Spring break usually conjures up memories of one last break before heading back to school to dig in for the final assault on the finish line. But this year things took an entirely new twist when one by one states issued orders to shut down schools and move to providing education via a stay-at-home model.

At Dakota Adventist Academy, however, things evolved differently than in most places in the country. When North Dakota’s Governor Doug Burgum made the order to close schools, he specifically exempted Dakota Adventist Academy. As the school is located in the country a few miles from Bismarck, North Dakota, and because its students all live under one roof, Burgum felt they could work with the social distancing model families adopt.

Thus, DAA’s students were invited to return to campus and resume their studies. At the same time, DAA also offered online classes to those who chose to continue studies from home. More than half of the students returned, each with their own bedroom and bathroom.

The students ate meals and sat in classes six feet apart for the first 72 hours and through to the weekend. For the next seven weeks they worked, played, studied, worshiped and exercised together as usual. The campus remained closed and only specific staff made grocery or other needed runs.

“Little did we know as we were putting this together, aside from one private school in Tesopaco, Mexico, we were—as nearly as we could tell—the only Adventist high school with live, in-person classes operating in North America,” said principal Anthony Oucharek. “In this world of insecurity, where things can change overnight, it was good to have a place that provided some form of stability—some measure of living life to the fullest rather than hunkering down to wait out the storm,” he added.

The teachers have had to work a lot harder to provide classes and support for both online learners and the students in their care on campus. Partly due to the diligence of the teachers and some of the parents who kept their children at home, and partly due to the resilience of the students, they accomplished as much as before the pandemic.

Those students who worked on mechanics doubled down on their projects. Some students signed up for extra courses. Others worked on portfolios or found new creative outlets. The only program to see a hit was the robotics program, which was supposed to end in a meet in Orlando in early May.

“There has been much talk about whether or not schools will open again in the fall. As nearly as we have been able to tell, even if other schools remain closed in the fall, DAA has proven it can meet the initiative to provide for real-time education and we do plan to open our doors for live classes beginning Aug. 17,” said Oucharek. “We are taking applications, should any new students be looking for the stability we are able to provide during these tenuous times.”

Anthony Oucharek, Dakota Adventist Academy principal, with Jacquie Biloff, Dakota Conference communication director