NYSSA — Finding more clarity on what school will look like this fall was the biggest topic of conversation at Monday’s meeting of the Nyssa School District Board of Directors.
Like many other schools in Oregon, Nyssa Superintendent Darren Johnson said the district has not had much time to prepare for comprehensive distance learning starting this fall as they spent most of the summer putting a plan together for returning to school in person.
Those plans were quickly changed on July 28, when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the new metrics-based approach to reopening schools statewide. This means that it is very unlikely that Malheur County schools will be reopening for in-class instruction this fall.
On Aug. 3, Johnson released a letter to Nyssa parents, explaining that the district is planning to open the school year with comprehensive distance learning and will reevaluate whether they can return to in-person classes in the new year.
Like many other districts in Malheur County, Nyssa School District is moving its first day of school back. The first day of school is now scheduled for Aug. 26. Johnson said this will help the teachers get more adjusted to new guidance for distance learning.
“Teachers did not attend classes on how to teach distance learning when they went to college,” Johnson said.
Nyssa Elementary School Principal Matt Murray said one of the things that will be most critical for the students, especially the youngest students, is engagement.
“It’s going to be more challenging for the kindergarteners than anyone else,” Murray said.
In order to combat the barrier of teaching online, Murray said the school is planning on dividing classes to be as small as possible. For example, Murray said they are working on the kindergarten and first grade classes into having as few as five students active with one teacher at a time to make sure that the teacher is able to engage with each student.
Dual language immersion
Nyssa’s Dual Language Immersion program was a big topic of discussion on Monday evening. One member of the board asked Murray if the school was going to continue providing the program via distance learning.
After responding that the school has “no intention of abandoning” the program, some members of the board voiced their concerns that the dual language classes would be very difficult to provide and parents who don’t speak Spanish will have trouble helping their students from home.
To respond, Nyssa Middle School Principal Luke Cleaver said if they were going to remove the dual language program from the 2020-2021 calendar, that would just be another last-minute change to fall on the shoulders of the administration. He added that removing the dual language program would unfairly impact the Spanish-speaking population of Nyssa School District.
“The discussion that’s being had here is the same thing that’s happened in the mono-lingual Spanish-speaking households before this. They’re saying I can’t help my student because I can’t understand the language the material is presented in.”
After hearing from Cleaver, Johnson called on Elementary Dual Language Immersion teacher Connie Cabrera, who anxiously raised her hand in the Zoom meeting when the discussion started. Cabrera said the dual language classes were difficult in the spring, but became easier as she communicated with the students and their parents more.
Cabrera added that the dual language program is important to give the Spanish-speaking students a “leg up” in their academics and is also able to help the English-speaking students with future credits.
After the discussion of the Dual Language Immersion program, there was no motion made by the board.
With parents concerned about distance learning, Johnson said one topic that comes up a lot is physical education classes and career and technical education classes.
Johnson said that the school is currently looking into more online teaching tools for classes like Future Business Leaders of America, nursing and welding. Admitting that he knows how hands-on intensive those classes are, Johnson said schools statewide are still looking into opportunities that would allow students to come into classes for those subjects.
At the high school, Johnson said every student will be taking health in the fall, and then students would take P.E. in the winter or spring (with the assumption that students might be back to in-person instruction by then).