After nearly a year, La Salle Prep kids return to campus
After nearly a year away from school because of the pandemic, most of La Salle Prep's 650 students started returning to their Milwaukie-area campus last month.
Public schools in North Clackamas and Gladstone remain closed through at least spring break, despite executive orders by Gov. Kate Brown. On Dec. 23, Brown ordered that teachers be vaccinated early, among other rule changes to encourage more Oregon schools, especially elementary schools, to transition to in-person instruction by Feb. 15.
Last month, more than 500 of the Catholic high school's 650 students opted to enroll in La Salle's new hybrid learning program, in which students spend half of their school days taking classes on campus and the other half taking classes remotely. La Salle Prep students not enrolled in hybrid learning continue to learn from home full-time, watching the in-person lessons from their computers.
La Salle gave students the option of hybrid learning so the school could offer in-person instruction while still complying with small-group and 6-foot social distance requirements set by health authorities.
"Young people have recognized the need to stay home and keep communities safe even though they are not the most at risk," said La Salle interim principal Alanna O'Brien. "At the same time, they have given up so much — sports, time with friends, organized activities and social events — at a time in their lives when these pieces are so important to their well-being and development."
"We worried about students feeling isolated or lonely, and it's difficult to check on them when you don't see them in person," O'Brien added. "Our move to hybrid instruction will allow for stronger relationships to develop as we care for our entire student body."
La Salle started phasing in the hybrid learning program by bringing in small groups of students — called cohorts — Monday morning, Feb. 22. Each day a different group of students came on campus. By the end of the week, everyone who had signed up for hybrid learning had received a day's worth of in-person instruction.
On Monday, March 1, La Salle started "full hybrid learning." Half of hybrid students come to campus Mondays and Tuesdays, the other half come Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, both groups of students study at home, which the 150 distance learning students continue to do every day of the week.
Several students, including senior George Gilmore, said they were glad to be back at school: "I'll learn more rather than sitting in my room."
Gilmore said it was an adjustment to see his friends and classmates after being away from each other for so long.
"Everyone changed so much,'' he said. "We almost don't recognize each other."
Not only had the students changed — their school had, too.
In the weeks leading up to the opening, La Salle staffers taped red arrows to the hallway floors to convert them into one-way corridors so students could spread out while walking. They parked bottles of hand sanitizer at every entrance, and replaced long tables and benches in the cafeteria with one-person desks.
Classrooms also were set up with safety in mind. HEPA air purifiers hummed in each room while students sat in desks placed 6 feet or more away from the others. By the door of every room sat a basketful of antibacterial wipes students used to clean their desks between classes.
'Step in right direction'
Though remote learning stemmed out of need rather than want, educators and students both discovered it had a silver lining.
Attendance, for example, "has been phenomenal," said La Salle Vice-Principal Brian Devine.
Teaching online means that students who might have missed school because they were traveling could still attend classes when they had an internet connection.
That consistent attendance has helped keep courses on track, said O'Brien, adding that teachers say they're moving through the curriculum at a relatively normal pace this year.
"Our teachers have done a remarkable job keeping students engaged and preparing them for future success in college and beyond," she said.
Some students — such as sophomore Claire Schnyder — said she even liked learning from home.
"I think it's beneficial because it tests kids' time management," she said. "It causes you to work harder and build better skills, so when you do go back to school in person you have these skills already developed."
Though it's challenging to teach students at home and students in the classroom at the same time, social studies teacher Pete Snow said it's been nice to see students in person again.
Hybrid learning, he said, feels "like a step in the right direction."
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