WENATCHEE — You can’t see them smiling beneath the masks, but students at Wenatchee and Eastmont high schools are glad to be back in school, even if it’s only part-time.

Eastmont high students have been back since Jan. 25 and Wenatchee high students since Jan. 26, each on a different hybrid schedule.

“It is amazing the level of energy in the building, having adults interacting with kids but also the conversations of adults to adults,” said Wenatchee Principal Eric Anderson. “You get kids back in the building, you get a lot of smiles even with masks on. You can tell people are happy.”

For Eastmont Principal Lance Noell, it was like walking into a dark room and turning on the light. “Completely rejuvenating. We are recharged. We feel like we’re educators again. It has been spectacular,” Noell said.

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The social-emotional impact of being back in school has had a “massive impact” on students, Noell said. He feels like the students have been pretty honest with him.

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“The stories I hear from them are dark. It’s disturbing and scary,” Noell said. “The fact they are talking to me about that is significant. It’s not just me. You know that is happening with staff all over the building because it is all about relationships all over the building.”

Noell said he can see it in their effort. These were students who were not engaged, but when they arrived on campus, the change was immediate.

“When have you ever in your life just snapped your fingers and seen change? But that is what has happened with these students. … Automatic transformation,” Noell said. “I will say the damage is extensive. When we talk about social-emotional damage, we will be dealing with these scars for many years.”

Anderson believes Wenatchee students are far better off being in school from a social-emotional standpoint. The big advantage of the AM-PM schedule is the daily contact with students.

While Monday is all virtual, Tuesday through Friday, every student comes into the building either in the morning or afternoon.

“I think that has been critical, in my mind, because you have now four days a week where they are seeing a teacher and interacting with some friends. Granted, they only have 5 minutes between class periods, so they don’t have a ton of time to chat,” Anderson said. “Some kids will get here early so they have time to talk to their friends.”

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Wenatchee is on the AM-PM schedule while Eastmont is on the A-B schedule. Wenatchee has 35-minute class periods, which are pretty short, Anderson said.

Anderson said the teachers have done a nice job adapting and focusing during those 35-minutes around the core standards.

“That and getting into that groove of what are we doing in-person and what are we asking kids to do as an extension of learning when they are not with us,” Anderson said. “That has been working out well.”

Noell said the Eastmont schedule is unique because they are only doing three classes at a time, per semester. Each class is 100 minutes long.

“You’ve heard how remote learning has worked or not worked. Even college students are not doing five, six or seven classes at a time. That didn’t sit well with us as a district. The three classes at a time has been great,” Noell said. “We’re putting much emphasis on the on-site time because we know that works. That is a good recipe for learning.”

One of the fears with the A-B schedule is that students would eat lunch at school, risking exposure with their masks off. But what Noell has found is that most students are leaving campus for lunch. “They head right out the door. It’s reduced the number significantly,” Noell said of lunch.

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There has been much talk statewide and locally about learning loss during this pandemic-impacted year. Eastmont Assistant Superintendent Matt Charlton said there has been learning loss.

“We’re trying to get a handle on how much there is. Yes, we will have some summer school opportunities and credit retrieval-type things. There will be some kids needing more time to get across the finish line,” Charlton said. “Last year, the Eastmont staff did a remarkable job working with each kid to help them get across the line. They are using that same approach this year at the high school.”

Anderson believes kids have still learned a lot through this process. They have just learned some different things.

“Even in remote learning, their questions would be different. I will give our students and staff credit. They have worked extremely hard through this process. They have learned a lot but they have learned a lot differently than they have learned in the past,” Anderson said.

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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