EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) ─ As public schools across Rhode Island prepare to reopen, either fully in-person, remotely or a hybrid of the two, some private schools are already heading into their second week of the school year.
Diane Rich, head of the Rocky Hill Country Day School in East Greenwich, tells 12 News they prepped for months prior to their first day to move all of their classrooms outside.
“We have a tremendous campus, so we are usually, during a regular school year, down by the waterfront doing everything from swimming and kayaking ─ individual science experiences,” Rich explained. “But the outdoor tents are for sunny days like this where we need some shade and the outdoors is safer with COVID-19.”
Rich gave 12 News a private tour of their outdoor classrooms on Tuesday. She said the pandemic has forced many private schools to “think outside,” and it’s a motto that Rocky Hill has taken literally.
Making use of their campus, Rich said all classes will be conducted outside for as long as possible. She said the students don’t seem to mind the adjustments and are just happy to be back.
“It brought tears to my eyes last week, because some of the kids were so excited to get out of their cars,” Rich said. “They have missed their friends, their teachers. One of the lower school kids said, ‘Can I hug you?’ to his teacher, so the answer is no, for right now of course, but that joy of being able to be around each other … and frankly, it’s for the adults too.”
Right now, Rich said they have more than 300 students enrolled and with many parents seeking alternatives for their students, she expects to see a lot more.
“We started getting inquiries from public school families in April, May, June,” Rich said.
“This year, because of the pandemic, as soon as the public schools announced their plans, we saw an extra wave of interested families who wanted their children at school all day,” said Jan Cooney, the school’s director of admissions and financial aid. “So we saw a lot, disproportionate in a positive way, number of students coming from public school this year.”
The Rhode Island Department of Education reports that there are currently more than 11,000 students enrolled in private schools around the state.