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Distance learning reunites classmates, teachers in Clark County

The news of extended school closures hit hard in Clark County, where many teachers were beginning distance learning for the first time Monday.

More than 80,000 students this week will complete remote coursework, either online or through paper packets. Day one saw a mixed bag of connectivity issues, offset by students’ — and teachers’ — glee at seeing each other for the first time since schools closed March 17.

“I was super happy,” said Melisa Troche, a first-grade teacher in the dual immersion Spanish-language program at Pioneer Elementary School. “I miss them so much.”

Troche’s students, all 21 of them, tuned in right on cue at 10 a.m. for an hour of singing, crafting paper rabbits and a timely storybook reading of “Germs Are Not for Sharing,” by Elizabeth Verdick.

“Lavos los manos,” Troche read to her students. Wash your hands.

Every once in a while, Troche’s voice came through garbled, and the occasional younger sibling scampered through the background. Troche said that in the future she’ll be splitting the class into two periods — one in the morning, the other in the afternoon — to better manage her students.

But, she noted, students were engaged, answered questions and were excited to show off their paper “conejitos.” Troche decorated a guest bedroom in her house with classroom posters, books and a sock monkey, giving students a bit of a familiar setting.

“I don’t want to overwhelm them, but at the same time, we’re going to support the learning of students,” Troche said. “We’re going to continue to do activities.”

Across town, Eleanor Livengood’s third-grade son, Parker, was grumpy at the idea of returning to school.

“I told him the other day that, ‘School is starting back on Monday, so Sunday night, you’ve got a bedtime again,’ ” she said.

By the end of the day, Parker was asking if he could call in to his class’ teleconference again.

“‘It was so cool seeing my friends again,’ ” she recalled him saying.

Livengood said Parker struggled to log in to class on his class iPad at first and ultimately had to use her phone. She’s optimistic that the connection will improve in the coming days.

“At least we’re getting some sort of normalcy back. It’s not like, ‘Surprise! Summer break came three months early,’ ” Livengood said.

In emails to parents, Clark County’s largest districts reiterated that they’ll be working through challenges for students and families, while providing meals and other resources while campuses are closed.

Troche’s class wrapped up hours before Inslee’s announcement of continued school cancellations, but extended closures appeared inevitable in light of the governor’s extension of the state’s stay-at-home order.

Nevertheless, Troche said, if and when the news came, she’d be ready. Maybe she’ll do an end-of-year party with her students, she said. Everyone can make a party hat, she suggested. Maybe she’ll do curbside delivery of balloons.

The most important thing, she said, is to keep students happy.

“You have to teach with love and touch their hearts,” Troche said. “Kids can be stressed. I just want to make them happy until the end.”


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