“They felt isolated and that's hard. Kids need each other."
"During those two weeks, we had time off. I immediately wanted to reach out to people to say, ‘What can I do to help?’ I went to my mom's and helped her do things around her house and went to the school garden, which I have worked on for a number of years, to get it ready for when school resumed in two weeks.
Then we were told we were going to be teaching online and that we would have a week to navigate the technology with just the teachers. I panicked because it was a lot of new technology I had never seen before. We went with the Google platform, Google Classroom, Google Meets and Google Chats. I had to learn all of that. I did have a laptop, but it wasn't the most high tech laptop. So I had to buy a better one, or at least borrow something that was better than what I had, which I was able to do, luckily. It was a big learning curve to figure out how to use the new technology and then to see how we were going to implement it and what lessons were going to look like.
Then we began teaching. It was interactive to a certain point, but there was a lot of work that was done independently. The kids were left to do the assignments, and we weren't present with them. It was very difficult to try to navigate all of this with the kids, who are also new to the technology, although they're much quicker learners then us adults.
The biggest challenge was not everybody had laptops and Chromebooks. We had families that had multiple kids, a family of four or five kids. Did they have a laptop for everybody? No. So we had to implement a county wide survey to determine how many children in these homes were without technology. Also, we had to realize there are kids who are in two different homes sometimes. That's a challenge because they may be with dad for a couple, three days and hope that they remember to take their technology/backpacks to mom's when they go to her place. So there were many challenges along the way to say the least.
Just getting everybody what they needed was difficult because there was not equality in the whole division process. Not everybody had what they needed. I had a number of kids that weren’t even showing up in our google classrooms, therefore we had to email them and we had to call. Later we learned that they couldn't operate their Chromebook to navigate our Google platform, it wasn't working, or they didn't know how to problem solve it. We had to go through all of those glitches and problem solve the technology piece with our IT support and teacher assistance.
One of the other challenges was providing meals to kids. We had a scheduled break without instruction between 11am and 1pm when families could go to the school to pick up meals. I worked with a lot of children who were not able to get to the school and I was worried they weren’t eating. I would often ask them ‘Did you eat today? Did you get breakfast? Did you get lunch? Do you know that you can go to the school and get meals provided?’ ‘Well, mom and dad are working. I've got older siblings in the house, and they don't drive.’ So you had those issues too.
We have a lot of kids who speak English as a second language. Those kids were really struggling because it was those families that were out the door working every day. And it was up to their siblings to kind of help run the show. So it was very interesting to see how families operated during this whole change. Some worked better than others. A lot of responsibility fell on the older siblings, but they had their studies to do too.
I found myself reaching out to more kids who were not on my case list. There were many kids that needed help and I wasn't going to let them scramble along the way. They needed the support and extra hand holding!
A month to six weeks later we were finally settled in and able to create a structured schedule and accomplish somewhat of a routine going. Then our year was over around the third week in June. It had all felt very disjointed at first, but I felt like we did the best we could with what we had to work with from the county. We were able to provide the courses and communicate with other teachers about what was working and what wasn’t working. We evaluated from week to week. How many children are showing up, how many are not. That way we could reach out to those families. And I want to say by week six or seven, we were at about 90 something percent, having children in the classroom.
We're a school that's pretty family strong, and we're very fortunate that the families are engaged and they're involved for the most part. There are a lot of other schools in the county that are not like that, so I feel grateful that I'm at a school where there was parent support.
It was hard because we were all missing seeing the kids, we were missing that interaction, we were missing each other, and being together as staff. We were having our own struggles with technology, we would lose the internet in the middle of the class when everybody's on the same network and some screens were not showing the students. So, things changed along the way in terms of recognizing problem areas and navigating through them.
It was a big learning curve, but the one thing that really never changed was that we were all in this together. We really were looking out for the best interest of the kids. Those who were not present, we were very worried about them. We did the best we could to navigate those unchartered waters with everyone possible.
I think the hardest part was just the lack of human connection. As a teacher, that's a big part of what you do every day. Greetings and hugs of comfort, we can't read a kid's body language very well through a visual computer picture. You don't know what's really going on and how the kids are truly feeling. In my Google Meets, I would try to feel them out an ask “ how was your day,’‘ so tell me about what you like to do.’ You had to bring some of that personal touch into the conversation because that's what's really lacking. I could see the look on some of these kids faces, they were miserable. They missed their friends, they missed their peers. They weren't doing their sports programs, they weren't in any of the clubs that we have before school and after school. They felt isolated and that's hard. Kids need each other.” – Cindy #Maryland