CARLSBAD — There is a new battle cry at the Army and Navy Academy, and it’s “buying in.”

School president Maj. Gen (ret.) Arthur Bartell has repeated the phrase countless times over the past several months and once again as the school welcomed back most of its cadets on Sept. 9 for in-person schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The college prep and military boarding school had its reopening plans approved by San Diego County and has put in strict guidelines for all students, staff and visitors. And while the school is unique as it houses most its students, the administration is ever careful with its “day” students, those who are local and commute to and from school.

The school has implemented a number of protocols such as mandatory masks (including physical training), hand sanitizing, physical distancing (even during formation drills), temperature and wellness checks, outdoor dining and outside hand washing stations, according to Col (ret.) Wayne Ward, commandant of cadets.

“Once we left in March, it was how do we reopen?” Ward said. “It was all dependent on the county and state. We had to develop a reopening plan. It was all on the county getting under the numbers.”

The academy also differs from its public counterparts because of a more controlled environment, but it doesn’t mean the coronavirus cannot penetrate the campus. Bartell said he fielded numerous calls from parents about the policies but was able to break down the realities of the situation, noting his No. 1 priority is the health and safety of his cadets at the all-boys academy.

“We spent the summer doing everything we can to open live,” Bartell said.

Cadets Ethan Hoffman and David Lin, both 17, and Henry Porter, 15, all said they never had any concerns about returning to campus. And since their return, they said the policies and self-policing by staff and the cadet leadership team has eased the tension as the students have found their new normal.

The three cadets said they trusted the staff would deliver the safest environment possible. Also, Hoffman said the leadership and buy-in of the cadets have made the transition easier, as everyone is on the same page until the pandemic subsides.

There are about 215 students enrolled this year, although 32 have remained at home, according to Lauren Smith, the Academy’s director of advancement. Those who are home are so for a number of reasons, from being unable to afford travel (many students are international) to health concerns.

As such, the academy has incorporated video cameras to live-stream classes to students around the country and world. For those in other time zones, the videos are uploaded, and they can watch the following day.

“The boys that are learning remotely, and some that are local, can be learning live,” said Ethan Segovia, dean of academics. “It’s about as close to in-person learning as you can get.”

And while Bartell sees his academy as a leader in how to reopen safely, he acknowledges the challenges facing public schools, which are more susceptible to other factors outside their control, such as the rising number of cases at San Diego State University, which could force distance-only learning for other schools.

Classrooms at Army and Navy, meanwhile, have also been scaled down from the usual 10-15 students to about six per class, according to Ethan Segovia said. Additionally, the school has also put in place numerous plexiglass barriers, while extending break periods so teachers can wipe down doors, desks and handles for a safe environment.

Ward also said the barracks have also been scaled down, noting some older buildings are being used to house just one student each.

And due to the politicization of the pandemic, Bartell expects a rise in applications as the school can handle about another 75 or so students. However, those who apply must follow the disciplined standards set forth by the school, noting this is where leadership rises to set the right example.

“My definition of discipline to the boys is very simple: do the right thing even when no one else is watching,” Bartell said. “I’ve just been blown away by the response from the boys. It has been beyond our wildest expectations in the positive. They understand it’s not about me, it’s about us.”

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