Rewind to Friday, March 12, 2020, when Quest Academy, a therapeutic school program for students with varying degrees of cognition who need behavioral interventions and support located in Cowlitz County, was forced to close its doors because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our students only had school Monday through Thursday the week of the shutdown so when we were told we had to close on that Friday, we didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to them,” explained Quest Academy Director Dr. Sara Paul. Her staff quickly began to pivot to online learning but found that they weren’t able to meet the special needs of their students on Zoom. So, they dug deep and came up with creative ways to interact with kids at home.

They found that they needed to entertain and educate at the same time. Quest began doing a version of outdoor school online for students to participate in. A behavioral coach created a YouTube Channel for students to tune into. “News Cuts” were delivered daily. It was all hands on deck for staff to reach students who needed behavioral intervention through the computer.

“We really needed to reach our highly impacted students,” explained Paul. “Students that cannot wear a mask.” So, she and her team came up with a re-entry plan and proposed it to the ESD 112 COVID Committee for approval. With very strict protocol in place including N95 masks, scrubs, temperature checking and constant hand washing, Quest Academy was the first “school” of its kind to reopen in the state. Reopening, however, looked vastly different than before. With a one-to-one student teacher ratio per classroom, staff had to work extra hard and adapt to cleaning and still meet the needs of every student they serve.

Part of their strategy was to construct an outdoor classroom that students would rotate through every six weeks. This allowed for more room in the building and for students to have a chance to get outside. “The outdoor classroom has always been in the plan for Quest, but COVID expedited it to a reality for us this year,” said Paul.

Quest has found that with the new safety process and procedures in place, kids are still meeting their standards. “Our staff truly love our kids,” explains Paul. “Families can find everything they need here. For example, one student refused to get a haircut. Well, one of our staff has a beautician license and we were able to cut that child’s hair. When families need anything, our staff finds ways to make it happen with a ‘whole-kid’ comprehensive approach.”

Quest was fortunate to not have any transmissions take place at the school and continues to operate under strict guidelines for students and staff. Almost all K-12 students are back to in person and the staff continues to go above and beyond to see that they receive the best support possible.

You can learn more about Quest Academy on their website.