About half of the 220 students enrolled at the United World College-USA for 2020-21 are expected to return to the Montezuma campus beginning Aug. 1 for the start of classes in September.
The remainder will take courses online until COVID-19 restrictions and related matters make it possible for their return.
“Given our mission and values, it made sense that we would do everything we could to open for an on-campus experience while protecting the health of our campus and larger community,” said UWC-USA President Victoria Mora. “Our students’ education is as focused on the experience of living together as learning together, across the differences that might otherwise divide them.”
UWC-USA in mid-March evacuated about 230 students from the two-year international high school due to the spread of COVID-19 across the country. School officials have spent the past four months implementing protocols for their return.
Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo said he has received details about the plan, which includes COVID-19 testing and quarantining, and is happy to hear students will return.
“I think there has been a lot of thought put into the admission process and how they will keep everyone safe,” Trujillo said.
Upon arrival, students will quarantine and be tested on campus by the state Department of Health, said dean of students Naomi Swinton. Thereafter the campus health team, which includes nurses and EMTs as well as a medical director, will conduct testing as needed. Daily symptom checks, including for above normal temperatures, are planned. COVID-19 testing will continue regularly for students and employees, and everyone on campus must wear a mask. UWC-USA worked with public health representatives, local, regional and national medical advisors, the Office of Emergency Management, and is following best practices outlined by the Center for Disease Control and the National Association of Independent Schools to coordinate the safe return of students.
Students, who normally come from about 90 countries, will be restricted to the campus except for wilderness excursions, outdoor ranch trips and essential appointments in town, Swinton said.
Traditionally, UWC students go to Las Vegas to shop and volunteer in schools, the Samaritan House, El Comedor de San Pascual Soup Kitchen, the city’s animal shelter and more; students, faculty and staff annually contribute about 17,000 hours of community service in the region.
“Our students will still be engaged in the community either virtually or by helping produce food on the (UWC-USA) farm to organizations serving those in need in the community,” Swinton said. “We are looking forward to setting up a buy local and bulk ordering effort in collaboration with Las Vegas businesses.”
Prior to leaving their homes, students are asked to quarantine and be tested for the coronavirus. UWC-USA will transport students directly to campus from the airport; students will be tested within a few days of arrival.
Classrooms have been set up for responsible physical distancing, and a sanitation checklist is being implemented for all public and private spaces, with an emphasis on disinfecting high touch surfaces before and after use.
“We’ve organized our classroom spaces to adhere to physical distancing requirements,” said Taylor Gantt, chief financial and operations officer for UWC-USA. “We have masks and hand sanitizer and will have plexiglass shields around teachers’ desks.”
The dining hall will be set up for 50 percent capacity, or a maximum of 100 students. Tables will be 6 feet apart, with no more than four persons per table.
Outdoor classroom spaces are planned throughout the 200-acre campus.
“Students are making face coverings for us — because it’s our policy — and for local members of the community who need one,” Swinton said. “We’re proud to have helped partner with local sewing groups to distribute more than 4,000 face coverings this summer.”
“UWC-USA sees itself as an anchor institution in our community,” Mora added. “We want to keep our people employed, and that means we need to be viable financially. Opening, even if with fewer students, is key. We also want to continue offering service in our community.”