Today marks the first day of Spring Break in the Camas and Washougal school districts — a fact that may have been lost amidst a statewide, six-week school shutdown related to stemming the spread of a deadly new coronavirus — but students in both districts will soon return to virtual classrooms.
“On Monday, April 6, teachers will be starting the next section of our school year,” Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell wrote to Camas families on Friday. “Our goal is to use the three weeks for meaningful learning and then transition back to school on April 27.”
Educators in both school districts have been trying to figure out how to teach students virtually after the state’s education department mandated that instruction resume across Washington by today.
The state’s guidelines said Washington educators “have an obligation to our students to provide them with opportunities to continue their learning during this pandemic,” but left the logistics up to the individual school districts.
Ramping up to a completely new education system was not simple, Snell said.
“Shifting to a remote learning system in two weeks while in the midst of a public health crisis is a great challenge for all of us,” Snell stated in his letter to Camas families. “For the class of 2020, our focus is ensuring they graduate. For all other students, the focus is on making the most of the opportunity we have.”
Snell said staff members will begin April 6 to “deliver learning designed to continue student growth in all subject areas.”
The focus will be on learning, Snell said, and not on grades.
“Staff members will document the level in which each student is involved with the learning to monitor progress, not in a way that negatively impacts grades,” he stated in his letter, adding that technology will be a “key resource” for students and educators, but that the district will have other options for students who have limited access to the internet.
In preparation for the transition to remote learning, the district has provided Chromebooks for students in grades three through five; established tech support for students; launched a remote-learning website (bit.ly/camasremotelearning); and is in the process of establishing 10 wifi hotspots in school buses, which will be parked throughout the district to help families who do not have wifi in their homes.
Camas school leaders have also set up a website (camas.wednet.edu/covid-19/class-of-2020/) to help high school seniors and their families navigate the coming months, and say, as of now, the graduation ceremonies in June are still in the works.
“We are currently moving forward with planning all of our graduation ceremonies in June,” the district’s website states. “The last attendance day for seniors may extend beyond the graduation ceremony. We will keep seniors and families updated as we learn more information.”
If the district is able to reopen schools in late April, Snell said educators and staff members would help students transition back into in-person learning.
“If there are continued school closures beyond April 24, staff members will continue to provide learning experiences and will begin to shift to a proficiency based assessment system … through remote instruction” with students able to demonstrate proficiency in a variety of ways.
For more information about the Camas School District’s response to the COVID-19 closures, visit camas.wednet.edu/covid-19/.
Washougal teachers ‘rising to the challenge’
Washougal students also will begin remote learning on April 6, but the online opportunities will likely look different than what many families are used to.
“What we offer to students and families will not be basic education since we don’t believe we can provide the same benefit our students get from being in the classroom with their teacher,” said Les Brown, the district’s director of information technology and communications. “(But) we know we need to provide ways for student learning to continue.”
Brown said that the district’s teachers “have been reaching out to families to figure out which kinds of activities and lessons would be feasible and helpful.”
“Our teachers are designing lessons that start with where students were on the last day of classes, and will move through a review of material and into some new learning over the next week or so,” he said. “Since every group of students is different, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model for what this looks like.”
“We’re working to make sure that students can be engaged with learning as soon as Spring Break is over,” added Margaret Rice, the district’s career and technical education (CTE) director. “There’s positive energy around this. We’re trying to smile through all of the craziness and do the best we can. The teachers have done a good job of connecting with the kids to make sure they’re OK and have the things that they need. We’re kind of treating these days like snow days that can be made up. Our Spring Break is longer than it was supposed to be, but we’ll pick it back up and move forward.”
Teachers will use online platforms such as Google Classroom and Microsoft Zoom; recorded lessons on YouTube; and/or instructional materials that are part of online subscriptions that students and teachers have used in classrooms this year. The school district will also provide paper-and-pencil options to students who need them, according to Brown.
“Teachers are rising to the challenge, and we know they will work to help students and families be successful,” Brown said.
The district’s efforts have been greatly assisted by its “1-to-1 Initiative,” funded by a recently passed technology levy, which guarantees every student access to the technology needed for the district’s remote education.
“We have devices for all of the students,” Brown said. “We are putting together a plan for how we’ll get them to students or their families and will have details to share about that early next week.”
District employees are loading iPads with parts of the district’s English language arts and math curriculums, plus additional learning applications, for students in kindergarten through fifth grades. The district has already distributed iPads to middle school students.
Older students can also access Skyward, the district’s student information system, to finish assignments they’ve already started.
“Teachers are identifying the resources they need and want on the devices (and) will be producing a set of materials that can be delivered on the iPads or provided in paper/pencil format for students without internet access,” Brown said. “These will help reinforce learning as well as eventually start introducing new concepts to students to keep them moving forward.”
District leaders are talking about making adjustments to its calendar and how those adjustments will affect Washougal High’s graduation ceremony, which had been scheduled for Saturday, June 6.
According to the district’s website, “it is unknown at this point if the graduation ceremony dates will need to change,” and “the last attendance day for seniors may be extended beyond the graduation ceremony.”
“We’ve had a lot of questions about (how the shutdown affects) the seniors,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “We will have a plan in place to make sure that every senior gets what they need. I’m confident that will happen as we move forward. There are ways to extend the school year further into June by using some of the snow days that we had built into the schedule. We can also request a waiver (from the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which requires that every school district in the state must make at least 180 days available to students each school year). That is our plan right now.”
The district is continuing to provide free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals to students from 10 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, for the duration of the school closure at Hamllik Park, Hathaway and Cape Horn-Skye elementary schools and Rockwood Terrace Apartments, 535 “C” St., Washougal.
Each sack contains two meals. During the first week of distribution, 1,218 sacks were distributed. The number increased to 1,556 in the second week.
“To serve meals for our families in need during this school closure time, we have had to retool how we operated and fast,” Kris Grindy, the district’s business manager, said in a news release issued by the district. “No child should ever have to say that they do not have anything to eat. (Our food services staff) has done an amazing job transitioning over a weekend from serving our students in buildings to serving our students at food distribution sites.”
The district is set to add meal delivery starting on Monday, April 6, and has partnered with Unite Washougal to collect monetary donations that will be used to provide meals for adults.
“Unite Washougal is very concerned about COVID-19 and the effects this situation has placed on our friends and family,” a post on Unite Washougal’s Facebook page states.
Donations can be made at Riverview Community Bank, 3307 Evergreen Way, Washougal; by mail to Unite Washougal, P.O. Box 300, Washougal, WA, 98671; or through PayPal.
The district is also making plans to continue its weekend backpack program for students who have food assurance issues.
Several district leaders and teachers told the Post-Record that Washougal school employees and students have adjusted well to the new circumstances dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind,” said Cory Chase, the president of the Washougal School Board. “Keeping up with all of the information is a full-time job right now. We’ve had to be on our toes and work really hard as a team. It’s an unprecedented time for all of us, and it’s surreal, but in a leadership role you don’t have a lot of time to sit back and be shocked. We have to take the information and figure out a response and move the district forward.
“This has presented some challenges for the board because we can’t meet in a quorum and can’t make decisions outside of the meeting format, but Mary and I are in constant contact. My goal as the board president is to give Mary what she needs to do what she does best, and that’s lead our district. We trust her judgement and leadership.”
Washougal High principal Sheree-Gomez Clark said the first week of the closure was “the busiest week of her career.”
“The best part of it was the fact that the families were so supportive,” she said. “They’re calling and emailing us with questions which we don’t have the answers to, and they’re given us what I call the ‘space and grace’ that we need right now. And I think the students have handled this better than I would’ve expected. I don’t think there’s one thing the community could do better in response to this.”
Rice said that the closure “has changed the infrastructure of the way we do business in a short period of time.”
“Things are changing by the day or even by the hour,” she said. “We’d get a plan in place and then we’d have to change it before we were ready to launch it. We’d gain momentum, then we’d have to slow down. But considering the (enormity) of the task, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Right now we’re supposed to be back April 27. Are we anticipating a longer (break)? Possibly. We’re coming up with a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.”