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Wenatchee Internet Academy made a pandemic comeback

WENATCHEE — Online school has been a reality of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year and the Wenatchee School District resurrected its Wenatchee Internet Academy to provide an option for parents and students.

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

At the family dining room table, Hilary Martinez helps her son Cruz, 13, factoring trinomials while her other son Cortez, 13, works on algebra problems in the kitchen on Tuesday. Along with two daughters, the family switched to using the Wenatchee Internet Academy for schooling.

“Over the summer, I and another colleague, Joan Adams, received a phone call from the district saying hey, can you start thinking about what this would look like if we needed to provide an opportunity for students to continue learning at home?” said Wenatchee Internet Academy Principal Jennifer Devereaux. ”We spent the summer building the program.”

The Wenatchee Internet Academy was created in 2006 as a high school option. Devereaux said it was considered an alternative learning experience, a branch in the high school for students to earn credit in history, P.E. and health in an online format.

The program was dropped in 2018 due to budget cuts. Then came the pandemic and it was resurrected last year, revamped from the ground up and turned into a full K-12 school. It is a comprehensive and fully online school as opposed to the hybrid model where students split their time between in-person and online classes.

“We knew we were going to be in a place where families were not going to be ready to send their students back to in-person learning. We wanted to make sure we offered an alternative that kept them in the Wenatchee School District,” she said.

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Soraya Martinez, 16, studies pre-calculus on Tuesday.

There are 540 students at the WIA. It peaked in January with over 600 students. As students came back to the middle schools and high school for in-person learning, Devereaux said some families left WIA at that time.

The WIA has 31 staff members. At the K-5 level, there are two teachers per grade level. Four teachers are specialists, library, art, music and P.E. The middle school level has two English language arts teachers, two math teachers, two science teachers and one specialist teacher for P.E., music and art.

At the high school level, Devereaux said WIA uses a platform called Apex Virtual Learning School, which is endorsed by the state of Washington.

“Our students are enrolled in Apex in their courses. We have one teacher that oversees as a mentor teacher because the curriculum is provided in Apex platform and Apex has its own teachers that do the grading and give feedback to students,” she said.

All of the WIA teachers teach from their homes. Tami Woolsey, now in her 30th year of teaching with plans to retire at the end of the year, teaches first grade. She came to WIA for health reasons.

“To tell you the truth, I was afraid I was going to die of COVID because I have asthma and I’ve had pneumonia several times. I just did not want to get it,” Woolsey said.

“I love teaching at my building. I teach at Newbery and I love teaching there. I would have been there this year except for COVID. The main reason is that I wanted to avoid getting the virus.”

One of the big issues with online school is keeping the students engaged. For WIA fifth-grade teacher Tina Nicpan Brown, she tries to find out what the kids want to learn and what their interests are.

Ultimately, Nicpan Brown said her job is to make sure the fifth-grade students are ready for middle school which means they have to have exposure to fifth-grade standards.

“For example, we had a science unit about outer space. I found out my students were really curious about life on the International Space Station. One way I was able to keep them engaged learning standards was talked about poop,” Nicpan Brown said. “We walked about how astronauts poop. Ever since then, poop has been a challenge for me.”

Woolsey thinks students at WIA are learning just as much as the students at regular school because the parents are on top of it.

“There is a big parent component in the internet academy making sure their students are logged in, especially for the little kids I teach,” Woolsey said. “One of the great things about the WIA, the majority of the parents want their kids to learn online so they are motivated to get their kids online. I’ve had no attendance issues.”

Devereaux said the WIA teachers work hard to build classroom community, culture and relationships with students. “The students are learning and the engagement is high. We are learning as we go. We are getting better and want to finish the year strong,” Devereaux said.

Many students have suffered social-emotional issues due to online learning in regular school. Nicpan Brown said she did not have any data on whether that is an issue or not at WIA. When families chose the WIA option, Nicpan Brown said parents knew their students would be online in the morning but would spend the rest of their afternoon doing activities on their own.

Parents knew upfront what the model was going to look like for the year, Nicpan Brown said.

“Many of them were able to supplement. We have students were taking dance classes. We have students who are taking music lessons. There are families spending time outside hiking and skiing,” Nicpan Brown said. “Because our families knew this was the model, they’ve been able to add those social opportunities for their kids.

Certainly, vaccines are changing things rapidly for schools. For many different reasons, Devereaux said families needed WIA and found they really liked the online learning environment.

She believes WIA be around for another year, maybe not with the same student enrollment numbers.

“We will go forward. We’re working to get information from families on their plans for next year. We know it’s early but we want to be prepared. After next year, if families still want it, I’m sure the district will consider it because it really does work for a lot of families,” Devereaux said.

Q&A | COVID-19 vaccine concerns: A conversation with Dr. Malcolm Butler and Father Argemiro Orozco

Father Argemiro Orozco

WENATCHEE — Confusion around COVID-19 vaccines has led some Wenatchee Valley residents to consider not getting vaccinated. Questions about the vaccines’ connections to fetal tissue have some residents questioning the moral ramifications of vaccinations.

Rev. Argemiro Orozco from Holy Apostles Church in East Wenatchee and Dr. Malcolm Butler, Chelan-Douglas Health Officer, met with The Wenatchee World to discuss these COVID-19 vaccine concerns.

WW: What kinds of concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines have you heard?

Dr. Malcolm Butler: I’ve heard several concerns consistently. The first one which I hear most commonly is “how is it possible that a vaccine like this could have been developed so quickly?”

The short answer to that, there are two different parts. One is we now have technology which allows us to produce vaccines very quickly. I like to make the analogy to a Xerox machine. Prior to a Xerox machine, to copy a document might have taken half an hour. And of course with a Xerox machine, it takes half a second. And in the same way now, we have technology where we can copy the genetic code of a virus very quickly, almost like a Xerox machine. And so when we could do that, that cuts down the amount of time required to develop a vaccine.

The second difference is that historically if a company was going to develop a vaccine first they had to raise money and then do the initial research. And then go back to the government to ask for more money to do some studies, and then go back and ask for more money to build some factories to produce it, and raising all that money would take up to 10 years because as each phase progressed you had to go back ask for more money.

During this process, a lot of money was available immediately. So people did not have to go out to look for those funds. So between those two items, the new technology we have and the amount of money available, it’s been possible to develop this vaccine very quickly.

And it’s important to understand: It’s not because corners were cut, it’s not because assumptions were made. It’s because there were actual changes to how the vaccine was developed that took out a lot of the waste in the process.

The second thing that I do hear a lot is a concern that aborted babies have been used in the creation of this vaccine. And what I tell everybody is that these vaccines, the Moderna and the Pfizer, which are called mRNA vaccines, they are the two that we have had. Just this week we now have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which is slightly different... . No part of these vaccines has anything to do with aborted fetal tissue.

However, back in the 1970s, some aborted tissue was used to create what we call a cell line. And that’s a type of human cells that can be stored in a petri dish and that we can use in research... . As we were figuring out how to build the Xerox machine, we might have used some of these cell lines. So, it’s very distant and removed from the vaccine.

And I reassure my patients that the overwhelming good that these vaccines can bring to our community is just so much greater and so far removed from any of the evil that may have happened in the past. I hope they’ll trust that it’s all for the good.

Rev. Argemiro Orozco: I’ve heard several people come and talk to me because, like the doctor said, people research, people receive wrong information. They say that those cells used in the vaccines are from aborted babies, and they believe that. But the Pope, even the Vatican, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, they have been researching. They said that this vaccine has been an occasion for hope, for many, many people. At the same time, they said the cell line derived from a past abortion was involved in the overall process that created two vaccines currently available in the United States.

This fact raises significant moral questions specifically for Catholics and other pro-life individuals if they can morally take such a vaccine. That is the question. I heard the worries and confusion, even fear. But the Pope, and the Vatican, and the Doctrine of the Faith want everyone to take the vaccine... .Moral theologians, bishops, they recognize this. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to have those vaccines, to save lives, to protect others because if I’ve been vaccinated, I protect other people. That is the main concern.

WW: So if I’m someone of the Catholic belief, and I get vaccinated, I can still go to heaven?

Orozco: Yes, of course. People have given me the question, ‘If I get vaccinated, am I going to hell?’ Who said that? People have the wrong information, people get confused. But no, that’s not real. We’re not going to hell. God is not punishing us. It’s a blessing to have a vaccine to protect others and to protect ourselves.

WW: With these concerns about the vaccine bubbling up in the community, what strategies is the health district employing to combat some of this confusion and misinformation?

Butler: Largely, it’s about education, and we do live in this interesting time when it’s very easy to find disinformation and bad information.

We do need to keep helping understand the truth and that sort of thing. But also, there’s a lot of subtle things we can do. Just the fact that we need two vaccines, and somebody needs to maybe take two days off work or needs to be able to organize their schedule to find two days to come in and get vaccinated, that can be a barrier for some people. With the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that will remove that.

And also, I think it’s not crazy to wait. If you’re in a low-risk population, if you’re not living with anybody who could get very, very sick from COVID, and you want to wait six months and make sure that nothing bad is happening to people, I don’t think that’s crazy. What I can tell you is those of us who work very closely with COVID, who are really afraid and freaked out by this virus, we all got vaccinated right away because we know how horrible it can be. But if that’s not your situation, and you feel like you want wait until May or June to get your vaccine, I think that’s fine. We’re vaccinating all the elderly people who might die, soon we’ll be vaccinating all the people who have chronic medical illnesses who could die.

So yeah, just wait and see what happens. That’s a reasonable approach.

Model Darriean Anson puts on lipstick as she prepares for the fashion show at the 32nd annual NCW Bridal Premiere in 2018 at Town Toyota Center. This year, the 2021 NCW Bridal Premiere, coming March 27 to the Wenatchee Convention Center, might look a little different to meet pandemic protocols, but grooms and brides will still have a chance meet the people who can help them plan their weddings — from dresses and tuxedos to photographers and cakes.

World photo/Don Seabrook Caleb Duford welds rafters into place at the new visitor's center at Rocky Reach Dam Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

World photo/Don Seabrook Nicole Hunter hugs her daughter Eve who was just announced as the junior royalty queen at a ceremony in front of the Valley Academy student body Thursday, March 18, 2021. Of Eve, Mrs. Hunter said, "She's quiet, thoughtful, and kind." She said her daughter found out about the contest the day before the deadline to submit an essay with the subject, "Have you ever wondered?" Eve has two older brothers and a younger sister.

State expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility rules starting March 31

OLYMPIA — Anyone 60 years old and up, along with restaurant, manufacturing and construction workers, will soon be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine in Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday the next two tiers of residents will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine starting March 31, giving two million more people a chance to get their shot.

The expanded timeline means the state is on track to meet President Joe Biden’s goal to have all adults eligible by May 1, although Inslee said the state likely wouldn’t open it up to everyone before then.

“I’m happy about the general pace,” Inslee told reporters. “This timeline is much faster than we would’ve predicted a few months ago.”

The new eligible group includes:

  • anyone between 60 and 64;
  • additional workers in congregate settings, such as restaurants, manufacturing and construction;
  • anyone with two or more underlying medical conditions, such as cancer or heart disease;
  • and anyone living in a congregate setting, such as a correctional facility or group home, and those experiencing homelessness.

These tiers join those 65 and up, 50 and up in a multigenerational household, and K-12 teachers and childcare workers in being eligible. Additionally, pregnant people, people with disabilities that put them at higher risk for COVID-19, and high-risk critical workers, including agriculture, grocery store and public transit workers, became eligible Wednesday.

Increased doses and improved daily vaccination numbers allowed the state to move forward, Inslee said.

Currently, 5 million people in the state are eligible. Michele Roberts, assistant secretary with the Department of Health, said she anticipates about one million more people over 16 would be left not yet eligible after March 31.

Washington providers will receive 345,000 doses of COVID-19 next week and every week through early April. The state this week also received 8,400 Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which were sent to counties that have received smaller allocations than their proportional populations.

By April, the state could be receiving about 600,000 doses per week divided into allocations to the state and to federal pharmacy programs, according to current federal projections.

The quick expansion was announced one week after Biden said in his first prime-time address that he would work to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1.

This news likely clears a path for everyone in Washington to be eligible by May 1, as Biden has encouraged, but Inslee didn’t give a set date for when everyone might be eligible. Inslee said they were working to move through priority phases as quickly as possible.

Details on future phases are forthcoming, according to his office, but Inslee told reporters he did not anticipate the state would open up to everyone before May 1. Essential workers and those more at risk to COVID-19 “need to be able to get their vaccines,” he said.

Although other states have begun opening up eligibility to everyone, Inslee said he was continuing to follow prioritization to “save as many lives as possible.”

To make it easier for people to find vaccine appointments, the state is launching a new Vaccine Locator tool to simplify the appointment scheduling process and show all available appointments in one place. To find a vaccine near you, go to vaccine locator.doh.wa.gov.

For those without internet access, they can schedule a vaccine appointment by calling (800) 525-0127 and press #.