How we stayed safe and had amazing adventures during a pandemic.
March 16, 2020:
We came out of the backcountry after hiking 100 miles on the Arizona Trail only to find the world had changed. People’s family members were ill with this new sickness. Grocery store shelves were already bare and there was talk that states would start to shut down their borders. Other programs were sending their students home.
We decided to let students and their families make the decision to stay or go home. Less than half of our group decided to leave. The rest of us headed back to Paonia and settled into the stability of home-base and quarantine life. Our new curriculum was chosen by participants and included a variety of building, art, and personal growth projects.
May 21, 2020:
We are proud to say we completed our spring semester safely. It was challenging but we also felt blessed that we had a remote campus where isolating together as a community was fun and outdoor adventures could continue on in a pandemic.
June 1, 2020:
Based on the previous season’s success at navigating covid-19, we decided to move forward with the Gap Year that would begin in September 2020. Families in the US were glad to have a domestic option that could run safely. We also decided that the Spring travel semester would need to occur in the Desert Southwest rather than in Guatemala. While somewhat disappointing to not be able to travel internationally, we love to find ways to make great adventures out of whatever situation we encounter.
September 2, 2020:
Nineteen new participants plus staff came together from all over the United States to begin the 2020-2021 Gap Year program. Everybody quarantined at their homes and was tested before they came. Fortunately everyone was healthy and the program got underway!
November 11, 2020:
We completed the first semester and it went wonderfully. Over half the group went out for their Winternships. Those that stayed on the HDC campus for the winter dove into projects ranging from cooking with local experts to building a cabin to taking care of horses.
February 14, 2021:
We came together again to begin our second semester in the Southwest. We do plan to go into Mexico briefly but have canceled our home-stays so we can keep outside contact to a minimum. Instead we will spend more time hiking, rock climbing, and learning about ecology, border issues, water politics and whatever other curiosities arise.
March 13, 2021
We are very optimistic about next year’s program! Covid-19 vaccination is likely to become available to those who want it by June or July. With or without the vaccine, we know it’s possible to run an excellent and safe program here in Paonia for the fall. It seems very likely that by the winter of 2022, international travel will be safe and open up so we can welcome international students to the program again and travel as planned in Mexico and Guatemala.
November 1, 2021
We have now run three gap year programs during covid times and learned a lot in the process. This past semester ran successfully, and it has been great to be part of an intimate, close community that lives together hugging/dancing/etc without masks (at least when just with each other). In the final weeks of our first semester we experienced our first covid outbreak. In total four people ended up testing positive and isolating on the HDC campus for ten days and then rejoining the group. This Covid infection entered our community via our few unvaccinated residents who were not following HDC covid protocols. Everyone who was infected made it through safely, and isolated for the time they were contagious.
November 28, 2021
Our understanding of what it takes to run a quality and safe program during covid is ever evolving. Given our current experience and understanding, and through consulting with our medical advisor, we ask all participants and staff to abide by the following guidelines.
We require that all staff and participants have evidence of either a complete covid vaccination or evidence of having already had covid either by previous positive test results or a positive antibody test.
During programs, all residents agree upfront to:
Travel to HDC using appropriate covid caution
Minimize time spent inside with people not in our group (i.e. we minimize attending movies, time in restaurants and stores, etc.).
Mask when entering busy indoor public places
If somebody in our group does get covid, that person will isolate for ten days from the rest of the group. Because our facilities are limited, this might be in a tent or a hotel room. Those who have had recent close intimate contact with infected people will be cautious (masked, mostly outdoors) for five days and then be tested. The rest of the group will continue as normal.