Week 9 of quarantine. Day 34 of remote instruction for my son’s second grade class. Moments of frustration, confusion, and depression have emerged during this time, but it has been truly inspirational to be part of the journey. The second grade team at Harding University Partnership School has developed a successful and supportive learning community in response to COVID-19, thanks to their strong partnership.
From the very first day of remote instruction, Dawn Penkala and Dee Carter Brown have worked together as a dynamic team. With complimentary personalities and areas of strength, they have supported each other through the transition every step of the way.
Each of them with many years of experience and both still energized and passionate about their teaching, they helped each other find their groove in the virtual classroom. The transition could not have been as easy for them as teachers just coming out of a teacher ed program equipped with a toolbox of tips and tricks on the latest technology. It was powerful how candid they were with the students and parents about their learning curve, and their willingness to try new things. Their students got to witness in real time teachers facing challenges, and through trial and error, discovering solutions.
One strategy the second grade team has implemented to build community is weekly office hours for parents. Each session covers a range of topics from technology to social emotional support. When the district translator isn’t available, a bilingual parent steps in to help all parents access the content and voice questions and/or concerns. Another parent who is technologically savvy has stepped up to walk parents through tech issues with short videos that she sends to the teachers for posting. During one session, the school’s CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) counselor joined and shared coping strategies for these stressful times. These office hours have become a successful platform for parent engagement.
The second grade website has been a work in progress. Constantly getting updated in response to student and parent requests and the discovery of new resources. My son’s teacher created her first instructional video on how to plant a brassica seed. I know this short sequence took her many hours of blood, sweat, and tears, and just showed her willingness to get on board with this new way of teaching, regardless of the steep learning curve.
Their success culminated last night in a virtual storytime they hosted at 5 pm. Students were invited to join via Zoom and cuddle up with their favorite stuffy. I decided to cozy up on the couch with both of my kids and listen in. I was amazed at how comfortable both of the teachers had become in front of the computer camera. I felt like I was in their classroom, sitting on the rug, listening to them read from the rocking chair. Kids all across the screen settled in for storytime. Some crowded together with their siblings, others on their own, clutching their favorite stuffy. It was a lovely evening listening to Go, Dog. Go! and The Old Woman Who Named Things.
Although my son’s second grade year is ending differently than we had ever imagined, the learning community is still intact. Thanks to the dedication and flexibility of two incredible teachers and their strong partnership.
Devon Azzam, Gevirtz School Assistant Director of Outreach, is sheltering in place at home in Santa Barbara with partner Tarek, daughter Sophia (10) and son Dominic (7). Last day in the office 3/13, last day in the water 3/20, last day unmasked in public 4/3, last meltdown a few hours ago. Still running, gardening and listening to the trees.