School district leaders attribute much of the graduation success to the fact they were able to preserve quite a bit of in-person education

Personal interaction matters. In an increasingly virtual world, whether prompted by the COVID pandemic or breakneck improvements in technology, human-to-human connection remains crucial.

This point was perfectly punctuated recently when Oregon Department of Education released its Oregon At-A-Glance report. The report highlights what percentage of freshmen students in high schools and school districts throughout the state are on track to graduate in the traditional four-year timeframe.

The Crook County School District deserves congratulations as they wound up with the best marks among Central Oregon districts. More than 87% of freshman in the district are on track to graduate on time, a mark considerably better than Culver School District at 80.4% and considerably better than the state average among school districts of 73.6%. The numbers look even better if they are distilled down to individual high schools, with CCHS boasting more than 95% of freshmen on track to graduate in four years.

So, what sets Crook County schools apart? How have they managed to keep their freshman on track? District leaders attribute much of the success to the fact they were able to preserve quite a bit of in-person education. Recall that while many schools were educating kids online for most or all of the school year, Crook County K-3 kids started last school year in the classroom. About a month later, grades 4 and 5 joined them and all the upper grades transitioned to a hybrid model that brought them to school buildings twice a week. Then, the entire second semester was taught in person. Local education leaders assert that the decision last year to prioritize in-person learning and bring students back into the classrooms has paid dividends with student success.

Personal interaction mattered. Putting teachers in front of students, encouraging face-to-face (albeit masked) communication produced better outcomes. Follow the data.

That message not only remains important as people trudge through the COVID pandemic and its mask mandates and social distancing requests, it remains important as ours and future generations move forward into a more technologically advanced world. How common has it become to spend hours on a smartphone in lieu of personal conversations with family members or friends? How often do we hear about cyberbullying and keyboard warriors who feel emboldened to deliver cruel one-liners because they don't have to look the person in the eye?

Society doesn't need to completely step away from the new things that technological improvements provide. That isn't realistic and would take away some special opportunities that enrich our lives. Social media is wonderful in the sense that it gives people a way to connect with friends, family or even strangers with the click of a button – but it is also harmful when it is used to hurt people whose views differ from theirs. Zoom or Teams have helped keep businesses and organizations connected during the pandemic and could provide many opportunities for them once COVID has passed – but they should never supplant meeting face-to-face with people and connecting with them in person.

Personal interaction matters.

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