MILWAUKIE — La Salle Prep teachers are adding something new to their classes this fall: time to talk.

The first 15 minutes of every class will start with a Zoom session during which students can see, chat and pray with one another. The school’s educators say they’re building this routine into every period to help develop community among students having to study at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Giving young people a chance to connect is crucial,” said Alanna O’Brien, La Salle’s interim principal. “We want to make sure they stay connected to each other and their teachers.”

The sanctioned socials are just one way La Salle Prep is trying to bring together its 661 students starting the year learning apart. 

In September, the school is hosting a drive-thru campaign to collect school supplies for neighborhood children in need, broadcasting a virtual club fair, holding a campus car parade, and teaming with other schools to support the Children’s Cancer Association.

“It’s a bummer that we all can’t be together,” said senior Dakota Canzano, this year’s student executive president. “But it’s even more important that we establish that sense of community in any way we can.”

In addition to the meet-and-greet sessions at the start of each class, La Salle’s teachers are taking extra steps to connect with their students.

For example, math teacher Linus Oey hauled a 45-inch monitor from his basement at home to his classroom at school so he can look his students in the eye as he teaches them Algebra.

“When I teach it’s important to see the kids’ faces, to see if the wheels are turning,” he said. “The part I miss most is seeing their reactions to learning.”