While the beginning of a new school year always brings a measure of excitement and uncertainty for students and staff, the start of the 2020–21 school year is like no other. The 32 schools across Oregon and Southwest Washington in the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists are having to focus their attention, just like public schools, on how to safely start school in the fall.
All Oregon Conference schools will be following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, local health officials and their respective state governments. Some schools will operate under a hybrid model, others in-person and others via distance learning. Regardless of instruction style, providing excellent Christian education remains the priority for the conference.
Oregon Conference schools demonstrated their commitment to supporting parents and students and pointing them to Jesus during distance learning last spring. Elizabeth Fish, teacher and principal at McMinnville Adventist Christian School, called each of her school parents over the three months of distance learning to do a health and wellness check with the families and offer to pray with them. She found that even her community parents appreciated the prayer.
At Sutherlin Adventist Christian School, teacher and principal Karie MacPhee supported each of her students and families through daily morning worships over Zoom, during which students also had an opportunity to pray together. Teachers like Leanne Gainer continually checked in with her Portland Adventist Elementary School families to make sure the packets she provided to her kindergartners were meeting their learning needs.
As one Oregon Conference school parent testified, the “love and attention” the Adventist school put into distance learning for their children was exceptional. These examples illustrate the depth of dedication Oregon Conference teachers have to students that will continue this fall.
Oregon Conference schools have also crafted plans for in-person instruction to implement when they have met the criteria from their state to reopen the school building. The safety plans include requirements for physical distancing and hygiene. Classrooms will be configured differently, with certain square foot minimums established per person to encourage physical distancing to the maximum extent possible.
In addition to physical distancing, students in grades kindergarten and above, along with staff, will be wearing face coverings or face shields. Furthermore, the schools are increasing cleaning and disinfection of their campuses. Schools will also be screening students each day upon arrival for symptoms of COVID-19 and closely monitoring student and staff health throughout the school day.
Although many aspects of the 2020–21 school year will change as state guidelines are updated, one element remains constant: Oregon Conference schools’ commitment to providing quality, Christ-centered education. Gale Crosby, Oregon Conference vice president of education, stresses, “The reason for reopening our schools in whatever fashion is so we can teach our precious children about Jesus.”