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Educators plan for April in wake of COVID-19

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A lone janitor works Thursday morning at the end of an empty hall at La Grande High School while students remain out of school during the closure Gov. Kate Brown imposed to help fight the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

LA GRANDE — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown last week extended the school closure in the state to April 28, four weeks past the March 31 closure she had implemented last week, in the ongoing effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Education leaders at public schools in the Grande Ronde Valley are making plans to help their students move forward despite the enforced break.

The educators are determined to ensure the school closure does not hinder students academically. The La Grande School District is helping to lead the way in this effort.

La Grande schools Superintendent George Mendoza said his staff is working hard to develop a comprehensive distance learning system that will allow students and families to “access learning from home supported by their classroom teacher,” according to a letter he sent to parents and guardians.

Scott Carpenter, the district’s education director, said curriculum will be provided to students to study. Students will work with curriculum materials with the help of teachers,

“Teachers will be contacting students twice a week, that is the goal,” Carpenter said.

Teachers also will communicate with students through various means, including the telephone and social media platforms.

The school district has an online school, the La Grande Learning Academy, but this program’s structure will be far from identical.

“It will have a different scope,” Carpenter said.

“The focus will be on having teachers maintaining contact with their students.”

Some students do not have access to computers at their homes, so the school district is prepared to make accommodations for them. These may include providing the students with computers.

“We will provide multiple avenues for families (to access means of contacting teachers and getting curriculum),” he said.

The program will start in April and students will not be required to participate. Still, Carpenter anticipates many students and families will be taking part in it and he believes they are excited about it.

“I feel that kids want to continue to invest in their education,” Carpenter said.

The leaders of other Union County school districts also are planning on putting similar programs in place during the long break. The Imbler School District is using a combination approach, which will involve hard copies and online learning materials.

“It is hybrid,” said Imbler School District Superintendent Angie Lakey-Campbell.

Lakey-Campbell said after Brown announced on March 12 that public schools would be closing, her staff rushed to prepare packets for students to take home on March 13, the last day before the closure took effect.

The packets will be of particular help to students who cannot easily get online.

“We are concerned about students who do not have internet access,” Lakey-Campbell said.

One of the internet tools the superintendent hopes to put to good use is Google Classroom, a free web service. Students can pick up and turn in class assignments and receive teacher input on them using Google Classroom. Lakey-Campbell said she hopes services like this will help keep students sharp during the prolonged break.

“We want to help students maintain their skills,” she said.

Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit said the online program his school district will use is going to provide an important educational supplement. None of the work public school students will be doing during the break can be graded for credit because of state restrictions, Pettit said.

Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells said curriculum materials will be available online or in packet form to students in the Union district.

“We are trying to provide students and families the chance to continue to grow,” Wells said. “Our mission is to help provide opportunities for learning.”

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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