LA GRANDE — Many La Grande Middle School sixth graders soon will see in person what they never have — the inside of their school.

Sixth graders will be entering the school’s building Monday, Jan. 11, to receive in-person instruction for the first time since March 2020 when the state closed all schools and required them to offer only online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school did not hold its traditional spring tours for fifth graders in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“This will be the first time many of these students have stepped into the school,” said LMS sixth-grade teacher Parker McKinley.

To address this, school staff on Monday will give multiple tours of LMS.

“We want to make the students feel at home in the building,” McKinley said.

He said this is important because of the school’s size and layout.

“You can really get turned around in this building,” the teacher said.

La Grande Middle School Principal Kyle McKinney is confident students will adapt quickly and soon be comfortable in their new surroundings.

“We will get the butterflies out and then we will be able to rock and roll,” McKinney said.

Sixth graders and all school district students in kindergarten through fifth grade will be able to receive on-site instruction starting Monday because of changing state metrics for COVID-19.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade received in-person education earlier this school year but have not since mid-November when a local spike in cases, which later subsided, forced the school district to offer only online education via its Comprehensive Distance Learning program.

In-person instruction may be available to all La Grande School District students in grades seven through 12 starting Jan. 27, according to the La Grande High School website.

The return of sixth graders to LMS and later its seventh and eighth graders might instill a sense of normalcy, but the atmosphere could remain less vibrant because of new rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

These rules include a ban on the use of lockers.

“We don’t want students milling around and congregating in areas,” McKinley said.

In lieu of lockers, the school will require students to carry their textbooks and Chromebooks to and from classes.

Students also will be prohibited from congregating in groups at LMS before school starts, such as in the foyer outside the main entrance during mornings. Instead, they will have to wait outside until the building’s doors are opened at 8:50 a.m. McKinney is encouraging parents to drop off students as close as possible to this time.

“We do not have anywhere for them to wait,” the principal said.

The sixth-grade students, because of state metrics related to COVID-19, will be on a hybrid schedule. Cohorts of students in alphabetically selected groups will attend school in person on alternate days and receive online instruction via the school district’s Comprehensive Distance Learning program the other days. The school day will run from 9 a.m. to 1:25 p.m. for students.

McKinley is excited about the opportunity to finally meet many of his students in person. So far, he has been able to interact with students while teaching them online. He said viewing students in person makes it much easier to see how well they are grasping the subject matter.

“Unless I’m face to face, I really can’t tell if I’m connecting with kids,” McKinley said.

The sixth-grade teacher also is excited about the return to in-person instruction because it means students again can interact with youths their own age. Many have had limited opportunities to do so during the pandemic, not only due to school closures but also because local youth clubs and sports programs shut down.

“Many don’t cross paths (with children their own age) unless it is a family gathering,” McKinley said.

Principal McKinney recorded a video providing information to sixth graders and their parents about the reopening that is on the La Grande Middle School website, In the video he encourages students to follow new safety rules for social distancing. He said following rules will increase the chances of LMS being able to remain open for in-person instruction.

McKinney said La Grande Middle School’s new mantra is “Stay safe, stay open.”

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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