CAMAS, Wash. (KOIN) — The transition to in-person learning is well underway at Woodburn Elementary School in Camas and KOIN 6 News got a first-hand look at what kids and teachers are experiencing.
Principal Brian Graham starts each school day by greeting students by name. He said doing so helps ease the trauma of “what they’ve been seeing and hearing.”
Kindergartners at Woodburn Elementary were among the first in Clark County to return to in-person instruction in November following several challenging months of remote learning.
“It’s been a monumental effort to organize and provide an engaging remote experience that is centered around emotional and social learning first,” said Graham, “but nothing compares to in-person learning.”
But in-person instruction today looks different than it did before the pandemic began. The Camas School District has implemented plans and protocols that closely follow the latest guidance from the health department. One of the changes at Woodburn Elementary is a checkpoint to make sure parents are keeping up with safety protocols. One of the steps involves checking their temperatures.
Once cleared to go inside, the kids — who are wearing masks — line up on socially-distanced dots and get their hands sanitized before entering the classroom.
“Before we started, my anxiety level at the thought of coming back in person was really, really high. The numbers in Clark County had been going up and up and it made me really nervous,” said kindergarten teacher Kristi Demassa. “The thought of 5- and 6-year-olds wearing masks and if they would wear masks.”
But those concerns were eased on the very first day. The kids not only wear their masks and keep their distance — they appear immune to typical kindergarten fears.
“Oftentimes we’ll have kiddos that don’t want to let go of mom or dad that first day,” said Graham. “We really didn’t have any of those this year. We were concerned. Already, they had a connection with teachers from the online experience, so much smoother than they anticipated.”
Classes at Woodburn Elementary have been limited to just 10 kids. Classes with 20 students have been split so all kids have the option of two days in the classroom and two days at home with on-demand computer lessons that are also used in the classroom.
Teaching during a pandemic takes careful planning. Take recess for instance. Kids are led to specific color-coded play zones to help with contact tracing. They can take mask breaks but many seemed to prefer to keep them on so they didn’t miss any play time with classmates.
“Part of this is a mitigation strategy — trying to keep cohorts safe, but have safe play out here, too, because kids need that and they are having so much joy, you can see that,” Graham noted.
During lunch, the kids eat their meals while staying six feet apart from other students and janitorial staff members work hard to constantly disinfect surfaces.
About 80% of the school’s K-5 students are now back in classrooms two days a week. More in-person days will be added as positive COVID-19 case rates decline. The district plans to add 7th and 8th grade students to the hybrid learning system this week and is working on a plan to allow high schoolers back on a limited basis sometime in March.
For parents, keeping their kids at home remains a choice. Teachers, too, have a choice since Washington hasn’t started vaccinating educators yet. About 20% of teachers in the Camas School District have not returned to schools for a variety of health reasons and are helping with remote classes in the meantime.
“Hopefully this can just be a phase, that rates start to improve, that vaccinations get in place and we can start adding days in the future,” said Graham.