Staff and students experienced a delayed sort of goodbye at Gorge schools in early June. Most districts wrapped up their school year by June 10, and the final day was one for greetings as well as the formal tasks of turning in iPads and library books, and going home with goody bags.

In Parkdale, a line of cheering, crying staff members waved goodbye, and accepted a few gifts at arm’s length, as families drove up or walked up to the school to take care of the year’s final business. Students received take-home bags including books, some summer homework, craft items, and freshly-baked cookies.

Jenni Donahue, reading specialist at Parkdale, got festive on the final day of school June 10, wearing the flamingo costume she has worn for special occasions for 10 years at the school. But it was her first opportunity to wear the garb in a year where staff have rarely seen students since March 13.

School districts around Oregon are now figuring out plans for how to administer instruction in the fall, with each building adapting its own plan based on three main concepts: All in person, all distance learning, or a hybrid of the two. The realities will remain an unknown until later this summer

Parkdale first-grade teacher Ariel Vaughan said of returning to class in the fall, “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a little nervous. It’s a scary time.”

At New Vision School, a private school located at Mt. Hood Town Hall, also on June 10 principal Courtney Morich and staff created a safe-distance carnival for students to enjoy from their cars. Using long-handled devices,staff handed students their art projects and lost-and-found items. The students threw paper airplanes into holes among other games.

“We found ways to adapt throughout the year to stay engaged with students and their families, and this was an extension of that,” Morich said of the event. She praised staff and families for continuing to connect with each other despite not being able to meet in person.

“It’s hard to believe we have ended the school year. What a unique school year it has been,” said Neely Kirwan, chief education officer for Hood River School District in the June 11 meeting of the Hood River School District Board of Directors. The summer of 2020 will be a period of transition for HRCSD. Kirwan herself moves on July 1, to Hermiston School District. HRVHS Principal Rich Polkinghorn takes over as superintendent on July 1, with his assistant principal, Columba Jones, taking on the role of principal. In addition, district finance director Saundra Buchanan is retiring after seven years in the position.

Referring to the state-required regimen of distance learning schools instituted on the fly starting in March, Kirwan said, “We taught, and students learned and they were cared for. I want to thank every HRCSD staff members for supporting our learners. Our buildings might have been closed but our support for learners and families never stopped.”

Vaughan said. “I got to Facetime with each of my students every week. That was really special. When you’re teaching in the classroom, you don’t have 15 solid  minutes to devote to only that student and have these personal conversations with them, so I actually really liked that part of it.

“I’m lucky I have a really strong tech background, having worked in the tech field, so it was easy for me and I helped a lot of staff with that piece of it. But I really missed the students a lot. That’s why we do this job. That part was hard, to not be able to help them in the way they needed to be helped, academically.

“I’m not sure we were able  to (fully meet instructional needs),” Vaughan said. “So much of our important instruction happens face to face, in small groups and we were missing that, being able to get that feedback right away. When you’re sending them the assignment and they’re sending the product back, that’s not the back and forth you’re used to in the classroom where you can help them with any mistakes or misconceptions they might have.

“Some of that was possible, but still when you can’t manipulate the same things together and point at their work and correct them, especially for first graders where they’re learning to read.

“It’s quite a challenge. We did our best,” Vaughan said.        

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