Fall term a challenge for Inner Southeast schools
With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic sweeping through Inner Southeast Portland in March, schools – both public and parochial – abruptly closed their doors and began online "distance learning" programs. Some schools got off to a faster start than did others, as teachers and staff rushed to prepare materials to finish out the 2019-20 school year remotely.
According to a message sent out by Portland Pubic Schools (PPS) Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero near the end of July, "... After reviewing the best available guidance from health officials, and following the announcement by Governor Brown regarding new health metrics and standards for opening schools, we have determined that the PPS fall semester will begin online, using a new, comprehensive distance-learning model.
"This means all Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 students will participate in an online learning model from September 2 (the first day of the 2020-21 school year in PPS) until at least November 5, which is the end of the first quarter," Guerrero reported.
But, when school starts up for PPS students, the "comprehensive distance learning ... will be different from the student learning experience of this past spring," Guerrero said.
During the first two weeks of school, students will connect with their teachers, become oriented to their learning platforms and participate in activities that support interconnectedness with their classroom and school communities. "After the first two weeks, students will follow a regular weekly schedule and will have daily interaction with their teachers. Grades will be given and attendance will be taken," Guerrero said.
For more about PPS schools' opening, go online – www.pps.net/fall2020
Local Principals commentWe attempted to contact additional Inner Southeast public and private schools, but some were too busy preparing for the new school year in mid-August to chat. Woodstock Elementary School Principal Seth Johnson was one who made time to express his feelings about the start of this school year to THE BEE.
"Ultimately, we are excited to see students again, whether in person or virtually. Although, like many families, we are very anxious about the start of the school year, our teachers and support staff have been working over the summer preparing for continued distance learning in the fall.
"In addition to some of the new approaches with distance learning, we also look forward to engaging with our students and families in conversations and discussions around social justice and anti-racism," Johnson told us. "We know this is a shift in the traditional instructional approach, but we are ready to continue to provide, even at a distance, engaging and meaningful learning at Woodstock Elementary."
In Eastmoreland, Duniway Elementary School Principal Matt Goldstein and this staff were also busy getting ready for the new school year, but paused to speak with THE BEE.
"Our number one priority will be to connect with families and make sure that teachers are working hard to build relationships with their new students and their families. Even in non-pandemic times this was vital, and with distance learning it is even more important. "We are spending extra time coming up with ways to welcome our 74 incoming kindergarten students. This will be a unique and certainly memorable way for those five-year-olds to start their schooling," Goldstein commented. "We have 18 incredible classroom teachers and a great collection of support staff who will work really hard to meet the needs of our families – it will undoubtedly be a community-wide effort.
And, it's not only the young students who will be facing the challenge of online learning, pointed out Franklin High School Principal Chris Frazier. "At Franklin High, we'll continue our work of offering a robust educational experience for our students, in a welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment – supported by caring adults.
"In our distance-learning model, we focus our support for students through socio-emotional learning opportunities, to continue to build and nurture relationships with our students; allowing students to engage and interact with the curriculum and in our community.
"We honor our commitment to our school-wide beliefs of maximizing engagement, maximizing relationships, and maximizing evidence of student ability for all of our students – with a specific focus on serving our traditionally-underserved students," concluded Frazier.
On the edge of the Eastmoreland neighborhood, Holy Family Catholic School Principal Joe Galati was holding a ZOOM online meeting with his staff when THE BEE stopped by.
"These are the most challenging of times," Galati acknowledged. "I watch the Governor's metrics extremely closely, and realize that we are now ready and excited to welcome our young students and families, regardless of the way we have to start our year.
"For me, by far, it's most important to keep our kids and our staff healthy and safe," said Galati. "Here at Holy Family, we are prepared either for a hybrid of part classroom and part distance learning, or for a full digital experience, as we start the school year. More than likely, we'll be starting with the comprehensive digital learning plan.
"As always, Holy Family is ready to serve, support, and strengthen the learning for all our students."
Holy Family Catholic School is online at – school.holyfamilyportland.org
Doctor points out online learning concerns
The Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, Dr. James A. Polo, MD, enumerated three "challenges" faced by students and families as the new school year begins.
As schools will engage in distance learning for the first quarter of the school year, "For most kids (and their parents) this will be a disappointment," he began. "First of all, it will be harder for some students learning and being outside of the classroom environment. Second, this will create challenges for parents in terms of supervision of kids at home.
"Finally, socialization and social connectedness are important and necessary for a child's growth and development. So, in addition to having to adapt to academic learning in a 'virtual' environment, children will also miss the social environment which includes extracurricular activities, clubs, and athletics."
Scrambling for time on computers, laptops and pads can be another stress-inducing challenge, he said.
To solve the stressful situation, "I recommend having conversations with your children to talk about this now; they will have many concerns and questions. It is not critical that you know all the new changes or even have all the answers – the goal is to let them talk and 'feel' heard.
"Keep in mind that if you have children in different age brackets, you will likely need to have separate conversations – as 'the issues' are very different in grade, middle, and high school," Polo pointed out.
"Finally, if you have college students, don't assume that they are 'old enough and will be okay' – if fact, in the long run, this may be more stressful for them [than younger students], although they are less likely to 'tell you', or 'show it'," the doctor said.
"Remember, the goal is not to have answers or tell them how to feel; [but instead], to let them express their feelings so that they can begin to understand themselves within the context of what is happening around them."
As the school year gets underway, there is the possibility that some in-classroom learning will be approved later on, depending on the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Portland area. But the very earliest that could begin, according to the Governor's office, would be November, if then.
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