They say there’s no place like home, and the age-old expression couldn’t ring truer for local students, teachers, administration and staff who are missing their home away from home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic: school. Despite their physical distance from one another, campus communities are finding ways to stay connected in spite of it all thanks to social media and a little bit of creativity.
On Thursday, the Stanislaus County Office of Education announced that school districts would extend school closures through May 3 in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. When the school closures were first announced, it was anticipated that schools would reopen April 19. In the meantime, Turlock Unified School District has worked hard to make sure students continue to make connections while advancing their educations at home.
Social media has always played a part in TUSD’s overall communication plan, Chief Communication Coordinator Marie Russell said, but with the new absence of classroom instruction it has become even more important in not only relaying information to parents, but to students as well.
“We have had an increase in followers on social media, especially students, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about the volume and quality of communication from TUSD,” Russell said.
While many followers are seeking updated information on the COVID-19 closures, many in the campus community have utilized sites like Facebook and Instagram to make a day in the living room feel as close to a day at school as possible.
“One of our most basic needs is for connection and belonging. Because of the current ‘Stay at Home’ directive from Governor Newsom to help flatten the curve on the COVID-19 outbreak, we are obviously unable to connect in person at this time. Social media can help our students and teachers stay connected and bring some cheer and levity to a challenging time for us all,” Russell said. “We are especially thankful for the efforts of our TUSD Support Clinicians who are helping us share information for our students, staff and community to manage the anxiety and fear during this time.”
In between informative graphics and resources to help the campus community cope, followers of both the TUSD social media accounts as well as each school’s respective pages can find fun videos, pictures and messages used to spread cheer to viewers.
Principals at the elementary schools have stayed up to date on the usual routines thanks to Facebook Live. Julien principal Jenny Anderson is able to read to students thanks to the technology, while Cunningham principal Janine Arakelian goes live daily to give the school’s morning announcements. Crowell principal Margaret Osmer said that teachers regularly talk to students and parents on the phone to check in and offer assistance, and some even write letters.
“Knowing their teacher is thinking about them and wanting to stay connected is motivating for many students,” Osmer said. “There are students whose teachers know they need that communication for their emotional needs.”
Pitman High School celebrated their spirit week this week by inviting students to post pictures of their participation at home, like on Tuesday when the theme was “A Day with the Homies,” which in this case referred to the students’ pets rather than classmates. Pictures of dogs, cats and even principal Angela Freeman’s horse spread positivity on the Pitman feed.
“It’s important to stay connected with each other because being isolated can be a hard thing to do during this time, especially since they are the people we get to see every day,” PHS ASB President Kyle Tran said.
Turlock High School has embraced “#operationstayconnected,” sharing photos of teachers at home and even video diaries that show a day in the life of different students. THS senior and Spirit Leader Lauren Edh was the first to share a video diary and is thankful for the world of social media during the crisis, she said.
“For lots of students like myself, school is where we would get to see our friends, teachers and staff who are prominent figures in our lives. The news of school being cancelled to many meant that these people were being taken away from us as well,” Edh said. “Social media has been a great reminder that we’re all going through this together. Seeing my favorite teachers, staff and peers from school online has been comforting and made me realize that I’m not alone in this. I also feel more inclined to stay home if it means I get to see those people sooner.”
THS ASB Advisor Jennifer Cullum said that after encouraging students to share photos of themselves on social media wearing blue and gold, a parent emailed her to say it was the first time she saw her daughter smile all week as she took a photo of her brother.
“Many students are motivated outside of the classroom (athletics, activities, clubs, friends), so any effort we can make to keep those connections happening will benefit social and emotional wellness,” Cullum said. “I think often times adults only see the negatives of social media, but during this time we can use this platform to keep students connected and engaged to each other by sharing challenges and positivity.”
While Denair Unified School District is also utilizing social media to keep parents informed and stay connected to kids, on Thursday Denair Elementary Charter Academy helped teachers see the smiling faces of their students in person thanks to a special caravan of cars. Teachers, administrators and staff piled into their vehicles to form a snaking line of encouragement that traveled through Denair’s neighborhoods, with students and their families waving from their yards.
“What we really wanted to do is make sure that during this time we keep our school spirit and positivity. It’s about being able to see our kids —even from a distance — and seeing their smiling faces, being able to uplift them and let them know that even though we’re not here at school together we still are here for them even if it’s at a distance and remotely,” DECA principal Kelly Beard said.
All of the local districts are also not only providing encouragement from afar, but tangible support in the form of nutrition. TUSD recently expanded its meal distribution service, providing breakfast and lunch from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at seven school sites (Cunningham, Wakefield, Julien, Dennis Earl, Turlock Junior High, Crowell and Osborn) and delivering meals along select bus routes. Parents can pick up meals for the next day at the same time, but their children must be present for each meal served. To view the delivery route and meal sites, visit https://bit.ly/2WO51Rg.
For DUSD students, grab n’ go meals are available everyday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Denair Middle School, and meals are also delivered to bus stops at Denair Friends Church and Olsen’s Fabricating.
In Hilmar, meals are served from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at both Hilmar High School and Merquin Elementary.