City Garden School has found a formula that so far appears to be successful for them during the pandemic.

The private school for children in first through fifth grades most days is in a 30-acre, wooded classroom at Camp Takimina, 20 minutes outside of Columbia.

The school has 35 students.

"Last year we had 18 students," said Tory Kassabaum, director of school affairs.  "We've doubled our enrollment from being outdoors."

Another feature of the school is a lack of electronic devices. The school doesn't use any technology.

"School started in late August, with students playing and learning in the woods," she said.

The students withstand some mildly uncomfortable weather outdoors, Kassabaum said.

"They're practicing resilience," she said.

Luck may be on their side too. The day when there was snow on the ground was the day of parent-teacher conferences, so there was no school.

When the weather is unsafe on school days, students learn in classrooms the school rents from Calvary Episcopal Church in town. The classrooms allow the children to have appropriate physical distance, and they wear masks when they have to be indoors.

The children are more free when outdoors, Kassabaum said. They don't wear masks if they're able to stay apart in the woods. But if they're all gathered together to look at a frog, for example, they wear masks.

The school so far has been able to avoid any shutdowns from COVID-19 infections, she said. When a family member is sick, the student quarantines at home for 10 days.

"That's worked well for us," Kassabaum said.

The school hopes to soon be able to purchase a yurt, a type of circular, domed tent. It's somewhat more permanent than a tent. It will allow more flexibility for students to study inside when the weather isn't ideal, but to remain in nature.

It won't be in place for winter weather, she said.

Fundraising will start soon for the $65,000 item.

"It's a long-term goal," she said.

There's a tiered tuition system. The cost is $6,700 annually, with 10 hours of volunteer work a month during the 10-month school year; $7,800 annually with five hours of volunteering; and $8,850 with no volunteering required.