Dave McIntosh spent much of Thursday morning before first bell greeting students at the main entrance and hallways of Heritage High School, asking a familiar question to students who needed it: “Do you know where you’re going?”
“I kind of like it,” said McIntosh, a math and special education teacher, “because I get to connect with kids face-to-face.”
Even if full faces are hidden by masks.
For the first time since Gov. Jay Inslee closed school buildings in March 2020, all high schools in Evergreen Public Schools, Clark County’s largest district, welcomed students across all grades for in-person, twice-per-week instruction. More area districts are welcoming high school students back in the coming weeks.
Thursday featured 370 students in-person at Heritage, said Principal Derek Garrison, as part of cohort A. Cohort B arrives Friday for the first time. Garrison said another 216 Heritage students are on a wait list to either be part of twice-a-week hybrid instruction or revert back to remote learning full-time.
The sights and sounds Thursday were different — or as many students put it, weird, crazy and even a bit awkward — from a typical school day. Students lined up at three separate building entrances socially distanced, and were greeted by staffers clearing those who filled out attestation forms, acknowledging they are symptom-free of COVID-19. Staff also gave students directions to class, or assisted them with any other issues that arose.
Sophomore Ashlynn Olson had problems connecting to the school’s Wi-Fi before entering the building for the first time in almost one full year. She said she was nervous for Thursday for a variety of reasons, and called the past 11 months like being on a roller coaster.
“I’m worried about what things are going to look like, and nervous about the rules that are in place,” Olson said, “and worried about whether I’ll be able to communicate with my friends or not.”
Once inside the school, a new normal is everywhere. Hallways are now traffic lanes directing everyone to stay to the right. Restrooms are to be used only during class time to prevent overcrowding. And like other secondary schools districtwide, students are assigned chairs in the commons and cafeterias for meals.
Heritage is working on making lunch time a vibrant atmosphere that will include music and games. Leaving campus for lunch is not allowed.
It’s a lot to take in, said sophomore Martha Ayala, but she said it’s worth it to have in-person instruction.
Ayala’s first-period geometry class is taught by McIntosh and Dwight Patterson. Ayala said she misses her friends who are part of the other cohort for in-person instruction, but with the 4:2 student-to-teacher ratio for math on in-person days, it’s almost like personalized instruction.
“If I need help, I can get it right away,” she said.
After introductions and a COVID-19 procedures video, Patterson dove into the day’s lesson on finding the values of trigonometric ratios.
“What can be more fun than geometry?” Patterson asked the class.
Inside Andy Goss’ second-period Medical Science 2 class, four of the nine students tuned in remotely; the remaining five sat inside his classroom in designated seats to participate in Goss’ lesson on planes of the body.
Ninth-grader Natasha Booth said Thursday’s experience fared better than Monday and Tuesday, when all freshmen districtwide who chose hybrid learning had orientations inside their new school. Thursday included all grade levels.
“At least I’m not late to class,” Booth said.
Booth said remote learning can be tiring, and even abnormal. The best part about being at school, she said, was just that — physically back at school.
“Being inside the school with the teachers and actually seeing some of your friends, and being able to talk to them,” she said. “Even if I have to wear a mask.”