If Oregon School District students and staff need to return to virtual instruction this fall, they’ll have a bit more experience after completing four weeks of virtual summer school.

This week, the district wrapped up a pair of two-week sessions, scheduled from July 6-31.

The courses – 70 in all, including 45 new ones – have been held online, with classes either “synchronous,” where students and instructors interact live during a specified time, or pre-recorded, where students participate on their own schedule.

Holding a virtual summer school for the first time provides “yet another piece of data” for OSD officials as they continue to create and build virtual offerings, said OSD communications director Erika Mundinger.

“Summer school has helped us to learn more about offering ‘live’ classes, which will be a focus for future online offerings,” she wrote in an email to the Observer. “While we were not in a position to offer synchronous classes this spring due to the timing of the school closures, we know that families desire this option in a virtual format.”

Due to county health restrictions, the planning process for summer school required a different approach from in previous years, Mundinger said, with teachers having to rethink how to offer courses in a new, strictly online way.

“Our teachers rose to the occasion and came up with some creative and engaging ways to offer a wider variety of classes to students,” she said.

While there were no swimming lessons this summer, there were a wide variety of options for the 530 students who participated, led by 54 staff members. In addition to core classes and staples such as math, reading, art and music, choices included space camp, scrapbooking, photography, “meaningful mindfulness,” the American Civil War, fitness classes, computer coding, Lego engineering, global explorers and even “Mad Scientists.”

Mundinger said the necessity of a virtual format created many of the new courses, including “Off We Go on a Virtual Field Trip,” where students met “live” each day to explore a different location. Destinations during the two-week “trip” included the Grand Canyon, Seattle Aquarium, Son Doong Cave and Mars.

“This class was a favorite among students and was a creative way to explore new places, concepts, and interact with friends,” she said.

For teachers with hands-on subjects – such as primary life science for grades K-2 instructor Judy Ellickson – the switch to virtual necessitated many adjustments.

Ellickson said she offered passive and active learning segments for students.

Sometimes, she would read nonfiction books or show short videos, other times, she would demonstrate how to conduct fun experiments, including making a “storm in a glass,” a fossil, a volcano in a bowl or using soda and vinegar to blow up balloons.

The class has also included a type of show and tell for students who have been studying life cycles. They have collected caterpillars, which have formed a chrysalis, and several students have been showing the progress of the life cycle of the monarch butterflies.

“We watch the progress or metamorphosis each day,” Ellickson wrote the Observer in an email.

It wasn’t like past summer schools, but Mundinger said families have told the district they appreciated having activities for their children to work on during the summer.

“While nothing can replace a physical in-person setting, the approach is working well given the circumstances,” she said. “(We’re) thankful for all our teachers and staff who have been flexible and adaptable and continued to create meaningful experiences for students.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.