Students attend an outdoor academic class.
Dancers rehearse on a tennis court on the Pines side of campus.
A movement class in Upton-Morley Pavilion.
President Devey addresses students at the 2020 Interlochen Arts Academy Opening Convocation.
In a global pandemic, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
During this unprecedented situation, the strategies for continuing in-person instruction while maintaining the health of students, teachers, and staff are as diverse as the schools who devise them. Some approaches appear to be working. Others have proved less effective, and schools have been forced to pivot. As an administrator and as a parent, I feel deeply for the institutions that have had to make the difficult decision to send their students back home. We too, could find ourselves in a similar position but I have cause for optimism because of the discipline and resolve of our community.
One month ago, we welcomed students back to Interlochen Arts Academy for the 2020-21 school year. As I write this letter, our students are still on campus, living and learning face-to-face (although socially distanced) with like-minded peers and acclaimed educators.
Our continued operation is possible thanks not only to the comprehensive plan devised by our COVID-19 and Campus Health Task Forces, but also because of the dedication of our students, faculty, and staff. Prior to the start of term, we asked every member of our campus community to maintain a strict two-week quarantine. Upon their arrival on campus, all faculty, staff, and students were tested for COVID-19, with a second test administered one week later.
To date, more than 2,500 COVID-19 tests have been completed—and only two have come back positive. The first, a non-student facing employee who was experiencing symptoms, quickly reported this to Human Resources. The second, and unrelated, was a student.
Because we obtained an Abbott ID NOW device for Health Services, we were able to administer rapid tests to both the student and the staff member and confirm the infections. The employee is now recovering at home, and the student is also safely quarantined. In both cases, we initiated swift contact tracing to identify and test employees and students who came into contact with these individuals. Thankfully, all subsequent tests were negative.
Our test results, while impressive, are not surprising to those of us who truly understand Interlochen’s values. Our young artists are instilled with the discipline required to reach their goals. Our employees are equally dedicated to helping our students meet their potential. This profound, shared commitment to protecting our community and preserving in-person instruction helped all of us to fully embrace the personal responsibilities of keeping our distance, wearing our masks, and reporting any symptoms as soon as they emerge.
I’ve also been amazed by the positivity, flexibility, and cooperation of our community members during this highly unusual school year. During our first few weeks of class, our students utilized unconventional outdoor classrooms—Camp practice huts, a circle of chairs in a parking lot, a barre on a tennis court—that were a far cry from our usual state-of-the-art facilities. Musicians, actors, and dancers have adjusted to smaller ensembles and revised choreography to minimize potential exposure from aerosolized droplets and close physical contact.
Despite these sacrifices, there have been some unexpected benefits of our socially distant classrooms. Smaller class sections mean that each student is able to engage more meaningfully with their instructor and classmates. The loss of large ensemble rehearsals—usually a sizable portion of our music students’ days—has created time for in-depth study of specialized topics such as Music Leadership, Audition Preparation, Overcoming Performance Anxiety, and Effective Practice Techniques. The transition to Zoom masterclasses has opened the door to high-profile guests who might not otherwise be able to visit campus, such as hip-hop dancer Kenya Clay, Disney layout artist Tyler Kupferer, and poet Quan Barry.
As we continue to move forward, we remain cautiously optimistic and fully committed to the stringent health protocols that have proven successful thus far. We will continue to carefully monitor each member of our community for signs of illness and take every possible measure to ensure that artistic, academic, and personal learning can continue safely.
Furthermore, I want to thank you for the outpouring of support we have seen over the past few months. Nearly 600 individuals have stepped forward to make gifts to our Emergency Response Fund, bringing us ever closer to our $2 million goal. Thanks to your assistance, we have been able to implement these stringent health protocols and respond with additional financial aid for families experiencing hardships, enabling many students to continue to grow and thrive at Interlochen Arts Academy.
Thank you again for all you have done, and all you continue to do, to ensure there is no better place for young artists to thrive than Interlochen.