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Culver School District has students in classrooms two hours a day five days per week

MADRAS PIONEER - Culver Elementary Principal Stefanie Garber shows third-grader Jasmine Herd Leach what is in her meal pack for the day. Jasmine says it's pretty fun to be able to come to school for two hours a day.

Hudson Crockett's dark eyes peeked over his black face mask as he sat at his desk inside Culver Elementary School.

He thumbed through his reading textbook, looking for page 271.

His nine classmates turned to the story in their books. Carolyn Herringshaw reminded her students that third graders do a lot of reading.

"I like it because all my friends are back, and I get to see the school again," Hudson said about being in school two hours a day. "I have had a lot of happy memories here."

Surely Hudson's memories of third grade will include short days at school, physical distancing, hand sanitizer and face masks.

But at least he will remember coming to school.

Most students across the state do not have that privilege.

"Two hours isn't enough, but it is sure better than nothing," said Culver Elementary School Principal Stefanie Garber. "We see the onsite kids for five days a week, and that part has been incredible."

Garber also serves as the Culver School District superintendent, where the families of the 661 students had a choice to make in August. District families were sent a survey and selected which format of learning they wanted for their students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Option 1 was Comprehensive Distance Learning with two hours of onsite support each school day. Option 2 was full-time Comprehensive Distance Learning with offsite teacher-guided instruction via Google Classroom on a computer. Option 3 was teacher-designed packet work.

Of the 288 Culver Elementary students, 201 chose Option 1, 59 students are doing all remote learning, and 28 are doing paper packets.

State guidelines have allowed 250 students in a school per week for up to two hours a day in cohorts of 10. New metrics released Friday, Oct. 30, allow more Oregon students to be in school. HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Third-grader Hudson Crockett says he has made lots of happy memories at Culver Elementary School.Garber said her district has begun planning for this transition to full-time onsite learning.

In Culver, half of the elementary students in Option 1 come in the morning, and the other half comes in the afternoon. The onsite time for the middle school is morning only, and the onsite time for the high school is afternoon only. District buses make full routes to and from school twice a day, and students physically distance and wear masks on the bus.

Students receive a breakfast and lunch meal pack daily. For students who do not come onsite, those that live in town drop by the cafeteria to pick up their meal pack, and the district delivers the meal packs to the homes of the students who live farther out from the schools.

"Our cafeteria crew has gone over and above to make homemade meals," Garber said.

Culver schools started Sept. 14, and as the first quarter concludes, Garber said things are going well.

"We actually are doing teaching during the two hours, so they are getting reading, math and writing," she said. "Our online kids stream in, so they're seeing the real teaching, and they're part of the regular classroom."

Garber said having students in school each day allows teachers to see who needs additional support and take care of their social-emotional needs. Families are grateful that their children can be in class and are happy again — even it if is just 10 hours a week.

"Even though two hours of instruction a day doesn't seem like it's worth it, it is in so many ways," says Herringshaw, the third-grade teacher at Culver Elementary. "The two hours are pretty intense, but students are engaged."

She noted that students are happy to be back in a routine and that many feel special because they are being allowed to come back to school, so they treat it like it is a privilege.

"Comprehensive Distance Learning is a big fail, and kids are really suffering mentally and emotionally," Garber said. "The online option is just plain difficult."

She said the younger the child, the more assistance they need to participate and get their work done, and families do not have that kind of time or expertise.

"We are seeing a lower quality of work across the entire district in the online and packet-only students. It is understandable and continued proof that distance learning doesn't work," Garber said. "It's the biggest, most complicated puzzle I've ever been a part of."

Herringshaw said she has seen improvement in students' confidence because they can get more individualized help with the small cohorts.

"Students who struggle academically are getting help because they get more attention," she said, noting that she prefers teaching in person because she can share life lessons as well as academic lessons.

"I have worried about students not maintaining a good work ethic and good classroom behavior when they haven't been able to come to class," she said. "Even though two hours of instruction a day for 10 students at a time seems like it might not be worth the effort, I see so many positives in student learning and behavior that I know it is definitely worth it!"

Of the 167 Culver Middle School students, 115 chose onsite learning, 41 are online only, and 11 do packets.

At Culver High School, 83 of the 206 students are onsite, 110 are online, and 13 students do packets.

Garber said district teachers are working three times as hard. They teach onsite, online, and prepare the paper packets.

"They're exhausted. They work so late every day," Garber said. "But they are so willing to do it because they love children, and we're really blessed that the teachers are willing to go over and above for the children."

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