Washougal summer school gets students ‘ready, set’ for kindgarten

Preschoolers learn to take coronavirus precautions through catchy 'COVID Free in 2020' song

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Washougal School District leaders say the district’s summer school program, which ran July 24 through Aug. 14 at Hathaway Elementary School was a success thanks to its clear, concise messaging around the implementation of strict safety protocols and the enthusiastic cooperation of students who have embraced new routines.

The summer school incorporated the district’s “Ready, Set, Kindergarten” transition program for preschoolers and provided literacy assistance for students set to enter first, second, third and fourth grades.

The 45 students, seven teachers, administrators and support staff members who participated in the school were required to wear masks at all times. Custodians constantly disinfected classrooms. Floor markers, placed 6 feet apart, emphasized the importance of social distancing. Hand-washing and sanitizing were strongly encouraged. Administrators and teachers conducted contact-less temperature scanning on students every day, and rigorously followed up on every student absence to ensure that it wasn’t caused by illness. 

“We’re taking safety seriously,” said summer school principal Jason Foster in July. “We did a lot of frontloading preparation. We felt that we could do summer school safely if we followed the state’s recommendations and were proactive instead of reactive. It’s been a positive experience now that we have everything in place running smoothly.”

Foster said the students “have been fantastic” about adhering to the new restrictions.

“I couldn’t be prouder of them,” said Foster, a language arts teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School. “They’ve set a great example of how to take care of themselves and others. To see 4-, 5- and 6 year olds come in with masks on, adjust to the (circumstances), and be eager to learn, participate and socialize, has been inspiring. They’ve been so cooperative and positive about it.”

Students embrace song’s message

Paraeducator Diana Larson created a song to help the students keep the COVID-19 safety protocols in mind.

With the assistance of several professional colleagues and a Jemtegaard student, Larson, a professional voice coach and former opera singer, completed the song, called “COVID Free in 2020,” in the span of about two weeks before the summer school began. She then brought it to Hathaway on July 20 in the form of a music video, which has been shown in classrooms on a semi-regular basis.

The song’s message is punctuated by its infectious chorus “A mask for you, a mask for me, we all stay COVID-free in 2020.”

“My friend Katie works with the kindergartners, and she said that her students are singing the chorus to the song while they’re washing their hands,” said Larson, who also contributed background vocals. “That means (the message) is going in and maybe making a difference with them. Things are scary right now for some kids, and maybe the song can bring them a bit of joy and make things better.”

Larson collaborated with inspirational rapper Jeremy Morgan, who provided lead vocals; Jemtegaard student Tia Williams, who provided background vocals; Vic Sorisio, who served as the sound engineer; and Jeni Zirk, who produced the video, which consists of images of Marvel Comics superheroes interspersed with photos of mask-wearing doctors and nurses.

“(Foster) teaches a graphic novel class at (Jemtegaard), and knows a lot about superheroes, and that’s why I thought this would work. I thought he would get on board with it, and he did,” Larson said. “I wanted to make something catchy, something that kids can relate to and also empower them to take care of themselves and others.”

To watch the video, visit