From the Head of School

 

On Friday our Junior High and High School students returned from the annual Secondary School camping trip to El Capitán State Beach. Over several days, they surfed and kayaked in the ocean, participated in fireside talent shows, storytelling, and sing-alongs. As I shared here last year when our Seniors returned from India, Oak Grove trips offer our students opportunities to grow and learn in ways not possible in a classroom.

Beginning in Kindergarten, immersive trips enhance learning through direct hands-on experiences that are central to the Oak Grove experience. Kindergarten students practice spending the night at “school,” but still as a family and on the school campus, somewhere familiar and safe. Then in early Elementary, the camp-out moves away to Carpinteria, first with parents, then the following year, without parents. The students practice being with teachers and peers away from home, but geographically close. In Upper Elementary, the focus is on going to places further away with more physically challenging activities: group bike rides, longer hikes, and bouldering. Then they are off to our local forest carrying their own packs, swimming in water holes, and out of cell phone range. In Junior High, students travel by plane to other states to sleep in teepees, to river raft, and study glacier science. By High School, the students are ready to take 6-10 day treks through the forest and Southwest without contacting parents.

Each trip offers new opportunities for the student to engage with nature, learn to pack only the essentials to keep the pack light, respect the natural environment, stay on the trail, pack in and pack out what they bring, stretch beyond their comfort zone and practice survival skills. The trips are increasingly challenging physically and require a deepening psychological preparedness.

These trips, however, are not just for our students. These trips are also for parents.

From the moment of birth our children begin growing away from us. Each moment brings new opportunities for children to gain confidence in their ability to be separate, for parents to trust that the child is capable of separating, and for both to trust that this separation is natural and safe. These trips allow the child and parent an ever-increasing practice in separating.

There are things that cannot be learned conceptually—digging a hole in the wilderness to go to the bathroom, overcoming a fear of water or heights, pushing ourselves physically beyond what our mind believes is possible (just one more step), and, perhaps the most difficult of them all, letting a child grow away from us.

 

To ease any health concerns about returning to campus following the Thomas Fire, please read the following update on our post-fire campus cleaning efforts.

On December 11, we contracted with ASR Property Restoration, a certified, professional fire damage clean-up and restoration company. By December 13, the owner, Kirk Prouse, in consultation with their Industrial Hygienist, detailed a comprehensive plan to clean our campus, which inaugurated with delivery of commercial grade air scrubbers that have been running since and will continue until the campus is given official clearance.

As the ash and smoke were initially so thick, ASR was asked to postpone cleaning until the air quality improved and ash deposits diminished. We wanted to have the campus cleaned as close to the start of school as possible. Our maintenance team, headed by Operations Director Jacqueline Valle, has worked hand-in-hand with ASR to follow all protocols, which are derived from the highest industry standards. In fact, the team of 30 professionals have literally removed every book from every bookshelf and wiped them clean. What follows is a comprehensive list of what has and continues to be done on our campus.

Exterior protocol:

  • Sweep, bag and dispose of visible ash
  • Pressure-wash shingles, walls, walkways, windows, play equipment, lunch tables, lockers, and decks
  • Remove top layer of playground sand, water and till multiple times, add new sand to top
    Inspect sand repeatedly through process for visible signs of fire-related deposits
  • Permanently dispose of soft items unable to be sufficiently cleaned (i.e. sofa from Group C porch)
  • Water playing fields on increased schedule to allow ash to liquify and seep into the earth
  • Wash all school vehicles inside and out

Interior protocol:

  • Vacuum and wipe down all horizontal and vertical surfaces using HEPA vacuums to remove visible fire-related deposits
  • Deodorize porous materials and soft items (paper items, stuffed toys, curtains, etc.) using a medical grade odor eliminator and disinfectant; leaving only water and oxygen behind
  • Launder all linens (items left in lost and found)
  • Wash all reusable air filters
  • Replace all paper air filters with the highest allowed MERV-rated filters per manufacturer recommendations
  • Replace all drinking water filters
  • Clean all carpets and floors
  • Use commercial grade “air scrubbers” via HEPA air filtration in all interior spaces

The Oak Grove staff is grateful to the thousands of firefighters, good neighbors, first responders, and volunteers who continue to work so hard preserving life and property. Two fire crews are currently being hosted on our campus. We are caring for them well with food, coffee, and sleeping accommodations.

This week all of our parents received a direct communication from their child’s teacher providing options to mitigate the loss of school days. They also shared reminders about listening and talking with children to help them to reflect on recent events. Elementary, Junior High and High School teachers have offered optional academic resources and learning suggestions for students to do over the winter break. End-of-term reports will go out on time and senior transcripts will make their way to colleges and universities.

When we return in January, teachers will support opportunities in the classroom for our students to reflect on their experiences with the Thomas Fire. For now, the priority is that your family has time to rest and recover.

Our community has experienced something that has possibly caused us to, in the words of poet Mary Oliver, “pay attention” and “be astonished.” Her poem also invites us to “tell about it.” In January we will be compiling a school-wide Community Scrapbook, a collection of our individual experiences of the Thomas Fire. We have asked all of our secondary students to write a personal reflection piece (prose or poetry) on their experience while it is still fresh in their hearts and minds. We’d like to invite all families to do the same. You can do an individual reflection or create an individual family page and include a photo or drawing. Don’t worry about formatting — we’ll put it together. You can work with younger children by having them dictate their stories and/or draw pictures. Submit the reflection with digital photos or scanned drawings between now and January 15th to Meredy Benson Rice.

Amidst the chaos of recent events, our seniors continue to complete college applications and prepare for the trip to India. They depart on December 27 and return late in January. Let’s wish them well on this incredible opportunity to explore a rich and vibrant culture and to make connections with our sister schools.