Washougal High School teachers and administrators have been preparing for students to return to the building for in-person instruction for several months. Now they know exactly when they will be able to witness the results of their hard work.
The Washougal School District will expand its hybrid learning model to include high-school students on Thursday, March 4.
“We are excited … It’s a big deal,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said during the district’s Feb. 23 virtual board of directors meeting. “I want to make sure we’re thanking the community because it’s what we’re doing together that allows us to open schools and keep schools open as we continue to wear masks, socially distance and follow all of the mitigating strategies and practices.”
Washougal High will open to freshmen on Thursday, March 4. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will return to the building on Monday, March 8.
“It’s very exciting. We’re ecstatic to have more kids in the building,” said Washougal High Principal Sheree Clark. “We had a little more time than the elementary and middle schools to prepare, and we feel really good about our complex safety and health protocols. Of course, with COVID, there might be things that come up that we haven’t seen or didn’t plan for, so there is some nervousness because we want to make sure everybody’s safe. But we feel good about our plan for reopening.”
The district has offered its hybrid model to elementary students since Jan. 19, and to middle-schoolers since Feb.11.
“I know the middle schools relied on the elementary schools (when they were reopening), and we relied on the elementary and middle schools,” Clark said. “(Our colleagues) said things like, ‘Here’s something we don’t think about, and you should do it,’ which is great. They’ve been fantastic about sharing information with us. We also talked with leaders from other schools, like Mead High School in Spokane, that have been doing hybrid for a while. This work could not be done in isolation.”
Like the hybrid model at Washougal’s elementary and middle schools, the Washougal High hybrid learning plan divides students into two cohorts, separated alphabetically by last name. One group will attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other group will go to the building on Thursdays and Fridays. When they’re not in the classroom, students will watch lessons from home or engage in pre-recorded learning activities.
Unlike the Washougal middle schools, the high school will shift to a block schedule, in which students take fewer classes per day for longer periods of time.
“There’s a lot of research that says that the block schedule is better because it provides more embedded learning time within one class period,” Clark said. “Learning gaps have been created by the remote learning environment, and the block time will help us address those concerns. Also, we have a lot more students at the high school and more passing periods, which increases opportunities for students to (come into close contact with each other) and doesn’t provide teachers with enough time to clean their rooms between periods. The block schedule will decrease the amount of passing time for students.”
School district officials are following the latest Washington Department of Health guidelines, which include new metrics based on emerging research and data gathered by state and national officials that allow schools to provide increased in-person learning opportunities for students.
“I appreciate that the district has kept students at the center of its decision making and is following the state guidelines,” Clark said. “As much as we wanted kids back in the building on the first day of school, we understood why we weren’t able to. We didn’t want to go against what the guidelines and the science were telling us.”