Bri Holt and her husband transformed their family’s minivan into a makeshift school bus to start the online learning school year. Photo courtesy of Bri Holt

Bri Holt and her husband transformed their family’s minivan into a makeshift school bus to start the online learning school year. Photo courtesy of Bri Holt

FWPS cancels first day of school due to widespread power outages

Dozens of Federal Way neighborhoods are without power as of Tuesday morning.

Educators, families and students are still finding their footing during the first week of online learning after widespread power outages across the city of Federal Way canceled the first day of school on Sept. 8.

Fierce winds swept the state and the Puget Sound region since Sunday, leaving dozens of neighbors in Federal Way without power.

The outages were “impacting thousands of our scholars, families, staff and schools to access internet,” said FWPS Chief of Communications Kassie Swenson in a Tuesday morning email to families.

“Without power in our neighborhoods for our scholars, families, staff and schools to access internet, they will be disconnected from remote learning,” Swenson said.

Statewide there were a reported 244 outages and more than 80,000 people customers impacted as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to the PSE website. South King Fire and Rescue crews responded to 144 calls in 24 hours, with 104 calls between 7:30 p.m. Monday and 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the department tweeted.

In a troubling start to an already uncertain new school year, students and teachers attended their first day of school a day later on Wednesday, despite threatening wildfires in close proximity to several educators’ homes.

Parents and teachers expressed mixed emotions regarding online learning and the first day of school, according to responses gathered via social media.

Federal Way resident Kara Kelliher, whose third-grade student had yet to attend class, said: “It is the worst experience ever! So disorganized. And I have only gone through one of my kids (9th grade at Federal Way High) so far.”

Erin Jacobson, another Federal Way resident, said: “It is terrible. Trying to get three kids into meetings and no clear directions. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Some families opted for another education route this year, such as Stephanie Herrera-Haywood, who chose the Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA).

“We unenrolled from the FW school district and are trying out K12 WAVA. I’m impressed with the organization of the program and we are off to a good start. This is our second week of school.”

Federal Way mother Stephanie Lynn Chavez said the schooling went well for the first 5 minutes, but “then their little minds went elsewhere. Hard to keep their focus since they are kids and are used to in-person learning. Something I don’t want to have them get used to but it is what it is!”

Parents from nearby school districts, including Federal Way, noted their confusion, exhaustion or “Zoom fatigue,” and overall anxiety with ensuring their student succeeds this year.

Others in the district had positive experiences that surpassed their expectations for online learning.

“I’ve been impressed so far!,” wrote resident Jennifer Hurley. “It is taking a lot of organization and I’m having to help my 9th grader get to the right links at the right time. As a single working parent, it definitely brings some challenges to me personally.”

Overall, Hurley said, it will get easier and become a part of a usual routine, and it’s obvious the effort FWPS has put into making this a more robust program.

Federal Way resident Ailini Tuuholoaki has six children in the FWPS system, including a freshman, junior and senior at Federal Way High School, two students at Sacajawea Middle School and one student at Mark Twain Elementary. She noted her gratitude for the work the district has done to accommodate learning during the pandemic.

“No matter what we are going through this school year, we stand together and work together because it takes a village to raise a child,” she wrote.

Auburn resident Bri Holt, who has three children in the Federal Way district, made the most of the at-home situation by creating a school bus pick-up on the first day by decorating the family minivan into a familiar mode of transportation.

In the spring when schools first closed, a friend of Holt’s posted about picking up her kids at their usual bus stop and driving them home (the new “school”) in their van as a fun start to the online learning, Holt said.

“I thought how fun it would be to have the van look like a mini school bus, and the idea was formed,” she said.

The Holt family had a new dishwasher delivered last week and asked if they might have some other large appliance boxes from their delivery to form the bus.

Cardboard became the yellow siding of a school bus, complete with a stop light, lights and other bus features — including Mr. Holt as the bus driver.

Holt’s preschooler, Ryker, was still singing “the wheels on the bus” later in the day.

“I’m glad it all worked out and even our neighbor joined in on the ‘just around the cul-de-sac’ fun ride,” she said.

Her kindergartener, Ryah, still loved her first-day-of-school Schultute, a German tradition of a huge Kinder cone filled with treats and school supplies. Memories such as these could only be created in this unique situation.

When Holt was in third grade — the same as her oldest daughter now — she switched schools and began to take the bus. Previously, her father would take her to and from school.

“I missed that time with him,” Holt said. While her oldest, Bryn, doesn’t like living so close to the public school because it means she doesn’t get to ride the bus, Holt is cherishing their time together.


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Courtesy photo
                                Bri Holt begins the first day of at-home, online learning with her three kids.

Courtesy photo Bri Holt begins the first day of at-home, online learning with her three kids.

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