Walla Walla elementary and middle schools return to full in-person learning

Tejashree Jadhav, Staff Reporter

Walla Walla elementary and middle school students will now attend full-day classes in person after months of hybrid learning came to an end on April 26.

Walla Walla District School Board announced, “Transition to the Blue Stage of its Safely Reopening Schools plan which includes resuming full-time, in-person learning for elementary and middle school students currently being served in the AM/PM hybrid model.” 

Jenna Terry, Professor of Rhetoric, Writing and Public Discourse, has both her children, a 5th grader and a 7th grader, enrolled in Walla Walla Public Schools. 

“It [AM/PM model] was a way to reduce the density of the kids in school at any given time,” Terry said. 

Terry said that her children are enthusiastic about going back to full-day in-person classes. 

“Both [children are] really really excited! I guess it takes a pandemic to make kids desperate for school,” Terry said. 

Associate Professor of Politics Susanne Beechey also has two kids in elementary school.

“They had some hesitation about returning to [a] full day after just getting in the routine of am/pm half-day scheduling. They worried about wearing a mask all day but are glad for more time with friends, more recess and time with their favorite PE teacher, Mr. M,” Beechey wrote in an email to The Wire

Both Terry and Beechey expressed concern about students respecting safety protocols and the burden that shifts onto teachers.

Illustration by Hannah Paul.

“My kids told me stories about how individual classmates of theirs’ refuse to wear masks,” Terry said. “The teachers have to take a very different disciplinary role. Most of the schools might have difficulty dealing with that individual behavior of students who may not want to cooperate.”

Politics are getting in the way of protocol adoption, Terry added.

“[Students] don’t understand why they don’t want to follow protocols. Their political ideas and their beliefs come from their families,” Terry said. 

Beechey added that as schools return to full capacity, they are not set up to maintain three feet of distance between students. On the other hand, schools have set up tents as cafeterias in outdoor spaces, in addition to instituting other protocols such as mask-wearing at all times. This seems to be working, Beechey said. 

In a press release, Walla Walla Public School District Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith assured the community that Walla Walla schools have learned from their peers and are safe environments. 

“As a superintendent, I remain both hopeful and optimistic that our schools will capitalize on these experiences and learn from both the triumphs and tribulations of the pandemic,” Dr. Smith said. 

Online learning wasn’t entirely negative. Terry mentioned that she would regularly have lunch with her children and enjoyed spending time with them when they were learning at home. But this did come with certain challenges. 

“[Online school] was a mix of challenging and delightful. It was very hard to be working full-time, teaching classes from home, while also trying to manage my kids getting online for their school,” Terry said. 

Beechey also expressed similar views.

“I am certainly grateful that my kids could safely continue their education this year but mostly it was very challenging for everyone involved: kids, teachers and parents alike,” Beechey said. “Supporting my kids in their schooling from home certainly goes on the long list of parenting activities that when described in the abstract sound completely ridiculous and impossible but somehow you make it work one day at a time.”

Although elementary and middle schools have now returned to normal school hours in person, high school students will continue with hybrid learning. Terry pointed out her concern about high school students not going back to in-person schooling. She added that middle school students could have handled being on an a.m.-p.m. schedule for a longer period of time, while high school students should have gone back to full-day schools. 

“It’s too bad that they weren’t able to do that for the high schoolers as well, especially those who are getting ready for college,” Terry said.