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COVID-19 | First day of school: traditions and challenges

EAST WENATCHEE — There were no school buses, no backpacks and, at least for some, no early morning drop-offs, but other than that it felt (somewhat) like a normal first day of school for parents, students and teachers Wednesday morning.

Across the Wenatchee Valley, first-day pictures were snapped outside the front door. Kids labored to get back into their morning routine — some even shedding a few tears. And teachers were back in the classroom easing into the first day with welcome back activities and presentations.

Of course, that’s where a lot of the normalcy ended.

Instead of a room full of students, teachers had a chatroom full of faces or blank screens staring back at them as kids K-12 logged on for their first day of school.

“It’s as normal as they can make it for as weird (a time) as it is,” said Beth Farmer, whose son Shaw is a second-grader at Grant Elementary School in East Wenatchee. “I know it’s new for teachers too.”

Surrounded by his Pokémon cards, Star Wars spaceships and Avengers figurines, Shaw checked in from his bedroom desk at 9:30 a.m., while Beth sat off-screen to assist with technical issues.

Shaw, who would normally go to YMCA for their before-school-care in the morning, got to sleep in and get a little bit of a later start. But for Kristi Serrato and her four girls, Jayde, 17, Emma, 7, Evie, 4 and Ella, 3, it was back to the early morning regime. Everyone was fed, dressed and out the door by 7 a.m. Well, mostly. Ella sobbed as she begrudgingly got dressed for her first day of preschool.

“But once we got everyone in the car, it was fine,” said Serrato, who dropped off her girls at preschool and her mother’s house before heading to work as a para-pro at Cascade Elementary School. “We had been practicing a little bit. Overall, it was quicker than I anticipated and for us, it was very typical because three of the kids still went to where they would have gone.”

For Bob Gallaher, who teaches leadership at Eastmont High School, Wednesday was bittersweet in a sense. It felt nice to get back into the classroom and away from some of the at-home distractions, but he missed the energy of having 1,400 students in the building and a classroom full of kids. Only teachers and administrators were in the building Wednesday.

“Normally on the first day kids are pretty quiet, but they are excited to see each other,” Gallaher said. “They were excited to see one another on Google Meet but the energy was missing. That’s the biggest thing, you don’t get that feedback.”

Gallaher also had to adjust his typical first day of class activity: shaking hands.

“When the students walk in on the first day we shake hands, which obviously we couldn’t do even if they were in school, but then we’ll ask the kids to sit with their hands crossed and ask which thumb is on top?” Gallaher said. “We typically are moving as much as a P.E class on our first day, learning how to shake hands, introduce ourselves and look one another in the eye. For kids to look each other in the eye for more than five seconds, it’s painful but also funny to watch.”

But with everyone online, Gallaher said he talked a little about what the class is going to be like and got to know his students. Predictably, some had some difficulties getting logged in.

“We took it easy on them today but we’ll start picking it up tomorrow,” Gallaher said. “I’ll put out a prompt and ask the kids to shake hands with someone in their house; and if they’re brave enough get it on camera and share it with the class. We just have to modify things, but we’ll make it work.”

Joanne Leonard, now in her 37th year teaching, said the first day was wonderful.

“I think we are all going to be adapting and learning new tricks as we go but certain things were even easier; like getting class codes or getting students a certain tool by copy and pasting in the chat,” said Leonard, who teaches French and German at Eastmont High School. “We were learning the alphabet in class today and it was nice to be able to use my whiteboard and then hear everyone say it.”

“The highlight of my day was when I noticed while working on the whiteboard that if a student didn’t understand, they were asking and getting help from other students. That was great to see.”

There is no question the first day was a sort of feeling-out day for some teachers and students. But that has to be expected. Wednesday was not normal for anyone. Leonard compared it to being an exchange student.

“This is new for everyone,” Leonard said. “It’s like getting transported to a different land where you don’t know the language. It might take a couple of months to get fluent. But we’re off and running and I’m glad to be back with my students.”

St. Joe's school is back — online

WENATCHEE — The first day of classes was a slow one for St. Joseph Catholic School.

Teachers at the small elementary in Wenatchee spent the day handing out materials to parents, whose children will be learning remotely.

Classes are expected to kick into high gear next week, but executing a lesson plan under COVID-19 restrictions requires a bit more diligence.

“I think there’s a lot more planning on both ends,” said fifth-grade teacher Lisa Martinez. “You have to plan ahead for what you’re going to ask in that live meeting, right, instead of right then. The kids almost have to write themselves a note.”

COVID-19 | First day of school: traditions and challenges

EAST WENATCHEE — There were no school buses, no backpacks and, at least for some, no early morning drop-offs, but other than that it felt (somewhat) like a normal first day of school for parents, students and teachers Wednesday morning.

The school will be teaching its students remotely with Google Meet along with some take-home materials. Every Friday, parents or students will drop off the previous week’s homework and take home a new batch.

Martinez added that as teachers, “We need to be assuming that certain questions are going to come up as we’re doing that.”

That’s a hurdle that’s a little lower in person.

“It’s hard to get the instant feedback both ways. Like if the kid understands it, you don’t see it in their eyes,” said third-grade teacher Michelle Gutzwiler. “Or if they’re questioning things it’s hard for the little kid to say, ‘I don’t understand it.’ Where you’d see it in the classroom, you would see it in their face.”

But some day, students will return to the classroom. St. Joseph’s teachers say they hope to make the transition back as seamless as possible. So they’re teaching from the classroom and students will take part in prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance before school in the morning.

“We really are trying to replicate how it’s going to be when they come back to the building as much as possible,” Martinez said.

That includes a structured schedule.

“Because when you have, you know, four or five kids, you want them doing the same thing at the same time,” said kindergarten teacher Lindsay Pasion. “Not one on lunch break, one doing math, one doing silent reading, one on their individual conference with their teacher.”

Teachers at other schools within the valley have expressed concerns about forming good relationships with students they’ve never met over video. That’s not as much of an issue at St. Joe’s because several teachers “looped,” or moved up or down a grade, and will have the same students as last year.

Instead, the St. Joseph teachers said, handling their own children is among their primary concerns.

“I think juggling being a parent and trying to help our own children, just like any other working parent,” Berdan said.

“We all have kids and we all are teachers,” said Erin Stitt, a second-grade teacher.

“But I think that’s to our benefit, as well,” Berdan said. “We know what these parents are experiencing.”

New rules for Chelan, Douglas allow pools, indoor religious services

OLYMPIA — Swimming pools can reopen and indoor religious services can resume Thursday in Chelan and Douglas counties — with restrictions.

However, retail stores in the two counties will see a reduction in allowed occupancy.

The state Department of Health announced the changes Wednesday. Chelan and Douglas are currently in a modified Phase 1 of the state restart plan.

General-use swimming pools, like those run by athletic clubs or municipalities, can offer appointment-only lap swimming, one-on-one lessons and classes of five or less.

Indoor religious services are limited to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is less.

In-store retail occupancy is being reduced from 50% to 30%. This applies to both non-essential and essential businesses, like grocery stores.

Curbside library services, drive-in movies and team gymnastics are permitted, as well as outdoor card rooms with up to 50 people.

According to the Department of Health, the new guidance brings Chelan and Douglas in line with Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties, which are also in a modified Phase 1.

“To date, Benton, Franklin, Chelan, Douglas and Yakima counties had different approved activities in their modified Phase 1 plans,” according to a department news release. “To create consistency in allowed activities, the state worked with local jurisdictions to agree on one set of activities that will be applied to all counties in modified Phase 1.”

For more information on the changes announced Wednesday, see

Slidewaters in Chelan ends hope of water park operations in 2020

CHELAN — Slidewaters owners announced Wednesday they are giving up hope of reopening outdoor water park operations this year and will focus on a 2021 Memorial Day weekend restart.

Owners Burke and Robert Bordner said they are still working on the possibility of providing outdoor food and beverage — a final determination is due from the Chelan-Douglas Health District — but the main focus has shifted to next year’s operation.

“Because Governor Jay Inslee and the COVID Management team show no signs of altering their stance of ‘you can’t operate because we said you can’t,’ we are forced to announce that we will not have any more operational days in the 2020 season,” they said in a news release.

“Having generated less than 20% of our expected 2020 revenue, we are facing a very difficult path to get to Memorial Day 2021, but we are confident it is a possibility.”

The Chelan water park operated for about four weeks in June and July in defiance of state restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the current rules, the park is not allowed to operate until Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. Chelan County remains in a modified Phase 1.

The Bordners sued to overturn the rules, but lost in court. The state Department of Labor & Industries hit them with a $9,639 citation for “willful” violation of the state rules, prompting the closure in mid-July.

They appealed the case in court and have tried other ways to restart the operation since receiving the citation, they said.

“After shutting down in order to avoid prosecution, potential jail time and an unknown fine schedule, we immediately reapplied for approval to operate as a park — just like the local government-run parks have been doing since late May,” they said. That request received no response.

Their next step was to apply to operate their new surf park, which has been under construction this summer, using a reservation system similar to other pool facilities.

They also explored various operational models, working with the Chelan-Douglas Health District. Those included:

  • Running at 30% of capacity
  • Opening to private parties of fewer than 200
  • Taking reservations and allowing no for more than 50 guests at a time

All were denied by the state Board of Health, the Bordners said, leading to the decision to focus on next year.