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The youngsters, kindergarten through third grade, are in a hybrid learning model

SUBMITTED PHOTO: GRANT WATTS ELEMENTARY - A youngster at Grant Watts Elementary School in Scappoose is masked and ready to go on opening day of school. Grade school students in Scappoose and Warren finally had the chance to enter an actual school building and learn subjects the pre-pandemic way.

Monday, Feb. 8, saw the start of "hybrid learning" for students at Grant Watts and Warren elementary schools.

Hybrid learning involves a weekly combination of distance learning and in-school instruction.

The hybrid model in the Scappoose School District is now in use for kindergarten through third grade. Additional grades may be cleared to return to classrooms in the coming weeks.

The principal of Grant Watts, Jennifer Stearns, was pleased to see students return Monday after nearly a year away. The coronavirus pandemic prompted schools across Oregon to close last March, and many have yet to reopen.

Grant Watts and Warren elementary schools were among the first to welcome students back in Columbia County. The Vernonia School District also started in-person learning on Monday at its elementary schools.

The Rainier School District expects to bring students back next week, while the St. Helens School District is targeting a return date of March 8.

Stearns said the first day went well at Grant Watts, although the school did have to deal with a major internet outage that affected thousands of Columbia County addresses for much of the day on Monday.

"The preparations that the staff and administrators put into readying our school for hybrid learners certainly paid off," Stearns said. "The morning arrival was seamless. Staff was positioned around the exterior of the building to meet students and families coming back to school today."

Stearns continued, "Teachers performed their morning screenings and quickly scurried students off to begin their morning meeting and breakfast. Face-to-face learning happened in our building throughout the day. It looked and sounded like 'school,' with additional attention being focused on safety and social-emotional support. We have much to celebrate."

Asked if school attendance was what she expected, Stearns said it was. Scappoose parents were given the option to continue with comprehensive distance learning, and those who chose to send students back will do so two days per week, with different groups coming to school on different days.

"We carefully built our cohorts in order to meet Oregon Department of Education's social distancing expectations," Stearns explained.

Kids were excited about coming back to school, she added.

"We were all a bit giddy with excitement," Stearns said. "We saw many eyes smiling — as their masks covered their expressions. Students expressed their joy to return, and parents were very generous with their kudos to the staff at Grant Watts."

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