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In the wake of the state's new metrics for in-person school, Banks pivots to embrace a virtual beginning.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Students pack the hallways on the first day of classes last year at Banks High School, on Sept. 4, 2019.Banks, like most schools, was hoping for the best when it came to the fast-approaching school year. But like most in the state of Oregon who were anticipating sending there kids off to school in September, the reality of the ongoing pandemic had other ideas.

Prior to Oregon Governor Kate Brown's announcement last week regarding minimum requirements to resume in-person instruction, the Banks School District had planned to go ahead with a hybrid plan, similar to what Forest Grove and other surrounding districts had in mind. Yet, in the wake of the announcement, the school — like everyone else in Washington County — is left with having to put together a virtual plan, similar but not entirely like what they had in place this past spring.

"What we did last spring was very loose, there were very little expectations for staff and students," Banks High School Principal Jacob Pence said. "You couldn't give letter grades. If you were passing at the time, you've passed. So I think it'll look differently now that we're required to take attendance, and there's grades."

As part of the district's plan prior to the state's announcement, Pence said they'd hoped to get all of the elementary school kids in the building. While he feels the middle and high school kids are somewhat equipped to handle a virtual experience, it's far more difficult for young kids who are still in the process of learning the basics.

"Many (Elementary kids) can't read, they can't write, so if they're at home it's really hard for them to learn online," Pence said. "While with the middle school kids you can probably make it work, and high school kids can do it, so it's really just more about engagement and making sure they're on task."

Pence said while this fall's virtual experience will resemble the spring experience, they're working on a more flexible format that will help accommodate some of the difficulties, along with the unexpected benefits that have been exposed in recent months.

"The added flexibility means you don't necessarily have to do it live," he said. "A lot of our high school kids went out and got jobs and were able to work, and for some of our younger kids, parents might be at work, so they might not be able to do school during normal school hours. So were still trying to work out the details."

The principal added that it's recommended that kids not sit in front of their computers all day, but rather use a combination of "classroom" work, with some applied learning, potentially consisting of watching videos or researching on one's own, then responding on a website.

"I think that will allow them to get stuff done more quickly, as far as the actual learning and interactional part," Pence said. "But then the rest of the day they're kind of doing project-based stuff, which keeps them from sitting and listening to a lecture for 60 minutes."

The district's will also be working towards getting the necessary technological equipment out to families who need it, and help those same families by talking through the process and making sure they all understand how everything is going to work.

And how's the community reacted to the recent news regarding Fall's school schedule? Certainly there's been some concern from parents who work and do so while their kids are typically at school, but Pence said there's been talk of small cohorts of kids learning and playing together, with parents rotating in an effort to alleviate some of the time commitment for parents who need to be at work.

"I think as long as you stay in those small groups as small cohorts, and as small group of kids," he said. "I think that's pretty good."

What about teachers and administrators? Much has been made about the additional stress put on school employees in a virtual learning environment, but Pence said while it's difficult on everyone, it's imperative they all work to create the best educational experience possible, and do so expeditiously.

"We need to learn quickly and it can't be a wasted year," he said. "These kids have to get an education."

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