Crowded Welches class calls on assistants and volunteers

With a first grade class of 34, Welches Elementary seeks extra support - and relief is on the way

Relief is coming to Welches Elementary School, where the first grade class swelled to 34 students this fall.

After Principal Alex Leaver met with concerned parents and teachers, the school has decided to keep the existing class but inject additional educational assistants and parent volunteers for specific, regular tasks.

'Our first grade class is larger than any of us wish,' Leaver said. 'But there's a gap between what we want and how we pay for it.'

At the Sept. 12 school board meeting, Oregon Trail School District Superintendent Aaron Bayer said enrollment growth was spread throughout schools and grade levels, but remained lower than many neighboring East County schools.

Upset parents voiced their concerns about the first grade class size at Welches Elementary during the school board meeting, citing safety as a major issue.

'That's what worries me the most,' said Kelli Ewing, the mother of twin first graders, Alison and Isaiah. 'Because you don't seem to know if a kid is gone with that many students in a class.'

Ewing said she was appalled to learn their was no limit on class sizes at the state or local level, especially for the youngest children in the district, and wants to see a law that enforces classrooms not to surpass a certain number.

She plans to bring her concerns to Gov. John Kitzhaber and state legislators after Norm Trost, school board chairman, encouraged families to share their concerns about class sizes and state funding immediately.

Trost said the district has smaller and smaller amounts of state money to work with, which results in larger class sizes.

'We're doing everything we can do,' he told the families of Welches Elementary students.

Last week, Mary Ann Burke, the Welches Elementary first grade teacher, wrote a letter to families explaining the extra help their students will see and calling upon parent volunteers.

Leaver called the solution a 'two-pronged approach with assistants and volunteers.'

Jana Dyal, a retired first grade teacher, will help with morning writing, the reading specialist and aides have assisted with reading levels, and more parent volunteers are expected after Tuesday's volunteer orientation.

'With all of us working together, I am confident we can make this year an outstanding, safe and successful one for our first graders,' Leaver said.