Portland Adventist Academy students made PAA history as the first to attend in-person class during the coronavirus pandemic.
Oregon health authorities began to lift some stay-home orders in June, allowing small groups to begin meeting. PAA chose the opportunity to offer its annual summer world history course to practice and improve in-person learning as the school prepared to bring students back to campus at some point.
To follow protocol for social distancing in the classroom, the class was capped at 10 students. Students and staff wore masks and took frequent breaks for fresh air, hand washing and surface cleaning.
“It was a bit hard to remember all the COVID rules at the beginning,” says freshman Elizabeth Struntz. “It’s hard to breathe, and your ears start to hurt because the elastic pulls. Staying at least 6 feet apart was hard [at first], but it’s not as hard as I thought. Over the weeks, it’s gotten easier.”
“Even though masks can be annoying, we still wear them for the safety of others,” explains Zach*.
Zach and his family quarantined through much of the summer after they had contact with someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus. He is tenaciously committed to keeping others safe. “I don't want to risk someone else's life because I didn't put on a mask when I should have. I don't want to risk someone else's life because I didn't practice social distancing. I want to protect others in case I do have COVID-19.”
“The safety of our entire PAA family, as well as the greater community is our top priority,” says Mechelle Peinado, PAA principal. “We have and always will follow state and health department guidelines. As we move forward, so many things will look different this school year. And we have to stay flexible.”
Flexibility is essential. A day after the world history class concluded, Oregon state requirements for in-person school were announced and the potential for meeting in-person in the fall was in question.
But there was good news. Flexibility is not only essential, but it is an advantage.
While much larger schools made the tough decision to meet entirely online given the uncertainty, PAA’s small size allows teachers and students to move from in-person to distance learning seamlessly. As Multnomah County’s coronavirus cases decrease or increase, students and parents can count on high-quality education whether in the classroom or online.
Students like Struntz and Zach maintain a mature perspective.
Zach knows one day his potential grandchildren may study this pandemic in their own world history class. “I hope they see that life is fragile,” he says, “and that if we want to protect it we have to do the best we can to help each other out. If something like this happens again, I hope they can be better people and appreciate life more than they have before.”
“As Christians, we should keep our eyes on Jesus and recognize that this is the sign that He is coming soon,” says Struntz. “As Christians, we should check in on our church family, whether it’s in driving by their house and waving at them, calling them on the phone, or praying for them. We should work together while we travel through this uncharted territory.”
*Zach wished to remain anonymous. His name was changed for this story.