UNION COUNTY — Powder Valley High School in North Powder is about to return to normalcy.
Powder Valley High School again will offer its students the opportunity to attend all their classes on-site starting Monday, Sept. 21. The high school began the school year with a hybrid model of on-site and online education because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students attended school on-site on alternating days and attended online classes when not in the physical classroom.
North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon said the return to full-time on-campus classes is possible because the district determined any one student would have contact with no more than 48 other students during a day in the building. Dixon said if the number had been more than 50 the hybrid system would have had to remain in place.
La Grande is the only district in Union County not able to offer on-site instruction. Students in the district have a choice of online learning systems — the school district’s Comprehensive Distance Learning program or the La Grande Learning Academy, which this year is under the umbrella of the InterMountain Education Service District’s Virtual Learning Academy. Both are reporting more than 90% of enrolled students have accessed their virtual classrooms.
Students in both systems are enrolled in the La Grande School District. There also is the option of homeschooling or using other online school services, such as Baker Web Academy, which removes the child from the district.
Countywide, nearly 400 students have enrolled in the InterMountain Education Service District’s Virtual Learning Academy, which now oversees virtual programs throughout its service area.
Erin Lair, director of teaching and learning at the InterMountain Education Service District, reported 387 students in Union County schools were enrolled in its virtual learning academy programs as of Thursday, Sept. 17.
So far, 21 of those students have not yet accessed their coursework. Lair said this is likely due to clerical errors, such as an incorrect email or other enrollment issues. The data is incomplete, and Lair said in the coming weeks there will be a better idea of how many students are enrolled and accessing virtual academy classes.
“We are tracking it,” Lair said. “But we are having to set up a new system and enroll new students in this system. We want to make sure the numbers we report from this system reflect reality.”
Lair explained the InterMountain Educational Service District was enrolling students until Monday, Sept. 14.
“As we get further into the next few weeks, the data will show the reality of enrollment and engagement,” Lair said.
According to Lair’s data, La Grande currently has 240 students enrolled in the virtual academy, and Cove has 50, Elgin has nine, North Powder has 10, Imbler has 16 and Union has 51 students.
La Grande attendance at 98%
La Grande School District began the school year Aug. 31 with all students fully online. Scott Carpenter, the school district’s education programs director, said 98% of students have logged on to their virtual classrooms.
“Staff are working to do outreach with those students who have yet to access classes or school this year,” Carpenter said.
La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza said his numbers show the district is teaching 2,042 students through Comprehensive Distance Learning and 208 students are using the La Grande Learning Academy, 32 fewer than the InterMountain Educational Service District’s figure.
Lair said the discrepancy in numbers will continue fluctuating in the coming days.
“Data is imperfect at this point in time as we collaboratively work to identify who originally wanted to enroll in the virtual academy but decided to attend in person,” she said.
Mendoza said attendance has been hampered by internet issues for some, and the district is helping those students and families as much as it can.
“While the district has supplied 250 hotspots and over 1,600 Chromebooks, with fires and lack of internet bandwidth and the amount of usage allowed at the home site, at times it is a struggle,” Mendoza said. “We have been concerned about students’ ability to access quality internet and have often provided families with extra hotspots to support their internet use.”
Mendoza said the district tracks attendance through class participation, accessing coursework online, and parent and student communications with staff. While 98% have logged on at least one, the school district reported 96% of students are attending online Comprehensive Distance Learning and Virtual Learning Academy classes daily.
“Teachers are starting to get their feet under them and provide quality learning through Google Classroom,” Mendoza said, referring to the main platform used in the district’s Comprehensive Distance Learning program. “Student engagement and attendance has been good to date. Parent, staff and students have been working together well. There is strong support (and) patience from all stakeholders.”
Cove schools increase on-site attendance
Some students who initially enrolled in the Cove Virtual Learning Academy changed their minds and decided to return to traditional classroom teaching, according to Cove Superintendent Earl Pettit. Within a week, Cove went from enrolling 50 students in the online program to 40.
Pettit said attendance in person and online in the district is similar. Cove reported a 97.3% attendance rate for kindergarten through eighth grade, and 95.9% for ninth through 12th grade. These rates include in-person and online students. Without the online students, the attendance in September is 96% for all grade levels.
North Powder welcomes back high school students
North Powder superintendent Dixon said the district was able to bring younger students back to physical classrooms at the start of the school year because social distancing standards could be met. Before allowing high school students to return full time, the district used the hybrid system for two weeks while it gathered data to determine if all students could attend at once safely.
Dixon said he is glad no students will have to take any classes online starting Monday. He said it is hard to keep students engaged for seven periods a day online. He understands this well because he has observed how difficult it is for his son Reece, a junior at Powder Valley High, to stay energized while online all day.
“I have seen this firsthand,” Dixon said.
Dixon said North Powder’s high school teachers also were delighted to hear the news that all students would be back on campus next week. Teaching online and on-site, he said, was exhausting for them.