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Tipis 1: Homestead Triumphs During a Pandemic

By Peter Comstock

Dealing with a pandemic is, to say the least, a real chore requiring patience, understanding, hard work, and endurance—all of which combine into a quality called courage. And courage is what this school community has shown in abundance.

We have also discovered ways which make it rather easy to be courageous in the face of so many unknowns. One is service to others as shown by your giving and by the incredible PPE production which sent over 2,000 face shields to hospitals, nursing homes and first responders.

Another way to blunt the anguish of any trial is to embrace it: analyze its threats and discover that you cannot only live with it, but can, in fact, thrive and organize your life to make the very best out of a bad situation. In “making peace” with the pandemic, in effect, we can actually “defeat it” as a consequential and dominating anxiety in our lives.

One answer we came up with to deal with this unwelcome visitor in our lives is…….tipis. That’s right, we are talking about the creative solution to shelter used by Native Americans living on the Great Plains.

Photo by Randy Harris

When we planned to reopen, most lists of protocols recommend providing adequate ventilation, trying to limit protracted time in enclosed spaces, limiting the number of people in any given area, and isolating those groups from other groups.

We have taken this thinking a bit further. With the pandemic dictating distancing and smaller isolated groups, the normal reaction is one of disappointment and gloom. We say, “No way, Covid! We have a plan to outfox your psychological warfare, outflank you, and enter into a time in our lives of triumph, courage and downright happiness….because we now have tipis!”

We knew we wanted to divide our pods so that each half could have protracted periods beyond the room doing classwork and outdoor education projects. And we know the skies don’t always cooperate, so we thought about pole building pavilions but did not like the aesthetics. We considered large wall tents…..and then yurts…..before finally discovering tipis.

In late July poles were set up by our own “pitching crew”. Then came the skins, then the rubberized floors, then the desks for students to continue to learn in a beautiful space.

The students in each of our pods will have their own tipi dedicated to them alone, painted with a design different to any other tipi—for identification, community building, and excitement. Nine colorful tipis will bloom every season on our campus showing off, for instance, running bison and a prairie scene, or ravens and a full moon, or soaring hawks over a mesa. Take that, Covid!

Photo by Randy Harris

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