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Many elementary kids get back to schools for the first time in over a year; online sessions continue

COURTESY PHOTO - Kindergarten students Theo Davis (left) and Jeremiah Morgan experience their first day of in-person learning in Torrie Dowdy's class at the Gladstone Center for Children & Families in April.Earlier this week, Gladstone and North Clackamas elementary school students began returning to classrooms. It is part of new hybrid learning options that split classrooms into cohorts of 20 or fewer students and divide student-teacher time between on-site and online learning.

COURTESY PHOTO - Gladstone first-grade teacher Beth Taylor (right) welcomes her class to its first day of in-person learning at John Wetten Elementary School.While they have differing schedules, each school district has divided learning time between morning and afternoon sessions for kids who choose this so-called hybrid model, with students going to school or hopping on their computers depending on the day of the week, or whether it's before or after lunch.

Families who choose not to have their children attend the hybrid sessions in North Clackamas and Gladstone may continue with online learning through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. Masks are required for all children attending school together, whether they're inside or outside, and other safety precautions include extra building cleaning protocols and health checks.

Sixty-four percent of Gladstone families with elementary-school students have opted for the hybrid option, with 36% choosing to remain in distance learning only. Kindergartners and first graders started classes on April 1 and 2. Students in second and third grades are returning April 5 and 8, followed by fourth and fifth grades on April 8 and 12.

"We are excited to have teachers and students together in their classrooms," said Principal Michael Clutter of John Wetten Elementary. "This will give children more opportunities for academic learning and social-emotional skill building as well as more time for teachers to make personal connections with each child."

North Clackamas Superintendent Matt Utterback and Assistant Superintendent Shay James, who will be taking Utterback's place in the upcoming school year when he retires, recently wrote to families with more details about the various options for students.

"All of these options would not be possible without the dedication of our amazing staff and the partnership we have with our community and families," the North Clackamas superintendents wrote. "We appreciate your support, patience and understanding as we transition to this next phase."

North Clackamas and Gladstone schools are reopening much later than many had hoped, despite executive orders by Gov. Kate Brown. On Dec. 23, Brown ordered that teachers be vaccinated early, among other rule changes to encourage more Oregon schools, especially elementary schools, to transition to in-person instruction by Feb. 15.

Grades 6-12 will begin hybrid learning starting April 20 in Gladstone, and North Clackamas received a weeklong deadline extension from state officials to begin in-person classes a week later for its middle and high schools.

Teachers have been getting creative in their attempts to keep students engaged through online classes, and educators also have found ways for students to safely interact and learn through limited in-person activities.

Gladstone High School students in the History and Culture of Foods class had the opportunity to make pizza using an outdoor wood-fired oven using cooking strategies from the days before electric appliances. Students prepared their pizza at home, then dropped by in shifts to bake it in front of the school. COURTESY PHOTO - Gladstone High School seniors Marissa Gould (left) and Olivia Tipton share the pizzas they made using a wood-fired oven, which was an assignment for their social studies class.

"When Mr. Misley told us we would be going to the school to use the pizza oven, it gave me some hope. I was finally going to see my teacher in person and see some of my classmates!" said GHS senior Marissa Gould. "I ended up seeing lots of my teachers passing by. It was nice to interact with them without a screen in the way. And I also learned how to make a pizza from scratch and cook it myself, which was delicious by the way! When I left the school, I couldn't stop smiling."

Meanwhile, musicians from Kraxberger Middle School and Gladstone High School recorded an Almost Spring virtual concert to showcase their work from winter term. The performance can be viewed at The seventh- and eighth-grade bands performed "Pumped" by Bruce Broughton. The combined high school bands performed "Black Forest Overture" by Brian Balmages.

"Students each recorded their part using a backing track," said band Director Seth Arnold. "The individual parts were then edited using a sound mixer to create a group performance. It's been challenging to do this when we can't be together, but I've really enjoyed seeing the progress they've made."

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