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School staff talk tricks of their trade during COVID


October 14, 2020

HAWTHORNE COUNSELING Stefani Brown, explains her Canvas page during Monday's school board meeting.

When classes go online, it can be tough to keep kids engaged. That's especially the case as the when the job is to "take jobs to students," as natural resources teacher Blake Manley put it to the Sweet Home School Board Monday night, Oct. 12.

Manley said he has put together a video series to keep students engaged and learning about career options, billed "Manley Jobs" on Youtube and on the district's Facebook page.

He gave a presentation about the program at the meeting, attended by board members Jason Redick, Mike Reynolds, Debra Brown, Dale Keene, Joe Kennedy, Jenny Daniels, Jim Gourley, Chanz Keeney and Jason Van Eck.

The video series has a short introductory video and two longer, 12-minute videos so far, including one about fishing and another about logging.

"I can't grab my class of 25 and take them to Weyerhaeuser and show them the mill, but what if I can take Weyerhaeuser and bring it to them virtually," Manley said.

The high-production videos will include topics like farming, land ownership, and "natural resource and forestry jobs," he added.

The videos can be viewed on Youtube by searching Manley Jobs. The first is called Manley Jobs: Fishing Guide_EP1.

Also at the school board meeting:

- Supt. Tom Yahraes reported that enrollment has remained steady since last month at 2,154 students, down about 170 students from last year.

"Districts regionally and across the nation are down 3-5% in their enrollment, and so are we," he said. "I actually anticipated being lower, much lower, but we are holding tight."

- Yahraes also gave an update about the COVID-19 situation. The new data for the most recent week came out just an hour before the meeting, and showed 104 new cases in Linn County in the week of Oct. 4 to 10, which is 82.2 cases per 100,000 and far above the maximum of 10 cases per capita which would allow classes to return.

The county also had a 6.8% positivity rate, which needs to be below 5% to get students back in school, Yahraes said.

That means students will not be able to return to school for a while, until the cases per capita are below 10 for three straight weeks.

"I know there's some confusion about what's happening in other counties," Yahraes said, pointing to county allowances for populations with less than 30,000 people and a low population density.

Those rural counties have less stringent metrics for county-wide COVID case numbers, and instead focus more directly on confirmed cases among students and school staff.

- A tort claim against the school district by the teachers union has been dropped, Yahraes said. The school district received a letter on behalf of the Sweet Home Teachers Association on Oct. 2, which said they are revoking the letter and "would prefer to continue our school year and bargaining that we would be conducting in the coming months without the tort claim," Yahraes read at the meeting.

- Stefani Brown, counselor at Hawthorne Elementary, walked the board through her Canvas page and discussed how she has made the page useable for a much younger student audience.

"I decided to use the style of the bitmoji," she said of her page, which has numerous clickable objects around her digital classroom to help students get the resources they need.

There's a mindfulness page, with a yoga Youtube video, breathing exercises, and jigsaw puzzles, as well as calming music, she said.

Students can also request a check-in, which gives them the ability to communicate confidentially with counselors.

Keeney asked whether Brown has had many takers from students, and she replied that most requests for a counselor have come through teacher inboxes, not through her page.

"But," she said, "I have asked teachers to go through my course with their kids."

"The counselors really worked together to make sure they were similar. We all have our own stuff but we made sure it is kid-friendly."

At the district-wide level, Behavior Program Coach Billie Cannon discussed a wellness center webpage which includes numerous resources, as well as a program for helping students who are struggling.

She discussed a three-tiered mental health monitoring program.

The first tier involves teachers checking up on their students.

For the second tier, "when we start noticing a student is having trouble with attendance or struggling, we start looping in the counselor and principal."

The third tier brings in "more individualized help," she added. Students get access to additional resources by asking for help, through teacher or classified employee referrals, and at access points like grab-and-go lunch distribution or grading, Yahraes said.

Cannon added that she's trying to "pull county resources to East Linn," and said she's trying to get all staff trained in suicide prevention.

- Sweet Home Junior High teachers Mark and Lana Holden gave a presentation about how distance learning has worked at their school.

"Those of us who are teachers usually do it because we love to learn," Lana Holden said. "Canvas has given us the ultimate opportunity to learn."

Sometimes it can take 45 minutes for her to figure out how to post something on Canvas correctly. But, she added, when she figures something new out, she shares with other teachers down the hall and they learn from her, or she sees how they've managed things differently.

"We have a great opportunity to think outside the box," she said.

Holden added that trying to connect with students was a big concern for her, especially since Zoom classes often involve "a blank screen with a name."

After struggling with engagement, she had a lot more success the day of the meeting: "I incorporated breakout rooms where they have discussions and then report back to the class," she said. "The kids just stayed engaged the whole time, I had a lot more comments in chat and responses."

"Canvas is really powerful, and we haven't seen yet what all it will be able to do."

"I think it will give our kids a boost and level the playing field with other kids out in the world.

Mark Holden said he's been incorporating video explanations into his assignments, which has been engaging for students. They can also access the grade book on the platform and turn in their work.

"The speed grader is really fast," he said, showing assignments from his students to the board. One student sent photos of drawings, while another created a board game. Another student created an entire slideshow, which included a photo of himself.

"They're showing a lot of technical know-how to be able to show me these things," Mark said.

"It's not a steep learning curve; I'm amazed what I'm doing this week even compared to last week."

Gourley said the platform could come in handy for the students later.

"A lot of the kids going to college said they were unprepared because their professors contact them this way, so hopefully this gives them a leg up," he said.

- The school board accepted a donation of $2,000 from Kevin and Shelley Strong for school facility improvement projects that will benefit students.

- Business Manager Kevin Strong presented on the budget, and said "Spending is very stable compared to the same time period last year."

There has been a $2,196 increase from this time last year, from$ 3,797,423 to$ 3,799,620.

He also updated the board on work on the Junior High school building.

"Girding work within the building is coming close to being done," he said. "The new design studio going in where the old office used to be, and there will also be a green room for video production going into the school."

- Chief Academic Officer Rachel Stucky said Division 22 report requirements are being looked at early this year because "nothing is predictable this year."

However, many of the requirements of Division 22 have been waived because of the pandemic.

"Normally it's about 50 pages and now it's about 5," she said, with just 17 areas or interest, all of which Sweet Home is compliant in.

- Although Sweet Home School District received approval for its application on the Student Investment Account, "unfortunately allocations are significantly reduced for everyone this year," Stucky said. The district received $598,000, which is about 35% of what was planned for. The grant agreement will go to the superintendent for approval, get signed by the Oregon Department of Education, and will then be posted on the school district website, as required.

- The board unanimously approved a Junior High lighting upgrade, which costs $238,290 for LED fixtures and related equipment from North Coast Electric and $90,500 to Jimco Electric for installation.

Kevin Strong said some of the funding comes from Energy Trust Funding, and energy incentives will cover about $100,000 of the cost.

"We're trying to update our fixtures to more energy efficient fixtures," he said, adding that the current fixtures are quite outdated and replacement parts are becoming more expensive and harder to find.

"For the high school, Energy Trust is paying for those replacements dollar for dollar," Strong said. "There is no cost to the district for what we're doing at the high school."

The new lighting will look "similar to what was installed at Foster," he said, and future updates may come to Oak Heights, Holley, and Hawthorne.


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