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La Grande School District fifth-grade teacher Missy Rinker conducts a virtual parent-teacher conference Oct. 29, 2020, something all teachers in the district have to do because of the pandemic.

UNION COUNTY — Greenwood Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Missy Rinker was concerned late last week as she prepared to venture into unchartered territory.

Rinker was set to conduct her first parent-teacher conference virtually instead of in person, something the La Grande School District is requiring of Rinker and the rest of its teachers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was worried that it would make it harder to connect with parents,” Rinker said.

Her concerns turned out to be unwarranted. Rinker said she was able to communicate with parents online with no difficulty.

“I am looking forward to talking to them in person in the future (in later rounds of conferences this school year) but the conferences went well,” Rinker said Sunday, Nov. 1, after teachers completed the conferences.

Rinker said talking to parents online and sharing data, including reading and math assessment scores of their students, went smoothly. She presented information such as the test scores to parents in “real time” online and then sent it to them via email.

Rinker strived to put parents at ease at the start of conferences by asking them how they were doing during the pandemic and if there was anything she could do to help them with their child’s Comprehensive Distance Learning program. Rinker asked if they needed assistance with issues such as technology.

“We want to support them, that is our first and foremost objective,” Rinker said, noting parents play a significant role in their child’s success when taking classes via the school district’s virtual education program.

All students in grades 4-12 in the La Grande School District are receiving most of their instruction online from their teachers because of the pandemic. Students in kindergarten through third grade have been receiving all of their instruction in person since Oct. 5 due to the state’s COVID-19 rules, which have been different for primary grade students.

Kevin Lair, a science teacher at La Grande Middle School, also said his virtual parent conferences went smoothly except one on Thursday morning when there was a brief outage.

“That was the only hiccup,” Lair said.

The science teacher said a drawback to virtual conferences is he cannot let them run long when another is scheduled immediately afterward. Lair explained if an in-person conference goes long, he has the option of asking the parent or parents waiting outside his classroom if it would be all right if he was a little late. This is much harder to do when conducting virtual conferences.

“It is easier to multitask in person,” Lair noted.

Parker McKinley, a sixth-grade teacher at the middle school, said the conferences he conducted were productive even though they were virtual. One reason is the objectives of parent-teacher conferences, whether online or in person, always are the same.

“Our goal is to celebrate the accomplishments of students and develop ways to help them,” McKinley said.

A big difference is virtual conferences do not let parents see the classroom or classrooms of their students.

“They do not get to see the environment they are learning in,” McKinley said.

At Union High School parents, had the option of participating in conferences on campus, virtually or via telephone. Union High English teacher Kelly Anderes said she conducted her conferences via telephone.

“There is less immediacy, but they were not that different for me,” Anderes said.

She also noted virtual and telephone conferences were easier to schedule because “nobody has to drive anywhere.”

Parents in the Cove School District had the option of on-site, virtual or telephone conferences. Half of them chose on-site conferences. Earl Pettit, superintendent of the Cove School District, said he believes this is because most people feel there is a better connection when talking in person.

“The internet will take you only so far,” Pettit said.

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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