Fourteen-year-old Roger Tinoco-Wheeler jumped at the chance to be back with friends twice a week at his Port Angeles middle school in January.

But when it comes to learning, he’s grown to love an environment much closer to home: surrounded by extended family members in a small, salmon-colored building just down the road from his house, where tutors and adults in his tribe have taught him since last fall.

At the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s learning center, tucked in the tribe’s reservation on the Olympic Peninsula, Roger and dozens of other students get support with online schoolwork and relief from long days spent at home. A tutor there helped raise his math grade from an F to a B in just a few weeks, and shares his love of anime. The mandatory device-free time liberated him from distractions on his phone. Trail walks around the reservation, and trips to the recreation center, helped fill the void of not playing sports.

After experiencing how health measures transformed the way his school operates in person, where meals aren’t eaten together and some group activities are paused for social distancing, this tight-knit pod feels like more than a temporary solution while school buildings were closed.

“I feel like if this was our life until whenever, I’d be OK with it,” said Roger. “This actually feels more normal than school.”

This normalcy is what leaders of the Lower Elwha Tribe and Port Angeles School District sought to restore when they met to brainstorm last summer and came up with the learning center, a place for kids and teens in the tribe to get internet access, a predictable schedule, close support from adults and physical activity they lost after schools closed.

Read the full article about normal learning during COVID-19 by Dahlia Bazzaz at The Hechinger Report.