A monsoon on the last day of the most challenging school year in memory? It fits the moment.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, and that led to 51 days of distance learning. At the same time, the economy crashed and now there’s widespread social unrest. It’s a teachable moment for students.
“They are living history right now through a pandemic that is forcing everyone to learn how to educate themselves in different ways, through different platforms and formats and our students are absolutely going to be better for how they have risen to this challenge,” said Mary Kate Parton, the principal of David Lawrence K8 Center in North Miami.
Parton, her staff and several teachers were at the school today, passing out certificates of promotion to eighth graders. It was similar to the now-normal high school ritual of drive-thru graduations, but for the younger kids.
There was a feeling the teachers were celebrating for their students and for themselves, for making the best of a difficult situation.
“Well it was a learning experience for me, a huge learning experience for me,” said science teacher Monica Bove about teaching from home, through a computer.
“Actually worked better than I thought at such short notice,” said English teacher Lynne Roman, who told us she received a big assist from her students who helped her make contact with the entire class.
All the teachers shared obstacles which come with the territory. Or in this case, the absence of shared territory.
“Because one of the biggest challenges was how to find the right way to engage students at a distance, it’s already hard enough,” said Dr. Jesus Valladares, who teaches intensive reading remediation.
“I literally walk around my class all the time,” Bove said. “If I see your head down I’m knocking on your desk, I mean I literally hover over them, all of a sudden they didn’t have that, and they still came through, I must say I’m so proud of my kids.”
So there’s no question teachers had to make a huge adjustment this year. So did parents of younger kids, who had to juggle schedules to have an adult at home and had to make sure their children were logging in and working.
“It was hard but they made it, everything is possible when you want, and she did it, I’m proud of her,” Edgar Saavedra said about his daughter.
“We all shifted during the time when there was a lot of uncertainty, the school did a great job communicating with parents, giving us resources,” added Sabine Dulcio, whose son is on his way to high school.
Now the focus shifts to summer and to next school year. Students who didn’t do well with distance learning will have a chance to make up work during a summer session, and may also be among those starting school two weeks early to catch up to their peers.
What will next school year look like? The district hasn’t yet announced definitive plans, but it’s likely to include an effort to provide social distancing space by putting students on alternating schedules. So distance learning will almost certainly be part of the equation right from the start, which concerns teachers.
“As a teacher you’re supposed to build a rapport with students and it’s hard to do that virtually, you get to know their likes, dislikes, how they work, what they work well with, not all kids work well virtually,” Roman explained.
The teachers and students have proven their resiliency. They’ll have to adapt once again to changes on the horizon.