Fourteen-year-old Roger Tinoco-Wheeler jumped at the chance to be back with friends twice a week at his Port Angeles middle school in January. But when it comes to learning, he’s grown to love an environment much closer to home: surrounded by extended family members in a small, salmon-colored building just down the road from his house, where tutors and adults in his tribe have taught him since last fall.
At the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s learning center, tucked in the tribe’s reservation on the Olympic Peninsula, Roger and dozens of other students get support with online schoolwork and relief from long days spent at home. A tutor there helped raise his math grade from an F to a B in just a few weeks, and shares his love of anime. The mandatory device-free time liberated him from distractions on his phone. Trail walks around the reservation, and trips to the recreation center, helped fill the void of not playing sports.
After experiencing how health measures transformed the way his school operates in person, where meals aren’t eaten together and some group activities are paused for social distancing, this tight-knit pod feels like more than a temporary solution while school buildings were closed.
Leaders from larger school districts around the state, including Seattle, had visions of creating these go-between spaces for students while school buildings were closed. Within the span of a month, the tribe and district in this small community managed to create one, and there are plans to keep it open beyond the pandemic.
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