Despite Washington schools being closed through the end of the school year, Eatonville School District teachers and staff are reaching students at home, offering daily meals and providing support and resources through different means amidst a global pandemic.
Responding to increased COVID-19 cases and complications, Gov. Jay Inslee mandated the closure of all public schools from March 17 until April 24. That date has been extended through May 4.
Many districts closed their doors at the end of the day March 13, when Inslee announced the mandate. Eatonville schools remained open through March 16, however.
“It was invaluable to buck the trend and stay open that extra day to get packets ready to go home and to not just leave people in a lurch overnight,” Eatonville School Board Chairman Jeff Lucas said during the board’s YouTube-live meeting on March 25.
Following Inslee’s announcement, teachers spent the next few days whipping up packets and books for students. Principals began developing long-term plans. Food workers prepared to daily serve lunch and breakfast outside multiple schools.
Initially, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction instructed school districts to focus on review, but with new input and developments, schools are moving forward with additional educational material and continuous learning.
March 13, Eatonville Elementary Principal Diane Heersink welcomed her students back to the first week of “real school” since the closure in her weekly YouTube update. Students have begun receiving weekly lessons through their parent’s email and Bloomz accounts.
“Teachers had to reinvent themselves to become distance-learning educators overnight,” Allison Shew, Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy principal, wrote in an email. “We are proud of all the teachers within the district for being creative in their efforts to reach students and try new technology.”
Teachers are using Facebook groups, Zoom, YouTube, Google Classroom, phone calls, text messages, emails and other means to connect with students.
Some students have had difficulty continuing their education because they lack devices or the Internet, however.
Two weeks ago, the school district conducted a phone survey to assess families' food, technological and other needs.
“We have about 75 percent of high school students that have been actively engaged in their schoolwork during the closure, and we are working to reach the remaining students,” Eatonville High School Principal Amy Sturdivant wrote in an email. “We are deploying loaner Chromebooks on Friday (April 3) to students who indicated a need.”
Free wi-fi is also being offered outside each of the schools.
At the last School Board meeting, directors shared their concerns about seniors graduating. Superintendent Krestin Bahr said she’s heard about high schools around the state using pass-or-fail policies, but that is not what Eatonville High School is doing.
“Amy Sturdivant is such a courageous principal,” Bahr said. “Amy is like, ‘We are not going to do that.’ They are grading the work, and they are going to get those kids to graduation.”
Ronda Litzenberger, Eatonville School Board director and legislative representative who is running for state Senate, praised all of the school principals for their work.
“It is obvious and really wonderful that we have principals that have been really great instructional leaders because they’ve been able to take this task and meet it face on,” she said.
The school district is also making sure students still have access to meals. Staff served 670 meals to children on April 1, according to Eatonville School District’s Facebook page. Two weeks ago, the district served an average of 400 meals per day, Bahr said.
The community has noticed the district's work. Community members shared 30 comments of praise for the food workers to ESD’s Facebook page. They recognized the increased risk food workers face by making contact with so many individuals daily, and several patrons called the food workers heroes.
ESD board directors also praised Food Service Manager Terry High and her staff.
“Terry is doing a fantastic job and her staff are as well,” Bahr said. “It’s pretty amazing. They do a great job.”
Food workers are serving meals to all children, newborn to 18 years old, each day at Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy, Weyerhaeuser Elementary and Eatonville Middle School.
Columbia Crest is serving lunch between noon and 1 p.m. Weyerhaeuser is serving between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and EMS is serving between 11 a.m. and noon.
“In addition to food, we have books we are giving out,” Bahr said.
The books come from a grant written by an Eatonville Elementary staff member, she added.
In a Google Hangout meet, Bahr discussed the struggles of providing food to all children, as well as some break-throughs to provide better access.
Bahr said the school district is taking into account that not all families' circumstances are the same.
“We will meet families where they need to be met,” she said.
Many of the families from Columbia Crest and other areas are having difficulty with gas money, and it is expensive to drive to Eatonville every day, Bahr said.
Some families don’t have a car and some only have access to a car during the day. In an effort to ease the family burden, Bahr has been working with OSPI toward bundling a week’s supply of food for families. Previously, OSPI wouldn’t allow it, but recently approved the action.
“That is being allowed as of Friday (April 3),” Bahr said. “The rules are being amended as time goes on.”
Although unconfirmed, Bahr said it’s likely that food services will go into the summer. As long as the need remains, they’ll be considered essential.
Bahr has been working with the Eatonville Family Agency food bank and faith leaders in the area to form partnerships that help provide for more families with needed supplies and food.
In an email Shew praised Bahr's leadership during this time.
“We have to recognize the strength and courageous leadership of our superintendent, Krestin Bahr,” Shew said. “She is leading us through this journey, keeping us positive and on the right track.”
Reaching out to students personally, Bahr records weekly story-time videos on the “Eatonville Webmaster” YouTube channel. Last week, she tasked students with creating and submitting their own books. She promised to read one student’s book this week.
“We remain committed to providing excellent education for our students because they deserve it, and their families do as well,” Bahr said.
Bahr assured families that the district will be honoring spring break April 13 through April 17. Food services will continue through the week.
“The most important thing is the health and well being of all of our families in Eatonville,” Bahr said. “If we can do more, please let us know.”
Bahr understands how stressful this situation can be for families. She reminds families that nobody is going to be perfect at this, and urges them to take their time and do the best they can.
She also welcomes community members to contact her directly with their needs. Her contact information can be found at www.eatonville.wednet.edu/district/superintendent.
Regular updates are posted on the Eatonville School District Facebook page with resources for at-home learning, messages from teachers, links to parenting classes, updates on recent events, near-weekly newsletters from Bahr and more.