Rachelle Watson

Highland Elementary School
Grants Pass, Oregon
Rachelle Watson, Parent

It’s the (School) Climate!

When I attended elementary school in Grants Pass, Oregon, I was part of the “Highland Troubadours,” a group of fourth and fifth graders who auditioned and sang for our school, our community, and even performed the National Anthem at a Portland Trailblazer game.  One song, that our conductor wrote, had the line, “It’s the climate says the sign, and we add the most sublime, Grants Pass, Oregon.”  The song references our town motto that is displayed proudly on a banner as your drive through our historic downtown.  Twenty-five years later, my oldest son is attending the same elementary school.  The Troubadours no longer exist, but the message still does.  Grants Pass and its schools offer an amazing climate and I am impressed with the measures that Highland Elementary has taken to make my son’s learning and social experience as strong as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spring 2020 was harder than I imagined it would be.  My son was in second grade and I presumed it would not be challenging to help him through his school work, while I continued working myself.  I mean, I was a high school teacher after all.  How hard could it be to teach your own kid?  The reality was we were often in tears and treated the word “school” almost as a profanity.  I had great trepidation related to Fall 2020.  Our county had been doing pretty well, when it came to COVID exposure.  Our numbers were low and we met the state requirements so that our Kindergarten through 3rd graders could meet in person.  The district was informative, but moved slowly.  At times that was hard as a parent, but having the lens of an educator as well, I could see what many in the community were not privileged to.  I saw the love, heartbreak, and energy of the school district and every administrator, teacher, and classified staff member that worked for Grants Pass School District.

Because of outstanding leadership, things are going great for my 3rd grader!  The kids established their new normal.  They adjusted to wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and even changing their playground norms.  We established a new routine that feels sustainable.  The school did everything they could to create a school climate where students felt loved and welcomed.  Highland Elementary has worked to maintain a fun environment, as was evident when they had a Halloween Drive-Through, where every teacher dressed up and families drove through the parking lot to see and wave at all the staff.

One year ago, I never would have imagined that this seemingly simple act would have such a profound impact on my son and our community.  We came together and supported one another.  Highland Elementary truly embodies the best possible school climate and even as COVID numbers in our rural county rise, I see the effort and care the school puts forth every day. I know that as soon as we can, Highland will open its doors to all students and welcome them back with six-foot open arms.