LA GRANDE — La Grande High School, for the first time in seven and a half months, periodically has more students on campus than it does teachers.
An increasing number of students now are able to come for on-campus instruction about two hours a day several times a week because of a new program — Limited In-Person Instruction.
Through this program, which the La Grande School District also is conducting at La Grande Middle School, a limited number of invited students are allowed to receive on-campus instruction for core subjects including math, science, social studies, career technical education and English. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most LHS students though still receive almost all of their instruction from teachers via distance learning due to state rules regulations.
La Grande High School social studies teacher John Lamoreau is among those delighted that students are back on campus.
“It is good to be able to see students in person,” Lamoreau said.
He noted in some cases he is meeting students in person for the first time, ones he had known only virtually before.
“I’m seeing freshmen I had never met in person,” Lamoreau said.
He said communicating with students in person is a bit trickier than it was before the pandemic hit because everyone now must wear masks. This of course makes it harder to read students’ emotional responses.
“I now have to look for sparkle in their eyes to tell if students are smiling,” Lamoreau said.
To protect himself from COVID-19, Lamoreau meets with his students in the school’s audiovisual auditorium because it has much better ventilation than his classroom. Lamoreau said he received permission to do this because at age 69 he is at higher risk of developing complications if he contracts COVID-19.
La Grande High’s Spanish teacher Anne March said some of the students she is working with in person are ones who fell behind because they have not adapted well to learning online.
“They are relieved to have the chance to come in and catch up,” March said.
She noted the LIPI program is providing her with more opportunities to provide small group instruction, which she said students are benefiting from.
March said when teaching Spanish online she focuses on reading and listening skills. However, in person she concentrates on speaking and writing because it is much easier to teach these skills face to face. She noted, for example, that teaching writing online is difficult because of logistical issues including those that often arise when students send in assignments virtually.
“There are roadblocks,” March said.
Science teacher Brandon Galvez applauded the new program because he said he understands how difficult it is to do course work at home.
“When students are isolated it is hard to stay motivated,” Galvez said. “When you are at home you want to relax, not work.”
Galvez also noted some students do not have quiet places to study and receive online instruction because of chaotic home environments.
La Grande High science teacher Pete Ridder believes many of the students he is seeing in person are leaving with the potential to do much better in his classes because of skills they are gaining. These include one student who was using a time-consuming process to download a science textbook via Google Classroom. Ridder showed the student how he could get the textbook almost instantly by bookmarking it.
LHS Principal Brett Baxter said both students and teachers like the the new program.
“The kids are excited to be here,” he said. “They are always smiling and teachers are lighting up when kids are in front of them.”
La Grande High School has about 690 students and between 60 and 80 of them are on campus on days when the LIPI program is operating, more than double the school’s total of 32 teachers. Baxter said these faculty did not not get into teaching because they wanted to instruct online as they are doing due to COVID-19.
“They did not sign up for that. That’s why having the kids here makes it all worth it,” Baxter said.