Students and teachers prepare to head back to school

A year of changes ~ Start of school means new programs and technology in local schools

Teachers in the Washougal School District recently attended a four-hour training on how to use Chromebooks in the classroom. All ninth and 10th graders at Washougal High School will receive the devices this fall.

Harrington’s classroom includes special areas for all of the “community” supplies.

The “Daily 5,” for kindergarteners includes read to self, listen to reading, word work, read to someone and work on writing.

With the start of school just around the corner, children and parents alike are thinking of the changes ahead.

At the Camas and Washougal school districts, change is also on the horizon. Camas will begin offering full-day kindergarten, while Washougal will launch its 1:1 tablet initiative at Washougal High School.

These changes are sure to be noticed when students return to school, but most of the feedback so far has been “overwhelmingly positive,” administrators note.

Camas School District

When the school doors swing open Sept. 2, the district’s youngest learners will be attending all day for the first time. Although the state of Washington will require all districts to offer a full-day program beginning in the fall of 2017, CSD, along with a smattering of other Clark County districts, will be ahead of the game.

The Camas School Board approved the full-day program this spring, after a seeing the results of a months-long study conducted by a committee of teachers and administrators. The committee noted that education for young learners has become much more rigorous in the past few years with Common Core standards, and that a half-day program left teachers feeling rushed, and didn’t allow as much time for building relationships and play.

School administrators, parents and teachers have overwhelmingly embraced the new program, but there have been logistics to take care of before the big yellow buses roll up to the curb.

One of these is building space. Although Grass Valley and Helen Baller elementary schools were built with the intention of housing, a full-day program, the districts older schools were not designed with this in mind.

“It’s a good problem to have but it is a challenge because we can’t really build out anywhere,” said Prune Hill Elementary Principal Julie Swan. “However, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. We are thrilled to have this program in place so our kids can be successful.”

She has hired two new kindergarten teachers and two part-time paraprofessionals, who will assist with kindergarten literacy needs.

Although learning is a primary focus, the Camas School District is also putting an emphasis on play, with an hour dedicated to “intentional play,” each school day. This means the classrooms with have items such as toy kitchens and sensory tables.

“We are thrilled to be able to institute this into the school day,” said Swan, who has worked in education for 24 years. “This will benefit our students holistically. We want that opportunity to spend time with them and develop the social and emotional world of being a kindergartener.”

She noted that the kindergarten teachers are excited about the change to a full-day program.

“When the committee surveyed them last spring, the results were overwhelmingly positive,” Swan said. “This helps even the playing field. The kindergarteners have 180 days just like everyone else.”

Teachers received professional development and training in the spring to help them adjust to a full-day program, with more training this month and next.

Angela Alanis has taught kindergarten at Prune Hill for six years, and noted she is looking forward to spending more time with her young students.

“You can feel really rushed with a half day program,” she said. “This gives us more time for transitions and reflections between activities.”

Alanis plans to take things slow the first month to help her students adjust to being at school all day.

“It will be interesting to see how fast they transition,” she said. “Our room will also look a lot different than it has in the past with activity centers and a play area.”

Alanis is excited about having a full-day program, as both a teacher and a parent.

“I feel that our district is really supportive,” she said. “I am really excited about this and everyone seems to have a positive outlook.”

At Helen Baller Elementary, which was re-built six years ago, classroom space isn’t an issue, but staffing needed to be addressed. Two employees chose to teach kindergarten, so the school is currently seeking one more first-grade teacher. Principal Aaron Parman also noted that as the district’s biggest elementary school with approximately 580 students, an additional P.E. teacher was hired.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “We will need to figure out the lunch schedule for all the kids, though.”

To assist with the transition, kindergarten students will have a staggered start to the first week of school, with one-third of the class coming in on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

“It lets teachers get to know the kids better and make that connection,” Parman said. “It is an exciting time for the community.”

Washougal School District

Beginning this fall, all ninth and 10th grade students at Washougal High School will have use of a Chromebook.

The lightweight laptops were purchased using funding from the voter-approved technology levy.

Washougal is one of the few schools in the Clark County area to have a 1:1 tablet ratio. By fall 2017, all students at the high school will have a Chromebook for their own use. “This helps personalize learning for all students,” said Lester Brown, technology director. “We have a set of teaching and learning outcomes, and this gives teachers data on the fly and allows for adjustments to be made when needed. We also think students will be more engaged.”

Students in the fifth- through eighth-grade levels currently use iPads.

“We are going to use this year to learn from for next year’s final roll out,” Brown said. “We are having freshmen and sophomores use the Chromebooks this year because many have a wealth of experience using tablets already, and families are used to it as well.”

All ninth- and 10th grade teachers will undergo a four-hour training on how to use the devices before school begins.

Mike Stromme, superintendent, noted that teaching students to use different varities of tablets and laptops helps them become 21st century literate.

“A big part of this is teaching the students how to expand their understanding of digital citizenship and work across devices to apply their use of information literacy,” he said. “We want students to create and be innovative with the devices. When students engage, they being to take ownership for their learning.”