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Portland kindergarten teacher reflects on school year

The district hopes parents register for early learning programs before June 1 so they get information that'll help ease kids' transition in the fall.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Students all over had a very different year. Pre-pandemic, it’d be the first time kindergarteners would foot in a classroom. But for many that didn’t happen this year. Instead, students started out the year learning online with many still logging into class virtually.

Throughout the year, Wayne Bund, has tried to keep his students engaged and having fun. He’s a kindergarten teacher at Sitton Elementary in Portland.

From Friday dance parties to silly hats and costumes, he’s done everything possible to keep things upbeat and positive.

“I’ve grown really attached to them and I think they’ve grown really attached to me," said Bund. "I was just trying to be as fun and silly and joyful at the beginning of the year as I could."

Once April rolled around, some of his students showed up for hybrid learning.

“I almost started crying when they first walked into the room and I saw the other kids that were friends online see each other in person, what I assumed was in person, for the first time,” said Bund.

“It’s definitely interesting to be back in person now. Like in the morning, I’m in person, let’s play with Play-Doh for a sensory break. Let’s learn with letters. Let’s trace numbers.”

But some of Bund’s kids are still fully learning online and while that’s worked out for some students, others are still struggling.

“Attendance has been a really hard issue,” said Bund. “Some students are not learning at the same pace I see other students. Some students don’t have their parents right next to them supervising and watching them each step along the way.”

Still, Bund says there has been progress with kids’ social and emotional learning, even online. He said he was amazed at how his class was able to build a community online together.

But assuming school will be in person next fall, some first graders will be getting a whole new experience. That’s why this summer Portland Public Schools is planning to include first graders in a ramp up to the school year. Usually it’s just for kindergartners.

“In the summer you get to come in, explore the classroom. You can explore the building and see the lunchroom and other parts of the building without all the big, tall, scary fourth and fifth graders around,” Bund said.

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Portland Public’s early learner department director, Emily Glasgow, said there’s another opportunity to talk about for Pre-K.

“We actually have close to 900 seats available for three and four year olds in our system next year." Glasgow said. "Enrollment is happening now. These are income-eligible seats but they are free, full-day Pre-K."

Usually there’d be half as many seats available.

“The reason we have more slots this year is because we limited enrollment to half capacity during the pandemic and we focused primarily on four-year-olds because we wanted those children, before they went to kindergarten, to get at least that one year of preschool in,” said Glasgow.

Glasgow hopes parents register by June 1st so they can get information about the events meant to help ease kids’ transition back into school next fall. Parents can register at any school site or even point their phone at any of the PPS lawn signs outfitted with a QR code. Glasgow said when kids register for kindergarten or attend one of the events associated with the start of kindergarten.

Credit: Portland Public Schools
PPS lawn sign with QR code

The prospect of a more normal school year is something Bund is excited about.

“I’m hoping for a full-day, in-person kindergarten next year," Bund said. "I want to be in the room singing and dancing, playing with Play-Doh, learning about letters and numbers with my kids as much as I can, and I want to see them laughing and smiling, and that is what I’m looking forward to."

For parents getting their Pre-K, kindergarten. and first grade kids ready for school next year, Bund said one of the best things parents can do is read to or with their child.

Glasgow said another change that’s coming for the start of school next year is instead of getting right to testing the youngest kids on what they know, more time will be spent first creating a connection, getting students comfortable, and acclimated to their new surroundings. Then a week or two later, standard assessments will be done.

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