Back to school is looking a bit different for Beaverton students this year.
On Monday, April 5, pre-kindgerarten through second-grade students in the Beaverton School District went to back to school in person for the first time since March 2020.
The students will participate in a hybrid learning model. That means students will experience a mix of in-person and distance learning each week.
Kalay McNamee, the principal at Elmonica Elementary School in Beaverton, says she's excited to have lower elementary students back in the building.
"I'm super-excited to see their little faces again, even though I'll only see their eyes," said McNamee. "What's going to be really tough is not being able to give the high-fives. In the morning, when the kids would come to school, they would enter the cafeteria for breakfast, and I gave every child a high-five."
While the high-fives are on hiatus, children are greeted by a staff member once they arrive at school on bus, car or foot. The students then walk around the building to the exterior doors of their classroom, where they will sanitize their hands before entering.
Inside classrooms, desks are spaced 6 feet apart, with a maximum of 15 students per room. Students have a designated water bottle on their desk with their name on it to avoid contact with water fountains.
Sharing school supplies, ordinarily commonplace in classrooms like those at Elmonica, is being actively discouraged. Instead, every student is given a plastic bag with a paper notebook, sharpened pencils and other school supplies. There is also a bin to place used books that need to be sanitized after being touched by students.
"We're going through a phase where we're teaching children not to share," said McNamee with a chuckle. "That they will take care of their own things."
With sunny days ahead, children will also be eager to venture outside for recess but play structures and recess equipment is off-limits, added McNamee.
However, students will have opportunities to be social with their classmates outside by playing non-contact games. Teachers will also be equipped with measuring sticks and a sign to remind students to stay at least 6 feet apart.
"They have designated zones that are adequate for the class size, so that they can play outside or it can be used as a learning time," McNamee explained.
Physical education classes will also be limited to online lessons through Canvas or live sessions through Zoom.
Students will be taking their lunch home. The school provides each child with breakfast, lunch, a snack and supper.
Despite all of the changes, Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting is happy to have students in classrooms once again.
"We (are) so very pleased to welcome back our elementary hybrid students this week," Grotting stated Monday afternoon. "Our staff has missed seeing children's faces and hearing their laughter in person."
He added, "Today's return went very smoothly. Both staff and students — even our kindergarteners who've never been in our school buildings — did an excellent job of following the new safety protocols."
To help kindergarteners transition into in-person learning, Elmonica also has a staff member ready to guide a little one through using a restroom while following COVID-19 protocols.
McNamee says she wants students to have agency, but staff must stay vigilant at all times.
"We have designated footprints for waiting so we can make sure that only two students at a time are using the bathrooms," she explained.
Only 197 out of 463 students will be coming back to Elmonica for hybrid instruction. The rest are sticking with comprehensive distance learning for the balance of the 2020-21 school year.
McNamee says that the number of students returning to classrooms went up after school staff reached out to some parents about the need for their child to receive in-person instruction.
"Many of those students were striving learners, and many of them are in poverty," McNamee noted.
She also left it up to teachers to contact families and made sure there was enough space to accommodate parents who decided to switch over to hybrid instruction.
With in-person learning resumed, Beaverton schools also have plans in place if a student shows any COVID-19 symptoms. At Elmonica, McNamee said, a sick child will be taken to an isolation room, where parents can then pick them up from an exterior access point.
When asked if the building is safe for instruction, McNamee said that her staff has memorized the necessary routines and are following COVID-19 protocols day-in and day-out.
"I just want parents to feel confident and comfortable with returning their children to school. We have done everything in our power to make the school the safest that we possibly can," she said. "We've had the training that we need to have. We understand the rules and the expectations. We are going to do our very best to keep our children safe and our teachers safe as well."
As for upper elementary school students in the district, they will begin hybrid instruction on Thursday, April 8. Middle and high school students will return April 19.
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