April 4, 2020 — The Mapleton School District, along with other districts across the state, is looking at new guidelines released by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) requiring all schools to move to graded distance education by April 13.
While Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has not extended the shutdown order past April, schools are expected to be closed for the remainder of the school year, creating the need for distance education.
“Brenda [Moyer], my high school principal, and I are still delving deep into what that means for our district,” said Mapleton Superintendent Jodi O’Mara.
For the following week, the district will still be handing out supplemental instruction, broad lessons that aren’t graded but still keeps kids engaged. But on April 13, actual graded homework will be going out.
“What that looks like, we really aren’t sure yet,” O’Mara said. “Our teachers are the experts when it comes to the education of our students. So our goal is to look at what all the requirements are and then have meetings with staff.”
What distance learning will look like for each grade is different, “Especially when it comes to elementary,” O’Mara said. “The shorter amount of screen time for those kiddos, the better. We have to figure out how to balance that with the instruction we have to give to students virtually.”
The district is still in the process of figuring out what online capabilities its students have. While school staff polled families on whether or not they had internet access, the types of devices students have access to are still being looked at.
“For some families, they don’t have cell phone access, but can still do WIFI calling,” O’Mara said. “For other, computer access is limited to a PlayStation or getting data on their phones. Those are the things we really have to delve into.”
The district does have a program that provides Chromebooks to its seniors and laptops to its middle school students. The district will be looking at what families need when deciding how to distribute those to students.
Family needs of any kind are a concern for the district, and staff are working on keeping in close contact throughout the shutdown.
“We put a system in place early this week where every student and family will be contacted by a staff member each week to create that connection, see how things are going and check in,” O’Mara said. “It lets the teachers be involved, and it lets the kids and families know we haven’t forgotten them — we’re still here and want to support them. I think that’s important.”
The district had been making food delivery trips every day of the week during the shutdown, but starting next week it will cut deliveries to only Monday and Wednesday, though it will still provide meals for the entire week.
“Part of the reason for reducing it is to reduce the amount of contact that community and staff have, just to reduce the risk of spreading the virus,” O’Mara said.
As far as graduation requirements for seniors, at press time ODE still has not given guidance.
“We’ve been waiting anxiously and we keep asking,” O’Mara said. “We are going to get them there, and we’re going to support them the best we can. They worked hard for 13 years, and we don’t want them to miss out on this.”
The one thing that Mapleton students are missing is going to school itself.
“I’ve gotten a couple text messages from high school students, and they miss school. They want to be back in school,” O’Mara said. “They said they never thought they would say that.”
But the superintendent stressed that kids are resilient and can make it through, with the help of adults.
“I think it’s up to us as adults to help make this a positive experience for our kiddos. It is traumatic, it is trying, it is different. It’s something that none of us have ever had to deal with. I think it’s important for us as adults to make this as positive an experience as we can,” she said.
That can be difficult with the fallout of COVID-19.
“Some adults are dealing with a loss of job, and having kids home full time affects the stress within the home. It’s stressful for us as adults. We need to put some systems in place at home, and I’m doing it myself, to do self care and turning this into a positive experience. Kids are going to remember this time,” she added.
O’Mara also spoke to the importance of keeping children informed of the realities of the situation.
“We need to talk to our kids about why the school is closed and why we need to keep social distancing,” she said. “It’s hard when we see a kid picking up their lunch and they want to give you a hug. How do you tell them not to? But we need to. We need to be the leaders and the role models and say, ‘Okay, let’s do an air hug and explain to you why.’ Kids are resilient and they know we’re all going to get through this. I just hope the majority of them have fonder memories than not.”
Despite the isolation of social distancing in the already isolated upriver community, O’Mara is seeing signs that people are coming together more than ever.
“I don’t see isolation,” she said. “For instance, in the Deadwood community there’s a phone tree where people check in on each other. I think that’s happening more now than before, just because of the isolation that a lot of people are complying with.”
The district is in constant touch with organizations such as Mapleton Food Share to find out what their needs are, and the school is coming up with a list of resources they can share to people of all ages.
“Are we able to maybe reach out in different ways to our community that may not have school-aged children, but are still in need?” O’Mara asked. “Those are definitely conversations that we’re having because it’s something we can help provide for our community.”
As for the school itself, Mapleton School District staff is using this time as an opportunity to better know the community they serve.
“They come every day to pack the food, deliver the food, make those contacts with the community. That puts them at risk, and so right now those are our rock stars and we could not do that without them,” O’Mara said.
The district has created a reminder app, giving out resources for mental health and other assistance.
“They are really in touch with the community and I get text messages from them saying, ‘Hey, this was a great day, or this is something you need to know about this family,’” O’Mara said. “It almost feels like there is more of a connection because we’re out in the community, rather than all the kids coming to our school. We’re going out to them. I feel like this is an opportunity we need to take with our families to reach out in their world.”