By Jack Rubinger
From teens to toddlers, the transition to in-person back to school is happening all over town. It’s an anxious time for parents, administrators and teachers, but most seem to be adapting.
The International School of Portland (ISP) has implemented policies and procedures that meet or exceed current guidelines and recommendations, requiring masking for all persons aged two and up, except when eating or napping. They use HEPA filters and MERV 11 HVAC systems (a higher grade than recommended).
The school adheres to social distancing and student cohorting (small group) recommendations. Classes will be held outdoors as much as possible. Parents and unscheduled visitors are not permitted in the building.
All the students as well as unvaccinated staff must perform wellness checks each day. Vaccinated staff must continue to be monitored for symptoms.
ISP is watching all variants closely and maintains weekly meetings with the local health department. They meet twice weekly with other schools around the state for the benefit of sharing data, learning from each other and developing the best practices possible.
They are following the Governor’s orders and direction of Multnomah County Health Department, coupled with the CDC’s guidance. If any variant (including Delta) continues to escalate, they will work quickly and efficiently with these authorities to prevent spread.
“We will do what is in the best interest for the health and safety of our community,” said Brandy Ascough, Health & Safety Coordinator, ISP.
KinderCare is focusing on helping younger children feel safe in stable groups.
“We’ve done this before and we can do it again,” said Center Director Jenny Perry.
“Some kids have not been back to school and we have the potential to do distance learning again,” she said. “But even younger kids have a high understanding of what’s happening.”
Chris Frazier, Franklin High School’s principal, talked about navigating new territory as they address concerns about safe and welcoming environments.
The school is doing things they’ve done before like holding special freshman orientations to build community and helping freshmen get acquainted as they tour a new building.
“We’re teaching to the heart vs. the mind,” he said. “My goal is for the kids to look back and say, ‘I’m glad I had my freshman year at Franklin.”
Franklin High School is recommending three feet of distancing where possible.
One high school teacher said, “Right now the plan is to be three feet apart with masks and going back to normal. I’m struggling with how we’re going to address social and emotional stuff. And I somehow have to review everything that was supposed to have been learned in the past one and a half years. Hopefully, that will be discussed when staff training starts.”
Author Claire Lerner, LCSW-C, said that the re-opening of childcare centers and schools has parents both ecstatic and anxious. Lerner believes most parents are desperate for their children to be back with their friends, playing and learning.
“It’s hard,” she said. “And everyone needs a break.”
She offered several tips to help ease transitions, recommending reconnecting with peers from school before your child returns to their program. If the child responds positively to interacting with peers on video chat, set up virtual play dates or make plans for socially-distanced encounters.
Connect with the teacher/provider. Request time for your child to do a virtual or in-person meet-and-greet with their teachers/caregivers.
Visit the program in advance. This is especially important if your child is starting in a new classroom or new school. Play on the playground. Explore inside the school if this is allowed.
The unknown causes anxiety. The more your child is re-familiarized with their old program or becomes familiar with the new setting, the less fearful they are likely to be.
Create a back-to-school plan with your child. Let your child know a return to school or childcare is coming up. Talk through any new health and safety rules they can expect, like social distancing and mask wearing.
Create a visual calendar to show your child exactly when they will be returning to his program to make it concrete. If you have photos of your child participating in the program, tape one onto the date when they will be returning. You can make a book out of these photos that you can look at together leading up to the return to school to remind them of their positive experiences there.
Parents are understandably concerned about sending their students back to in-person school. Some may even prefer continuing distance learning.
Outgoing high school seniors are excited about starting college in the coming weeks and will be challenged with many new situations, new friends and academic offerings not available in high schools.
According to Portland Public Schools, high schools are planning to host mobile vaccination clinics at major events, although PPS cannot mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for students. Everyone 12 years old and up who gets a COVID-19 vaccine at a Multnomah Country Department site qualifies for a Visa gift card.
For more information about Multnomah County Vaccination vaccination plans, the information line at 503.823.4000.
Photo by KinderCare