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Kids are back in the virtual classroom for another year of learning under unique circumstances

COURTESY PHOTO: NEWBERG SCHOOL DISTRICT - Teachers and administrators are required to wear masks in school buildings to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 among staff.

If a school bell rings and no students are there to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is yes, according to Newberg teachers and administrators roaming empty hallways in masks at a safe social distance from each other.

The school year is underway, but no students are inside school buildings in Newberg and Dundee. Remote learning is the approach until COVID-19 cases plummet to levels deemed safe by the governor. So far the move has been a resounding success locally, Newberg School District communications director Gregg Koskela said.

"In general, we're really pleased," he said. "We're hearing that people are getting connected, things are working with the technology, and things are generally going well. We've had a few hiccups here and there but no major issues. We're just so proud of the work our teachers have done and are doing.

"Students are glad to be back and connecting. They'd all rather be in-person, but after a summer of COVID isolation they're glad to make connections. They're engaging with the classwork and we've had some great stories from teachers. We had preliminary work done by teachers at all levels to help kids get set up and troubleshoot any issues they might be having, and that's allowed us to get off to a strong start."COURTESY PHOTO: NEWBERG SCHOOL DISTRICT - While classrooms are empty and chairs are on desks, the job of Newberg teachers forges on with remote learning.

Schools are regularly checking in on students' connectivity and any issues with remote learning they might be facing, but Newberg High School has taken it a step further with a weekly meeting.

"The high school has implemented Tiger Time, which connects students with an adult they can trust once a week that can be an advocate for them and help with what they might need," Koskela said. "We've had supplies handed out but also checklists for students to get ready for logging in, how to be successful in this process, how to deal with stress and other challenges they might face."

More than 4,500 students are enrolled and connected in online learning districtwide, with more than 4,000 Google Chromebook laptops and 500 Internet hotspots distributed throughout Newberg and Dundee. Teachers and administrators have even gone to the homes of some families to help them address tech issues, all before the official start of the school year on Sept. 21.

The first week had few glitches, Koskela said.

"We're seeing that everyone is engaging and sticking with it so far," he said on Sept. 24. "This is different than the spring where nobody is going to be impacted grade-wise and we're just making our way through. These are graded assignments and students are right on top of them. Their teachers are, too."

It's been challenging for teachers and administrators, who miss seeing the students they serve just as much as the students likely miss each other. Nothing about this is normal, but the district is pressing on and addressing any bumps along the way.

"It was weird having completely empty hallways," Koskela said with a laugh. "I'd peek through a door and there's a teacher on her computer connected with the students, teaching in an empty room but the students are all on the computer. This is stuff they never anticipated needing to do, but they're doing a great job."

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