Back to (Virtual) School: Return to the Classroom through OHS Digital Collections

September 15, 2020

By Rachel Randles

In this photograph from the Al Monner news negatives collection, children gather around the desk of a teacher at Fernwood Grammar School (later Beverly Cleary School), on the first day of a new school year. A similar photograph was published in the “Oregon Journal” on Tuesday, September 7, 1948. OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 32, 1466-7.

September typically marks the return to classrooms for many Oregon students. Equipped with backpacks filled with school supplies, many students and teachers anticipate the fresh start that each new school year brings. As we all know too well, 2020 has been anything but a normal year. To keep students, teachers, other school employees, and caregivers safe as we all work to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, school for K–12 students in Oregon has moved to a virtual format, at least for now.

This shift to virtual classrooms is a colossal challenge, and we at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) want to share our immense gratitude to the educators, administrators, parents, caregivers, and students for their flexibility during this historic school year. While we will miss seeing school tours in our exhibit halls this fall, we hope classrooms are able to take advantage of our virtual educational offerings, from online exhibits to standards-aligned curriculum to virtual professional development opportunities for educators. And, we are pleased to share that Oregon History Day is already underway for the 2020–2021 school year, and OHS is hosting webinars for educators who are interested in bringing this powerful educational program into the classroom — virtually or in person. Students and teachers can also explore our many digital history projects, including The Oregon Encyclopedia, the Oregon History Project, and the Oregon History Wayfinder, to learn more about the people, places, and events that have shaped Oregon history.

Until in person classes resume, we invite you to explore classrooms from Oregon’s past through photographs available on OHS Digital Collections.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 19, 759-5

OHS’s research library holds a variety of photographs in the Al Monner news negatives collection depicting the Vanport School’s opening day in 1943. In this photograph, a child sits at a desk holding a “Democracy Readers” book. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 19, 759-5.

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Org. Lot 1368, box 371, 371N2817

No matter what grade, pep rallies and school assemblies for many are a memorable part of the school year — and school bands are a huge part of these events. In this photograph, students from the Beaumont School band show off their school spirit. 

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Org. Lot 1368, box 371, 371N2817.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 25, 1087-1

“Alexa, start music class.” We can only imagine that classes like art and music will be difficult to translate virtually this year. In this image, a teacher plays piano as children circle around a table at the Vanport School. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 25, 1087-1.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 11, 253-7

This photograph from January 1941 shows students arriving for school at Jefferson High School, located at 5210 North Kerby Avenue. While virtual classrooms save time on daily commutes, nothing beats the freedom of getting your license in high school. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 11, 253-7.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 19, 759-4

This photograph is a shout-out to the teachers and administrators who have been working all summer long in preparation for launching a virtual classroom. Here, the principal of Vanport School, Mrs. Skeen (first name not recorded), stands outside an office on the school’s opening day. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 19, 759-4.

OHS Research Library, Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church collection, Coll 189, box 1, folder 11

While some summer camps were able to go on as planned this year, many ancillary programs and activities remain paused as we weather the COVID-19 pandemic. This photograph shows a group of children attending Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church Vacation Bible School in 1953. 

OHS Research Library, Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church collection, Coll 189, box 1, folder 11.

OHS Research Library, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, Org. Lot 369, b40, Finley D1849

Class pets are colorful parts of many elementary classrooms, but it is hard to compare to this dapper bird. Here, Don Q. Quail, William Finley and Irene Finley’s pet California quail, is perched atop the head of a child standing with their classmates in front of the Riverdale School on May 19, 1926. 

OHS Research Library, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, Org. Lot 369, b40, Finley D1849.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 22, 977-1

Missing cafeteria food, or at least the comradery and revelry of a school lunchroom? This photograph published in the Oregon Journal on Sunday, December 10, 1944, shows a group of students and one adult sitting at a cafeteria table at Vanport School. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 22, 977-1.

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Org. Lot 1368, box 371, 0371N650

Here’s hoping that efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities allow for school sports and other activities to return in the spring. This undated photograph from the OHS Research Library’s Oregon Journal Negative Collection shows three Grant High School football players ready to take the field. 

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Org. Lot 1368, box 371, 0371N650.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 24, 1060-2

Story time is a perennial favorite of elementary school students. Here, teacher Doris Olson reads to a group of kindergarten students at Collins View School in Portland. This photograph was published in the Oregon Journal on Sunday, December 2, 1945. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 24, 1060-2.

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 32, 1466-1

In this photograph published in the Tuesday, September 7, 1948, issue of the Oregon Journal, children stand in front of Failing Elementary School on the first day of a new school year, watching two students raise an American flag on a pole. 

OHS Research Library, Al Monner news negatives, Org. Lot 1284, box 32, 1466-1.

Rachel Randles’s Other Posts

The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of OHS. The Oregon Historical Society does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.