Building During a Pandemic?

middle schoolers and their teacher in an outdoor classroom

Each morning a chorus of voices sings out on the courtyard slab. For the moment, the repetitive clack of the nail gun is silenced and the saws stop spinning. Everything is silent, except for the melodious (and maybe slightly off key) voices of our students and staff. When Morning Sing ends, the noises will resume.  Construction on the new academic building will continue, and hammering and sawing will be heard throughout the campus.  For those 30 minutes though, the students’ experience is kept sacred. It is one of the many ways we are navigating this unusual year at AMS, a demonstration of how our community is constantly adapting and responding to the challenges we face.

Best Laid Plans…

We have known for a while that this year at AMS would mean big changes. As Heather, our Development Coordinator, successfully finalized the fundraising for the new academic building (still $12,700 left to go–please donate!), we prepared ourselves for a construction crew actively working on our campus. We thought about how their presence would affect our students’ experience. In response, we repurposed spaces into temporary workshops and classrooms so that students would still be able to do woodwork and access tools. We thought we had a plan that would make the transition go as seamless as possible.

Then the pandemic hit. We moved our classrooms outside, and as whiteboards were hung and tables moved, it became clear that the sounds of drills, saws, and large trucks could not be ignored.  It was a perfect storm. Staying healthy meant being outside and being outside meant lots of noise. We needed to foster an environment in which students could learn while the crew stayed on track with their construction.  Thankfully our campus is large, our teachers are creative and our students adapt easily.

a building in partial constructionBeing Flexible

In just three months, the construction crew has accomplished a lot. All the external walls have been a erected and the roof is close to being completed.  Students are getting excited about the new library. Staff are looking forward to the increased office space. And while we might not be able to use the classrooms this year, the breezeway and library will make fantastic spaces to teach while still social distancing.

In the meantime, we are spreading ourselves out.  Teachers hold their classes out in the ball field near the fire ring or in the shade of Christine’s House. We repurposed carports and barn stalls into inspiring spaces conducive to learning. The students seem to enjoy the change of pace, excited to be using forgotten spaces on campus in new ways. They are learning that anywhere can be a classroom as long as they bring their creativity and inquisitiveness with them.  The construction crew is doing their part as well. Their willingness to work different hours around our schedule allows us to keep certain experiences, like Morning Sing, intact.

The construction is on track to be completed in January.  Then, things will be a little closer to normal. Thanks to everyone’s flexibility, we will succeed in constructing a new building while hosting an in-person program during a pandemic. It might not always be seamless, but thanks to everyone’s flexibility, we will triumph.

-by Nicholas Maldonado