There are plenty of challenges that arise when living through a pandemic, but local students, parents and teachers are doing their best to adjust to a complete flip of the script when it comes to education.
As students learn from a distance due to the closure of school campuses throughout the state, video conferences between instructors and their classes are the new normal; moms, dads and guardians have had to learn on the fly how to keep their newfound students on task; and memories for all schools and grades have been put on hold.
Pitman High School senior Kevin Romo said the realization of all he would be missing out on due to the closures didn’t hit him until a few days after it was announced on March 31: senior prom, the 2020 class trip to Disneyland and graduation.
“Not to mention the goodbyes that I never got to say,” Romo said.
Both PHS and Turlock High School announced that their graduation ceremonies would be postponed, not cancelled, and students have been hard at work on their studies in the meantime through distance learning. TUSD is currently on Spring Break, and Phase 2 of the district’s learning plan will begin on April 20. Distance learning for all grades continues to focus on essential standards through digital resources, hardcopy materials and additional enrichment and engagement resources.
At www.turlock.k12.ca.us/tusdlearning, parents and students can find classwork and instructions for each school site, and learning materials were also distributed at school sites last week for those who can’t access the work online. TUSD is also working to distribute Chromebooks to elementary school students after Spring Break.
So far, Romo hasn’t had trouble adjusting to distance learning. He makes a point to check Google Classroom every day to see what assignments he needs to do, and has notifications for the virtual classroom sent straight to his phone so he doesn’t miss a beat.
“So far distance learning was an easy transition for myself,” Romo said. “For us high schoolers, a lot of our curriculum is online-based anyway, so with this change the only real things taken away are the in-person teaching/socialization and physical assignments.”
Romo said distance learning has actually been less stressful for him, as he has all day to work on his assignments rather than spending a majority of his time on campus. He believes the experience will prepare him for classes at Chico State in the fall.
“The main downside I have found with this distance learning is having to remember that this isn’t a vacation and I’m still in session with school. However, I always am able to find time,” Romo said. “...I do not feel as if it will tarnish my ability to handle college itself. I see college as more of a mentality game than learning, as it is an institution focused on teaching adults, not children. You don’t have anyone holding your hand the whole way, it’s all on you.”
For primary school teachers like Hillary Aguilar, who teaches third grade at Medeiros Elementary School, it was devastating to hear the news that she wouldn’t be seeing her students again.
“My students and I become a little family over the course of the year,” she said. “Now, I don’t get a chance to say goodbye and it really breaks my heart.”
In addition to the TUSD paper-based learning plan for third grade, Aguilar posts videos of herself teaching lessons, experiments students can try at home and questions of the day to keep the children communicating on Google Classroom daily. She also hosts mini-lessons and reads to them often via Zoom video conferences. According to Aguilar, all technology-based activities are not something students are required to participate in for a grade.
“The process is definitely different. I am adjusting, but I miss the classroom and teaching in a classroom,” she said. “The largest thing that has been difficult from this experience is the distance. Trying to teach through a laptop is hard. Previously, I thought I was pretty well versed in the world of technology, but having to troubleshoot things from a student's perspective has been a learning experience.”
Still, she’s able to see her students through Zoom and get to know their families better — a positive she refers to as a “new lens.”
“I miss students and the fun we had learning together in the classroom, but I know that they are learning new things at home as well.”
Most teachers were in the swing of preparing for state testing when the official closures were announced, working on their own “boot camp approaches” to prep for the benchmarks in a limited amount of time. Now, teachers are working hand-in-hand with parents to ensure learning still takes place. The district’s approach to creating work that addresses the needs for students in each grade has worked well, and fifth grade Dennis Earl Elementary School teacher Xavier Huerta believes it’s been done in a way that makes things easier for parents.
“It is truly impossible to expect parents to teach what hasn't been presented in the classroom, so our goal was to make everything manageable and review concepts from the school year,” Huerta said. “Students and parents are true rock stars. They have been in contact when they need clarification and they have been so gracious and understanding on the phone.”
While face-to-face on a computer screen will never be the same as one-on-one with a teacher in a classroom, parents like Kerry Rocha and Loni Silveira are doing their best to serve as a substitute for the latter. Both have different “teaching” styles — Rocha lets her children complete their work on their own time, while Silveira has created a schedule for her daughter — and both have adapted well to the new situation thanks to open communication with TUSD.
“My sixth grader received an email from his teacher, Laura Long, checking in on him and offering her support if needed. Today, my senior’s psychology teacher, Ryan Tribble, reached out personally with a phone call to check on him and how he was doing. I am so thankful for those personal interactions,” Rocha said. “I hold a very high regard for teachers and anyone in education. Through this crisis, that feeling has not changed; in fact, it has only made me more grateful and appreciative for teachers and all school employees, no matter their title. It takes a village.”
Still, Rocha said it’s been hard to watch her children miss out on the things they love about school. Her older son was due to perform in his final spring musical as Dewey Finn in the THS production of “School of Rock,” and her youngest was looking forward to sixth grade events like the Greek Olympics and his sixth-grade dance.
“These are all important moments for these kids that they have looked forward to for many years. To watch it be taken away from your child is difficult to watch. We are all understanding of this serious situation plaguing our country, but it still doesn’t hurt any less,” Rocha said. “As much as I was looking forward to all their ‘lasts,’ I am looking forward to using this time to connect, laugh and enjoy one another.”
Silveira echoed the same sentiment, with a daughter who had been set to be promoted from eighth grade into high school. A supplemented schedule keeps her daughter busy with activities like physical education, violin and “helping around the house” in various time slots every weekday, in addition to family activities they never had time for before the pandemic — but it’s impossible not to miss her friends.
“The school part, so far, has been great. The emotional toll of missing friends and changing our lifestyle has been difficult, some days more than others,” Silveira said. “I already knew my daughter had amazing teachers this year, but seeing the way they have stepped up during this crisis is inspiring. Seeing how much they care about my child's physical, mental and emotional wellbeing during this time makes the process easier, and I think it has helped my daughter to stay passionate and focused on her studies.”