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Pre-K through sixth-grade students returned to school April 5, as part of a hybrid re-opening plan.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Joseph Gale Principal Troy Fisher greets students with an 'air high five' upon their return to in-person learning Monday morning, April 5, at Joseph Gale Elementary on 18th Avenue.It's been more than a year, but as of this week, kids are finally back in the building at elementary schools in and around Forest Grove.

Elementary schools throughout the Forest Grove School District welcomed back students in pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade Monday, April 5, to a hybrid learning program that combines in-person instruction with continued "distance learning" from home.

Kids at Joseph Gale Elementary School were greeted upon arrival by members of the Forest Grove Police Department, a handful of school teachers and administrators, and an excited principal, Troy Fisher, who offered "air" high-fives for equally excited students returning to school for the first time in more than a year.

"This is so awesome," Fisher said. "The juice that we have, that all the staff have when the kids come through the doors, is just beyond words. It's like the first day of school all over again, so it's very cool."

Superintendent David Parker said in a message to the community Friday, April 2, that safety will be of the utmost priority as students return to classrooms. Parker added that district and individual schools will "continue to be vigilant with safety protocols."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Students piled out of arriving cars at Joseph Gale Elementary School Monday morning, April 5, as in-person learning resumed for Forest Grove area Pre-K through sixth-graders.He also reminded people that due to students having not been in the buildings for more than a year, residents should be hyper-aware of their surroundings in school zones and drive slowly.

At Joseph Gale, classrooms will be operating at 50% capacity on any given day. Half the kids in hybrid learning will attend in-person classes Monday and Tuesday, while the remaining half of the kids remain online. Those online kids will come to school Thursday and Friday, while the Monday and Tuesday in-person learners spend those days learning online.

Wednesdays are reserved for deep cleaning of the buildings.

School days under Forest Grove's hybrid model are short, starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 11:30 a.m.. Students receive a breakfast — which they'll eat in their classrooms — at the door, as well as a lunch as they leave for home. There are no planned recesses, but teachers have the option of reserving the relatively small on-site playground for their class for intermittent exercise.

Forest Grove is also continuing to provide comprehensive distance learning for students whose families have opted not to send them back into classrooms for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.

Seventh- through 12th-grade students will return to campuses Monday, April 19, under Forest Grove's return-to-school plan.

Safety protocols include 6-foot markers throughout the hallways; desks are all 6 feet apart; and masks must be worn at all times.

Even still, having kids back in school is encouraging for everyone, Fisher and Parker said.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Parents and students return to school at Joseph Gale Elementary School on Monday, April 5. Pre-K through sixth-graders are back as part of a the district's hybrid learning plan."We are excited to have students returning to the buildings for in-person instruction," Superintendent Parker said. "As I visited schools today, it was great to see how excited the teachers, principals and students all were to be back in the buildings. We have spent more than a year in comprehensive distance learning, and while things are not fully back to normal, we are glad that we are moving in the right direction."

Fisher said kids and staff are all happy to be back as well.

"What's tough is that you've got to see the smile in their eyes, because they're all masked up," Fisher said with a chuckle. "But I've been asking everyone as they come in, and everybody I've talked to is just really excited."

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