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La Grande High School students leave school Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, after the first day back to in-person learning since March 2020 because of the pandemic. Starting Monday, April 12, students at the high school and middle school return to in-person learning every weekday.

LA GRANDE — Plenty of La Grande School District educators and students are thrilled with the move back to in-person learning every day starting Monday, April 12.

“We are all elated. This has been a year in the making,” said La Grande High School Principal Brett Baxter.

The announcement on Thursday, April 1, means the La Grande School District soon will be a big step closer to operating as it did before the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020. Oregon shut down schools to in-person learning then to curtail the spread of the virus. Early in the 2020-21 school year, the LGSD began adding back in-person learning opportunities because of falling infection rates, changing state metrics and the state allowing more local control.

Elementary schools have offered in-person learning for all students five days a week since January, and students in grades 7-12 have received in-person instruction on alternate days for a little more than two months. High school and middle school students are in cohorts that attend classes on-site every other day and complete assessments at home on their off days.

Baxter said students will benefit greatly from again receiving in-person instruction five days a week.

“Students need more individual attention. It will help them so much more,” he said.

Middle school and high school students now are attending school from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on their in-person days, a schedule that will continue after April 12. La Grande High French and English teacher Kevin Cahill said maintaining this schedule will be a plus.

“I think it will help make the transition smoother,” Cahill said.

He noted there is a daily rhythm students have become accustomed to. Prior to the COVID-19, high school and La Grande Middle School students started classes at about 8 a.m. and were dismissed at about 3 p.m.

Senior Kierstin Lofton said she and many other students are glad the school district is keeping the 9 a.m. start time because most teenagers do better without having to get up so early.

Owen Morton, also a LHS senior, said he is excited about being able to come to school five days a week, but said he will miss the off-campus days because they provided him more time to complete assignments.

Pat Des Jardin, a La Grande High science teacher, said the switch to all in-person learning is another step in the right direction.

“We are getting the educational process back to normal, which is a good thing,” Des Jardin said.

Sidronio Rangel, a high school Spanish teacher, also is excited that his students return to class five days a week. He said when teaching students a subject, such as a new language, it is better when a teacher can see students daily.

La Grande Middle School social studies teacher Anne Marie Fritz also is looking forward to having her students in class every day.

“I am so excited. I cannot wait,” Fritz said. “I think this will be the smoothest transition that we have had. I hope the whole community can relax. We are now closer to the finish line.”

Fritz said she believes the new schedule will help parents who have had to spend much of their time assisting their children with schoolwork at home under the current schedule.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a full-time job and have to homeschool your kids,” Fritz said.

Chris Leavitt, a La Grande Middle School counselor, echoed this sentiment.

“This is the next step back to normalcy,” Leavitt said, a former band teacher at the high school and middle school.

Teachers who will benefit from the change, Leavitt said, include choir and band teachers because they will now get to have all of their students practicing together.

Klel Carson, a La Grande Middle School social studies teacher, said having a full class of students every day instead of just half will allow him to do more learning activities involving small teams of students.

Carson said he marvels at how well his students are continuing to adjust to changes at school because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the changes are teaching students how to be adaptable at a young age, something that will serve them well later in life.

“I told my students that in terms of adaptability,” Carson said, “they will be the best ever.”

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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