Back-to-school in Beaverton brings mixed emotions
For Kinnaman Elementary School Principal Ashlee Hudson, seeing the smiling eyes of her masked students for the first time in a year and a half was "pure magic."
"Just the absolute joy on the staff and students' faces. I mean, we can't actually see their mouths smiling — but you can tell," she said. "There was just a really fabulous energy that we didn't really have last year remotely."
As the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread, Oregon schools have moved forward to life in the classroom with the virus. Beaverton School District returned to in-person school on Wednesday, Sept. 8, the week after neighboring Portland Public Schools.
For many of Sapphire Dorfman's first-grade students, it was their first time attending a class in person.
"We had a lot of kids who had never gone to school before," Dorfman said. "And so that was quite an experience for them to see what school is really like."
Dorfman was struck by one of her student's excitement over the novel concept of sitting at a "real desk." Another was overjoyed to find out that the playground had not one, but two slides.
On Wednesday, Dorfman taught students how to use scissors, an interactive exercise that was much more challenging to duplicate online.
"I mean, a lot of these kids totally stayed online last year," she said, "and so they had no idea what it was like in a real classroom."
Beaverton schools had somewhat of a "first day" back in person last spring, but Hudson said the energy was much different back then. Students only came to class for a couple hours a day and were sent home for lunch.
Wednesday was the first time in 18 months that students got to experience a more-or-less typical school day.
"Our staff does a really great job of connecting with the kids and realizing that their stamina for attending a full day of school may not be there yet," Hudson said. "And I feel like our staff did a really great job of planning for that, and making sure that the entire day was engaging."
While many welcomed the first day back to school in person, some parents were still hesitant to send their kids back to school. School district officials encouraged students and parents who prefer to learn remotely to enroll in the district's FLEX online school.
But the FLEX program does have its limitations.
"The primary reason for FLEX not being a good option for my kids is because we go to a lottery option school," said one parent who asked that her name not be used. "The Beaverton School District has said that if I enroll my kids in FLEX, they will have to reapply, which means apply and hope that the lottery system works in my favor, when COVID is — hopefully — over in the near future."
Unlike the distance learning model Beaverton schools had adopted earlier in the pandemic, the FLEX curriculum is not meant to reflect the school's in-person curriculum,
"FLEX, self-admittedly, has a different structure and sets of classes, which will mean another gap in the curriculum they are learning," the parent said. "No matter how much effort is put into seamlessness, there will always be a difference in curriculum, teaching style and teaching amount. This difference and the subsequent effect on my children's education will undoubtedly be larger than if they were to study online in (comprehensive distance learning)."
But despite these limitations, Beaverton doesn't appear to be implementing another comprehensive distance learning model anytime soon.
District leaders and officials are instead encouraging students to wear masks and for parents to make sure their children who are eligible for the vaccine get the shot.
"Just know that it's not only an act of self-care, but it's about caring for the entire community," Hudson said.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Gov. Kate Brown, along with other state health and education officials, warned Oregonians that remote learning may have to come back if "we all don't do our part."
The rapid increase in COVID-19 cases over the past month or so has largely come among unvaccinated people, according to state health officials.
As of Tuesday Sept. 7, 1,140 people were hospitalized due to the virus, and intensive care and hospital beds in the state were 91% full.
The Oregon Department of Education announced additional advisories for parents of school-age children to limit "non-essential" family gatherings and suggested schools should consider hosting activities and extracurriculars outdoors.
Hudson said they've already implemented some of these guidelines.
"One thing that is very different is when we have students that are singing or playing, we move those classes outside for those activities," Hudson said. "And P.E. needs to be outside as well."
The cafeteria also has assigned seating, Hudson said.
It made the first day back feeling more like a wedding venue than a school cafeteria, she joked.
"That was very different for us," Hudson said. "We have some logistics that we need to iron out on our end to make it feel a little bit smoother."
Moving forward, Hudson hopes there will be a finalized plan on how to deliver instructions for students exposed to the virus who need to be quarantined.
"We do already have students prior to the first day of school that are already in quarantine," she said. "So we know that's going to happen. The delta variant is really going through the community and spreading, and we're going to do everything that we can to keep our staff and students safe."
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