this year successful, the school needed to create an entirely new daily schedule. They built the new schedule on 30-minute blocks, allowing greater flexibility in making the time work for each subject. The school also maximizes intentionality with arrival, dismissal, recess, and other parts of the school day. The result is a schedule that is driven by the needs of the program.

Hybrid & Distance Learning

The school’s new program functions for both in-person and distance learning. While navigating the fire season, Mount Tamalpais School has quickly pivoted to distance learning when the air quality is too smoky to be on campus. Students have also been able to tune into the classroom from home using a hybrid learning model if they cannot come to campus.

Mount Tamalpais School’s investments are paying off. Admissions are at an all-time high. And with a recently installed generator, the school can now weather power outages as well. As one parent recently put it, MTS is “capable, creative, and crushing it!”