Nyssa High School began classes this week, with teachers reaching out to students online and making sure they can connect. The campus showed few outward signs summer break had ended. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
There is no map for a school year like 2020-21, and so Oregon schools are exploring the new education world in a variety of ways.
North Wasco School District will open Monday, Aug. 31, with three days of virtual orientation.
Interim Superintendent Theresa Peters said teachers will be explaining how this fall’s distance learning will look different from the spring.
“The big picture is about that connection with the kids and the family,” Peters said.
North Wasco, based in The Dalles, will start its instruction Thursday, Sept. 3, with a little different school day.
Elementary and middle school students will have real-time learning in the morning with peer interaction. In the afternoon, students will apply their learning with activities and homework. It will also be a chance for teachers to reach out to students they didn’t see in the morning.
High school students will start their real-time learning in the afternoon. Peters said parent feedback revealed some families relied on the older children to help the younger children with their lessons, so the district staggered its real-time learning schedules. The staggered schedule also eases the strain on home internet connections and computer access.
Echo School District southeast of Hermiston moved its start from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31 to give more time to shift from an in-person learning plan to a comprehensive distance learning plan. Rising coronavirus cases in Umatilla County earlier this month made in-person classes impossible.
Teachers for the younger students are reaching out to parents to find out when an adult might be available to help during the day, according to Superintendent Raymon Smith. The kindergarten schedule will be from 1 to 6 p.m. because families indicated that was an easier time to make an adult or older sibling available to help, Smith said.
“We know a kindergarten student isn’t going to learn by themselves sitting at home,” he said.
For middle and high school, students will have 30 minutes each of real-time instruction for all their classes in the morning. The afternoons will be for labs, recitations, practice and other activities to deepen learning. Smith said the schedule allows flexibility to give students extra help if they need it.
Echo, a district of about 300 students, has created small cohorts so that it can keep the same schedules when it shifts from distance learning to in-person classes.
Smith also hopes to be able bring in some students in the afternoons at some point for career and technical education.
“We don’t want to discontinue CTE because that is what some of these kids are here for,” Smith said. “That is their future.”
Echo set up evening appointments this week for students and families to meet their teachers, pick up learning materials, and receive training on Google Classroom, Zoom and the district’s learning platform.
“It’s going to be a learning experience for all of us,” Smith said.
Nyssa School District just south of Ontario was also planning on in-person classes, but Malheur County is not meeting the coronavirus case metrics to open schools. The district put together weekly cohorts of less than 80 students so that it can more easily shift into in-person learning under Oregon Department of Education guidelines.
“If we are allowed to come back in person, we want to stay in school,” said Superintendent Darren Johnson.
Teachers who had expected to have students in their classrooms are playing catch-up with training for online teaching, he said.
On Nyssa’s first day, Aug. 26, teachers connected students to their classes and set up what online learning will look like. Teachers will be working from their classrooms to avoid connectivity issues and to give them access to all their materials.
Nyssa has changed its eight-period day to a four-period day with longer classes. Students will be able to earn a full-year class credit in a semester. Students will have fewer classes per day to keep track of but will still be able to earn the same total number of credits over a year.
Teachers are also figuring out the new rules of classroom management.
“Will there be some shenanigans? Probably,” Johnson said. “If you’re not a first-year teacher, you are now.”