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Teachers at Portland school use drive-thru concept as part of distance-learning plan

Columbia Christian School, a private school in east Portland, has decided to pair its online learning with the concept of a drive-thru.

PORTLAND, Ore. — We've been hearing about all the ways different schools, both small and large, are handling distance learning.

But one private school in east Portland has decided to pair its online learning with the concept of a drive-thru.

Columbia Christian School has about 260 students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

While those in middle and high school are mostly doing their learning online, school president Ami Vensel said staff have come up with another idea for the younger kids. They've set up a drive-thru for homework.

"We had our gloves on and our coats on and created an opportunity for parents to drive up and hand them things through the window," Vensel said.

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She said for the families that can't leave their homes, teachers can drop off the work packets or online versions are available too. 

So far, both elementary and middle school kids have received work packets at the drive-thru events. At the same time they receive work in the drive-thru, they're also able to turn in completed assignments. 

In districts all over the area, hard copy work packets have been available, but Vensel said she's yet to hear of assignments being turned back into teachers.

"It's been very successful because kids want to continue learning," she said.

The work packets are supplemented with daily online check-ins with teachers and phone calls every week. It's a system Vensel said they're prepared to do for the long haul if necessary.

The work packets that are getting handed out are a little different. Vensel said they're not just the run-of-the-mill worksheet where you have to fill in the blank.

"They’ve done a good job," said Vensel about the teachers at Columbia Christian. "Thinking thematically, project-based learning. How do I get kids to really focus in on a specific activity or skill where I'm able to assess learning?"

One example Vensel talked about was how younger students are currently learning about gardening and insects.

The work packets they get are more project-based. They may plant their own garden, study actual insects in their yard, and journal about it.

"So they’re actually … seeing and actually experiencing. It needs sunlight, it needs water, it needs soil, and so the journal and booklet they're making is logging data they’re actually seeing," Vensel said.

She said she thinks the exercise of handing in completed assignments and getting more to take home helps keep students accountable as they transition to distance learning.

While elementary age kids are normally issued letter grades, this term the school is using a pass/fail model.

In addition to keeping kids learning, the drive-thru also keeps parents and their kids connected to their teachers.

Vensel said private schools, like public schools, are also struggling to figure out what distance learning looks like over a potential four- to five-month time period.

But the most important thing she said she’s learned has to do with connection.

"I think the biggest piece is we're providing personal communication and support to our families. They are not used to being the teachers at home and providing that structure and routine for kids. So reaching out to them and providing the conversation and encouragement has gone a really long way," she said.

Vensel said future drive-thru pickup and drop offs will be scheduled again soon.

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