Hoquiam School District looking to expand onsite learning to select students with special needs, lack of internet access

The Hoquiam School District is planning to expand its on-campus learning format for a small group of students with special needs or lack of internet access.

Meanwhile, St. Mary School, a private institution, has been using a hybrid model where students split into different groups spend at least some time on campus for three months, to date with no COVID-related bumps in the road.

According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, public school districts in Grays Harbor County are in mostly online learning models. A few, like Hoquiam, have about 10% of students learning onsite.

“For several weeks Hoquiam has brought in a targeted group of students who have individualized learning plans,” said Hoquiam Superintendent Mike Villarreal. “These students are identified in our Special Education program who need specific academic support.”

He said the district has had great success with about 10 kids in total throughout the district. There are plans in place to expand the onsite learning opportunity to more kids in specific, targeted groups.

“We are in the process of expanding this opportunity to approximately 75 students K-12 who have no internet capabilities, extreme non-engaging students and other students with individualized learning plans,” said Villarreal. “We hope to have this available by Nov. 30. The students were recommended by their teachers and building principal. They will be provided transportation and a meal when on our campuses.”

Schools are exempt from the governor’s latest batch of closures and restrictions announced Nov. 15, and are in constant contact with health officials in regard to appropriate learning models.

“Like other districts in the county, the superintendents monitor the data weekly and consult with different agencies,” said Villarreal. “All the districts are wanting to return to hybrid instruction as soon as possible.”

Villarreal said he has been directed that when the district opens to hybrid instruction, he can give the green light to athletics and other activities like band.

Private school St. Mary has been in a hybrid model for about three months and plans to stick with it as long as it’s safe to do so.

“Currently, we are planning to stick with our hybrid model through the holidays and into January unless we are told by our local County Health Department or the state to pivot to complete remote learning,” said Carrie Marlow, St. Mary Principal. “Our school community continues to be ever diligent and extra cautious as we navigate this challenging time.”

St. Mary is in week 12 of its hybrid learning model, “and although there are many challenging and sometimes overwhelming aspects of this situation, our school community is making it work,” said Marlow.

She described the current learning model as:

Preschool/PreKindergarten attends school Monday through Thursday 8 a.m.-noon. No remote learning as this schedule is considered a full in person model.

Kindergarten is divided into two small student cohorts. Each cohort attends in person school two mornings per week, 8 a.m.-noon. When students are not at school they are on a remote learning plan.

First grade through eighth grade classes are divided into three small student cohorts each. Each grade level cohort attends in person school one morning per week, 8 a.m.-noon. All students grade 1-8 are also on weekly remote learning plans.

The list of safety protocols is, of course, extensive.

All staff and students wear masks when at school.

Classrooms have been set up to promote as much social distancing as possible, including clear desk shields on all teacher and student desks, made possible by a grant from the Grays Harbor Community Foundation.

Frequent handwashing by staff and students is practiced and hand sanitizing stations are present at each entry to the building and in every classroom.

Student cohorts do not inter-mingle at all. Lunches are served in the classrooms and recesses are taken separately.

Students must clear a daily health screening before being allowed to enter the building.

Visitors must pass through a visitor health screening station before entering the building.

All staff complete a daily health screening prior to coming to work each day.

All staff and student families follow the state Department of Health symptom and exposure flowcharts when determining if it is safe to come to school each day.

All staff and faculty meetings, as well as school commission and parent teacher organization meetings, and parent teacher conferences are held via Zoom.

“Currently, we have not had any positive COVID cases that have directly impacted our school, staff, or students,” said Marlow.

Parents, students and school staff have been carefully following the protocols, with no complaints.

“We have not received any push back from our school community on the health and safety protocols,” said Marlow. “On the contrary, everyone has been very cautious, diligent, and proactive with the protocols and their personal health.”

Marlow continued, “We were very intentional about training staff, parents, and students prior to school starting and that training has paid off. Our students do a fantastic job of following the protocols when at school and our parents have gone above and beyond to communicate with us when needed and to help us keep everyone safe.”

All involved are happy to be on campus when they can, said Marlow. “Our staff, parents, and students are very thankful to have the opportunity to attend some in-person schooling. We all wish the in-person instruction could be more frequent or for longer periods of time, but we also all understand the importance of keeping everyone safe and healthy.”

Families can choose an all-online learning model for their students, and two at St. Mary’s have done so for high risk health reasons, said Marlow.

Marlow acknowledges the burden the pandemic has placed on all involved with education — students, instructors, staff and parents.

“By no means has this been easy,” she said. “The teachers have worked tirelessly to make learning accessible and productive for all our students and our parents have partnered with us in countless ways to ensure their students engage with their learning responsibilities.”

Marlow said the entire school community has pitched in to make the hybrid model, now more than two months in, successful.

“It has definitely been a community wide effort and we are very blessed to have a school community that is willing to work together for the common good of all,” she said. “In addition, we have received a great amount of support from our local Catholic parishes and school alumni. We are very thankful to have come this far safely and are looking forward to the time when we can move into our next phase of in-person learning.”