Jody Urban, left, helps Michelle Nunez setup a Chromebook at Frank Wagoner Elementary School as her daughter Lilah, left, and son Oilver watch. Students and their families picked up computers for online learning on Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Jody Urban, left, helps Michelle Nunez setup a Chromebook at Frank Wagoner Elementary School as her daughter Lilah, left, and son Oilver watch. Students and their families picked up computers for online learning on Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

In sudden shift to digital school, Monroe kids get laptops

About 350 kids picked up computers at Frank Wagner Elementary School, as classes statewide move online.

MONROE — Almost a month after Frank Wagner Elementary School closed, mascot Frankie the Wildcat danced near an outside basketball court while teachers clapped to the 1972 song “Love Train” by The O’Jays.

About 350 students enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade returned to their campus Wednesday, to collect laptops and supplies to finish up the rest of the school year from home.

Before this week, many students didn’t have access to a reliable computer. About 420 of the 600 kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at Frank Wagner.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced schools across the state would remain closed for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and teachers would have to shift to online classes.

At the Monroe elementary school, staff set up tables outside in a courtyard where students and parents wandered around to pick up Chromebook laptops and worksheets. Board games and books were also available to take home. Staff was on hand to help families log on for the first time, while trying to keep social distancing in mind.

Fourth-grader Charlie Adams, 10, visited the Monroe school Wednesday wearing a bright pink bandana over the bottom half of his face. Charlie misses school. He especially misses his classmates. He also used to host a news show two days a week, but now it’s only broadcast on Tuesdays through the online video platform Zoom.

These days Charlie mostly stays home with his two older brothers.

“I don’t really get to see my friends except when we do Zooms,” he said. “So it’s just kind of boring.”

Online classes begin Monday. Teachers have had to quickly learn how to teach in a way they never have before.

Voters in the Monroe School District passed a technology levy six years ago to help buy enough computers for every student, Superintendent Justin Blasko said. He took over as the school district leader a week ago.

Wednesday’s event was a way to make sure every student was prepared for the next steps, but it was also a time to see their teachers. About 30 staff members came in on their day off to help.

“I think we are all grieving a little bit, walking through the hallways and seeing the kids’ work hung up and knowing they aren’t going to be back in the building with us this year,” Principal Kristin Cortes said.

With so much change, Blasko has been reminding the educators to be patient with themselves.

“We have to give ourselves grace,” he said. “We’re not going to be great immediately, but we will get there. We will figure this out, I have no doubt about that.”

Teachers Bobbi Ann George and Elizabeth Lovelace admit it has been hard lately.

George is the school’s music teacher, and Lovelace is a fourth-grade dual language teacher who provides lessons in Spanish. Around 60% of the school’s students speak Spanish at home.

“For me it’s been an emotional rollercoaster the last week,” George said. “There was one day I was laying on the couch fully in sad mode. I think I’m at acceptance now, and we’re in this new stage where we are going to press forward with the new online platform, and we are going to do the best we can for our kids.”

Each morning the school staff meetings have been held through streaming video. Lovelace sees it as motivation to get ready for the day, plus it helps remove some of the isolated feeling of staying home.

It has been difficult to learn all of the new technology, but she’s glad teachers have been pushed in that direction.

“There are definitely silver linings to a crisis,” she said.

She’s proud of her colleagues for coming together to support one another and their students.

Cortes, the principal, called the past few weeks a “wild ride.”

“We like to say here at Frank Wagner that we’re unstoppable,” she said. “Like any other situation, we’re going to choose to be unstoppable in this.”

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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