PORTLAND, Ore. — The end of the 2019/2020 school year was one the students and staff at Portland's Woodlawn elementary school will never forget.
Woodlawn, like all schools in Oregon and Washington, had to change all of its end of year celebrations and traditions because of COVID-19.
“It’s bittersweet. I haven’t seen them in almost 3 months, I want to give them a hug,” said fifth-grade teacher Adrienne Howard.
Instead of an in-class party or a send-off with the whole school, Woodlawn teachers did a parade through the Northeast Portland neighborhood to say goodbye.
“I never would have guessed this in a million years, to end on this type of note, with no closure and just kind of hanging in the rafters,” said first-grade teacher Anthony Lowery. "It’s a weird, empty feeling."
A big tradition at Woodlawn is when all the students, teachers and families line the hallways on the last day of school and “clap out” the fifth graders.
This year, the clap-out was virtual.
“One of my students, when we left, was taking pictures of the hallway and was like, 'What if we never come back?' And I was like, 'Of course we’ll be back don’t worry about it. We’ll get to clap you out,'" said the other fifth-grade teacher, Ryan Shipe. "So it’s weird to think this is how they’re ending their time here."
But the saddest part, for both the teachers and students was that they couldn't say goodbye in person.
Fifth-grader Bennett Okello said his teachers made a lasting impression.
“They helped me, like, be a better person and helped me get smarter in academics, math, and learn more than I could ever imagine,” said Okello.
His mom, Tei-Onna Haggard, said having black teachers like Lionel Clegg and Anthony Lowrey was life-changing for her son.
“They know what he needs as being a young black male. There are things that I can't give to him, you know, and, I don't know how to help him always because I’m a mom," Haggard said. "I haven't experienced what it's like to be a young boy, you know, and a young black boy at that.”
Olivia Livingstone said her teachers became more like family during her time at Woodlawn.
“There's a lot of people who are there for you and they will always be there for you. And they're just kind to you no matter what happens,” said Livingstone.
Inside Woodlawn: A conversation about race
Camryn Green, who has attended Woodlawn since pre-kindergarten, can’t imagine not being back next year.
“They're just like, like my, my heart. Like they tell me what to do, even if that's not the best decision, it always turns out to be a great decision and I really do truly love them," Green said. "I love you teachers.”
Camryn’s mom, Ashley Green, said Woodlawn’s staff have played a huge role in her daughter’s life
“Having them teach her and guide her and instill all these values into her are the things that she'll carry with her forever,” she said.
Woodlawn principal Andrea Porter-Lopez said the black teachers at Woodlawn are what makes the school special.
“That's what keeps Woodlawn Woodlawn, is the diversity in teachers, the diversity in the way teaching happens. And just those connections that kids make," Porter-Lopez said. "Many of our kids see someone that looks like them in a position of leadership and in a position of power. And to them it's a really empowering thing to see someone that looks like you be in that leadership position.”
Camryn Green said she’ll always be a Woodlawn Wildcat, no matter what grade she’s in.
“They're always going to be there for you so you can't cry, and you can't tear up," she said. "You just have to keep pushing. You have to keep pushing.”
About Inside Woodlawn:
KGW investigative reporter Cristin Severance and photojournalists Gene Cotton and Kurt Austin were granted remarkable access to spend the 2019-2020 school year chronicling life inside Woodlawn Elementary School in Northeast Portland. Their reporting offers a rich view of how teachers, administrators, school staff and parents overcome many challenges to serve students. Join us as KGW News goes Inside Woodlawn.
KGW will be back at Woodlawn in the fall of 2020 to document life at school post-COVID-19.
Please follow our year-long series on YouTube, Facebook and by using #insidewoodlawn on Twitter and Instagram.