Coronadventures in Academia: Diana Arya 4-15-2020

Friday, April 17, 2020
Spanish language version of the now-canceled Youth Summit poster

Spanish language version of the now-canceled Youth Summit poster

Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

It has been exactly a month since I first received news that schools and after-school programs will be closed for the foreseeable future. Just a few weeks ago, I had imagined that all my waking efforts would be focused on our first annual Youth Summit. Teen members of Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara were hard at work designing the logo and establishing review criteria for submissions to present at the Youth Summit from young budding scientists, innovators, and activists. Now I occasionally dig up the final version of the flyer (see Spanish version, above) that was disseminated to our partnering organizations, wistfully imagining the bustle of meetings across our Community Based Literacies (CBL) program teams as we would prepare to greet approximately 500 children and family members on our campus on May 27th.

But this wasn’t the greatest heartbreak that I have experienced since we began sheltering in place. As Faculty Director of the McEnroe Reading and Language Arts Clinic, I lead five youth-based programs that all focus on the local community as a primary source of inspiration, research, creativity, and intellectual collaboration. While each program has their particular cultural flavor, all young participants are positioned as co-learners with undergraduate facilitators, graduate student coordinators, and faculty program leaders. In past years, our young participants have visited our campus to engage in real-world social justice issues related to climate change, immigration, and gender equity while exploring related interdisciplinary work at UCSB. My biggest heartbreak emerged with the growing vision of empty hallways and classrooms, which was further punctuated by the fact that children who have been developing strong connections with their “college buddies” would not even have a chance to say goodbye.

One day. That’s exactly how much time I gave myself to grieve over the loss of the sense of community that I have worked with others to foster over the past five years. The next day, I got to work on addressing all the questions swimming in my mind: How will our CBL programs continue? What do our partnering leaders need right now? How will I lead my program coordinators to address these needs? What new resources will we need to create?

And the new million-dollar question: How in the world do I teach a large, undergraduate practicum course online? The stress of dealing with so many different facets of my professional life has at times been intense, but the irony is that such challenges have also helped anchor my focus on decision-making and action, and a sense of calm washed over me as I began to work with my teaching assistants, program coordinators, leadership partners, etc. to reinvent ourselves for a new normal.

Costa rica collageSo much has been accomplished over the past three weeks. Our CBL program teams have collaborated to provide a comprehensive set of resources and activities for all our young co-learners and their families who find themselves in a unique homeschooling situation. We have reconnected with families who rely on the McEnroe Clinic for instructional support and continue to work with our Harding University Partnership School (thanks to the amazing coordination by Valerie Meier and Robert Speiser) to support the Young Authorship program funded by the California Library Association. We continue to work with partnering organizations like Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara to communicate available resources and events that children can attend online. One of my graduate student coordinators, Estefania Pihen Gonzalez, is creating a series of cross-national exchanges for interested families that engages youth in a virtual exploration of nature. On the left is a collage of images from the first virtual trial with participating youth from a school community in Costa Rica.

Valerie, Robert and Estefania are three of many graduate students embracing this new challenge. Our CBL lead coordinator, Ryan Arellano, has already led our team of clinic instructors in meetings with children to engage in literacy activities (read alouds, writing projects, etc.) and help with homework assignments.  Program coordinators for LEAFY (Faith Hyun, Estefania Pihen Gonzalez, and Matt Shackley) and Curie-osity (Ali Muller, Mallory Rice, and Devon Christman) have been reaching out to families through our local partners while also working with undergraduate facilitators in developing plans for future online activities with youth. Even our most experimental program, our Virtual Reality Project, is continuing through remote means; graduate coordinators David Sañosa and Jim Gribble continue to work with participating youth and their families as we finish developing a new VR program for fostering the development of foundational literacy skills such as fluency, decoding, and spelling.

Another graduate student, John Cano Barrios, has shifted his dissertation topic to focus on the evolutionary process of transforming typically in-person courses and youth programs to online experiences during this global pandemic. And all aforementioned CBL coordinators are working together to create a CBL newsletter that will be sent through our ever-growing parent listserv.

I am honored and proud to be a member of our CBL team; everyone has stepped up to the challenge of reenvisioning what we do for and with children and their families during this incredibly difficult time.  I have been witness to so much creative inspiration, and I am confident that some of the innovative work emerging now will have positive effects even after we are able to learn and work together in person again. While the future remains fuzzy, I am part of a community that is embracing the unknown, and I see a better version of myself emerging from this unprecedented experience.

Diana J. Arya is Assistant Professor in Education and Faculty Director of the McEnroe Reading and Language Arts Clinic. She studies the development of community-based, interdisciplinary literacy practices of learning and innovation from preadolescence through adulthood.