WOODLAND — On his final day with students at Green Mountain School, retiring Superintendent Tyson Vogeler put a historical perspective on a historical school year.
Now and into the future.
“I think it’s important for you to know you made history this year,” Vogeler told the student body, socially distanced inside its small gymnasium at the school’s one and only assembly of the year. “You have done something nobody at this school has ever done before.”
For everything that is learning in a pandemic — even in Clark County’s most rural school district — Vogeler wants Green Mountain’s future to remember its past. That’s why all 155 students at the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school organized items for a time capsule to be buried and not opened until 2071. Masks signed by students, photos of classrooms, learning materials, flash drives, and orange lanyards that signified students and staff cleared COVID-19 attestation. The time capsule will be sealed inside what will be a remodeled cafeteria and other improvements and upgrades coming in 2022.
“This has been an incredible year,” the superintendent said. “You came to school and did all the safety protocols. That’s historic. You will remember that for the rest of your life.”
Tuesday, Green Mountain joined nearby Battle Ground Public Schools to close 2020-21 as the first districts to release students for the summer. Traditionally, the rural school uses the final day of school as a “field day” filled with games and activities. This year, because of COVID-19 safety protocols, it was improvised to classrooms arts and crafts and activities inside the gym.
“Today, it’s all about having fun and releasing all the stress we’ve had going through school,” said eighth-grader Rose White.
Next year, White will enter the La Center School District for high school. It’s a big change moving to another district and away from a school that’s been a family and community for years. But that bond also, she said, was what made this school year more manageable: doing it together.
“I feel like the way we are (a small school),” White said, “we have grown stronger bonds with each other. We spend a lot of time together.”
Since the pandemic began, Clark County’s most rural district has faced unique challenges and obstacles not seen in other nearby districts. In an area where internet access is limited, the school began the fall in distance learning by relying on pre-prepared printed materials and flash drives featuring recorded videos by teachers.
First-grade teacher Kim Combs, who’s spent the past 15 years at Green Mountain teaching kindergarten and first grade, said as the school year progressed, so did her technology skills.
“I learned a ton about technology,” she said. “Technology was not my strong suit; I started teaching before we had all the technology.”
Students returned to class in January with half-a-day live-instruction daily. Smaller classrooms and meal-area configurations made for more logistical hurdles compared to other districts when it came to following COVID-19 guidance for schools, Vogeler said.
“We struggle here with physical space,” he said. “We’ve used absolutely every space available.”
Tuesday, that space was more outdoors than inside. Students departed at noon to an annual school tradition not even COVID-19 could halt in 2020: soap bubbles blown by staff and bubble machines as students departed for home on buses.
Green Mountain is the only school sixth-grader Olivia Bankhead knows. She said the relationships built between students and staff is what makes the school special, which made the school year special in its own right.
“Since it’s so small, we all know each other,” she said. “Not being together for so long, and then coming back and acting like everything was normal — acting like nothing had changed.”