Klamath County educators go the distance to reach their students

When COVID-19 forced the closure of the Bonanza Jr./Sr. High School in Klamath County in November 2020, principal Jordan Osborn wasn’t so much worried about the classwork as he was his student’s emotional health. Some of the students live in campers, some don’t have electricity or money for gas or enough food. At the time, very few had internet service. So, once a week, Osborn and his staff hit the road to help however they could. No small feat when the “extremely rural” school boundary encompasses 1,600 square miles.

Man wearing a blue sweatshirt and red baseball cap standing in front of the open back of a pickup truck that is loaded with supplies.
Bonanza Jr./Sr. High School principal Jordan Osborn getting loaded up to deliver supplies to students across rural Klamath County, Dec. 2020

Osborn’s biggest worry was that the students were taken care of during the school closure.  “At school, they were warm; they were fed; they were given the opportunity to speak with somebody,” said Osborne. “We had to get out there and see them—especially the really at-risk kids that didn’t have services.”

Like many schools, Bonanza first closed its doors way back in March 2020. It stayed that way through the end of the school year, and because very few had internet service, Osborn and teachers reached out to students by phone and mailed schoolwork. Come September 2020, Bonanza reopened under the hybrid model due to its size, location and case rate, but then closed again two months later when COVID-19 numbers surged.

After being closed for so long the previous school year, Osborn knew they would need to do more than make phone calls and mail homework. “We didn’t want the kids spiraling out thinking we would be out of school for the rest of the year,” Osborn said. “We wanted to give them hope and happiness in a hard time. We pride ourselves on a great culture and climate, and part of that is seeing each other. It’s social emotional health for us as well because we love the kids. Without the kids there is no school.”

man in black jacket and red wool cap carrying a box of supplies
Bonanza Jr./Sr. High School vice principal Sergio Cisneros, Dec. 2020

And so every Friday Osborn, along with a counselor and a teacher, loaded supplies and piled in one car, while vice principal Sergio Cisneros and a second teacher did the same in another. Osborn headed for the northeast; Cisneros’ route took them to the east and southeast part of the school boundary. Most days they left the school parking lot at 8 a.m. and didn’t return until 5 p.m.  They visited students’ homes and delivered supplies, including food when necessary. They talked about schoolwork, sat with parents over coffee, and   sometimes they just hung out.

“I shot hoops with a kid out in Bly for a few minutes,” Osborn recalled. “One student lives 59 miles away from the school. We went to the house multiple times, and we sat down and had coffee with them. We visited with families on the porch sometimes. They were thankful, so thankful. You could see it was a hard time for educators, families and students, and they were happy to see us.”

Between the two cars, Osborn and his crew logged 400 miles every Friday for nearly two months until the school reopened for in-person learning in mid-January.

The traveling educators also worked out problems on new mobile hot spots, installed with the help of The Klamath Tribes and regional communications hub Rural Klamath Connects. Still, about 30 to 40 percent of the students didn’t have internet access. Others had access but didn’t have the ability to stream Zoom meetings and classes. When possible, teachers contacted those students by phone, though not all students had cell phones.

“Our staff is a staff of champions for our kids,” Osborn said. “They went to bat and bent over backwards.  We wanted to make sure our kids felt loved and had a place to be. It’s important for our staff to see the kids. I thought that was awesome.”