Despite Virus, Erg Ed Stockton Continues in Boarding School

Schools across the country are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Students are facing the rest of this academic year from their homes, through home-schooling, or online classes.

But what if your school is your home?

Discovery ChalleNGe Academy is a community high school run by the National Guard. At DCA, students live on-campus for five of their 17 months as part of the program. DCA serves high-school-aged students from 16 to 18 years old who are at high risk of dropping out of school or having a credit deficit.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Discovery ChalleNGe Academy made the decision to keep all their live-in students on campus during shelter-in-place, deciding it would be more dangerous to send students home to family and possibly infect wider communities, said Pat Tirone, the Erg Ed Stockton Lead.

Even during a global pandemic, Discovery ChalleNGe Academy has not stopped its dedication and commitment to its students and neither has Erg Ed Stockton. While teachers at the academy are unionized and aren’t actively teaching in classrooms during this time, other school staff are staying on to make sure essential functions of the school take place.

The state-wide shelter-in-place order went into effect for California on Monday, March 23. Shortly before that date Tirone and Erg Ed Stockton had delivered 20 rowing machines to the academy in preparation for their Erg Ed unit.

Despite the pandemic, the school administration suggested that Erg Ed continue. Tirone, and her husband Bob Oprandy, were up to the challenge.

Bob Oprandy instructing DCA cadets in Erg Ed
Bob Oprandy instructing DCA cadets in Erg Ed

Researching online, Discovery ChalleNGe Academy looks a lot like military school or a boot camp one might find in a movie. The students live in barracks furnished with sparse bunk beds, dress in fatigues, and march in formation.

Erg Ed is a highlight of the year at DCA, it is usually reserved as a privilege for higher-ranking cadets. Tirone and Oprandy wanted to make sure that the students were able to continue to row. Armed with masks, gloves, glasses, and cleaning supplies they went to the school to teach the Erg Ed lessons.

Staff and school visitors are temperature checked upon entry and exit and are required to wear personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. Staff and visitors are required to distance themselves from the students, but the students can maintain normal distances as they are quarantined together.

The hardest part, Tirone said, was not being able to smile.

“Not being able to [use non-verbal signals] with the kids to emphasize our words of how well they were doing and how excited we were to be working with them was a struggle,” said Tirone. “By the end of day two I couldn't stand it any longer - I moved to the opposite end of the pavilion, pulled my mask down far enough so they could see my face and shared with them how much we appreciated their efforts, their focus, and their progress.”

While the world is on pause for many, there are the few who are endangering themselves to make a difference in others’ lives. Tirone and Oprandy have been putting themselves at heightened risk in an effort to keep the students at DCA moving on the ergs. We are thankful for them and all those who are willing to work during this time to help others.

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