Grade schools begin hybrid learning

Keianah Weakland

As of Feb. 18, 2021, kindergarten and first grade in the Oregon Trail School District returned to in-person hybrid classes. And both second and third grade students returned to school on Feb. 25. 

Students from the families who chose to return, attend school in-person two days a week and follow the same schedule as distance learning. Students will continue online instruction through distance learning for the other three days of the week. The cohorts are separated by students last names, with the exception of students living in the same household with different last names.

According to district communications director Julia Monteith, 71% of kindergarten and first grade students are participating in hybrid instruction (in-person & virtual). 

A survey was sent out to families earlier this year to find out which students would be returning to school for in-person instruction or continuing with distance learning from home. With the information gathered from it, schools were able to create schedules accordingly. Teaching during the pandemic has been challenging and a big change for many teachers.

“Making sure that students are getting what they need in order to facilitate appropriate learning and growth [is the most difficult part of teaching during COVID-19],” Kindergarten teacher at Welches Elementary Nancy Blaesing said.

There are two cohorts for students in hybrid learning: cohort A is in-person Mondays and Thursdays and virtual Tuesdays and Fridays, cohort B is in-person Tuesdays and Fridays and virtual Mondays and Thursdays. All students will attend advisory on Wednesdays virtually (cohort A/B). Teachers have had to adjust from teaching children in the class with a hands on approach, to teaching in a virtual classroom, and now are having to adjust to teaching kids both in the classrooms and at home during class.

“I teach 9:15-1:25, and I am teaching through a computer so I make sure to act like the kids online are in the room. Also, I have to really watch and listen to make sure students are engaged. When they are in your room it is easy to see, online is a bit more difficult,” Blaesing said.

The current schedule for returning students to school shows that each week two grades will return. For example, fourth and fifth grade should return on March 4. Middle schoolers grades six through eight should return March 11 and high school students will be phased in starting March 29. Hybrid learning and in-person instruction will be beneficial to many students, but especially for the younger students.

“At school it is easier to get help from my teacher because she can see me when I can raise my hand in class. When I am at home, she can’t see me on the screen,” one first grader at Oregon Trail Academy said.

The return to school plan for SHS is still in the making, but the school and district are trying to make the transition to hybrid learning as easy as it can be. With this is mind, students might not return to school in the order of their grade.

“It is likely that seniors and/or juniors will return to in-person instruction first. They already know SHS, which becomes important when we are testing new systems and structures. By the time the freshman arrive, those systems will be solid and then we can focus on assisting freshmen, who are new to the building and will need additional support,” Principal Kim Ball said.

As schools continue to work to make their environment as safe as it can be for the return of more students, they prioritize cleaning. There are no in-person classes on Wednesdays because the custodial staff uses it to clean the whole school. As the date approaches for students to begin the hybrid model, students and families may be concerned about whether they are able to change their mind on their decision of hybrid or distance learning. It is anticipated that students will be able to find the correct learning environment for them and their family, even if it means changing from in-person to online.

“Families have flexibility whether they are coming to school or doing school from home and they are not locked in to the decision. That said, there is a lot to be said for routine and we hope that students find success in whichever model they choose,” Ball said.

Schools are asking that children are screened at home for COVID-19 symptoms by their guardian, schools won’t be screening children as they arrive at school. As these regulations are put into place, many students cannot wait to return to school. 

“I will be going back to school for hybrid learning. I’m going back because it’ll be a new experience and I will be able to see most of my friends, it has been too long since I have seen them,” sophomore Anthony Loredo-Ochoa said.

Students are not able to eat breakfast or lunch at school, but some classes may allow snack breaks in their schedule. The school will still provide breakfast and lunches for students to bring home to eat at the end of the school day.

For students using the school bus for transportation, the district warns kids to dress warm just in case the busses windows are down to keep air flow. Only one child is allowed per seat and must wear a mask the entire time. Elementary classes will be released by the classroom to keep cohorts together. Middle school and high school students will be released in a staggered time to keep cohorts from mixing.

“Pick-up [at Firwood] is now used with a number system and students are called out of class when their teacher gets a notice via a Google sheet document that tells them to send the child to the front office area. Staff are all hands on deck as this process is pretty heavy. We definitely have fewer students riding the bus. I do expect an uptick in bus riders when people start to feel more comfortable with our safety practices and coming to school in general,” Firwood principal Matt Newell said.

The school district and schools have been working hard to welcome students back to school, while making sure all state guidelines are met for the safety of the staff and students. As we enter March, students are looking forward to the day their class will return to school and allow them to see teachers and friends again, not through a screen.

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