With schools across the state closed for the remainder of the school year, local elementary school teachers are adapting on-the-fly under unprecedented circumstances.
“I heard someone use the term ‘crisis teaching’ and ‘crisis learning,’” Cannon Beach Academy Director Amy Fredrickson said. “That’s what we’re doing, and we’re just doing the best we can to help the kids and families.”
Seaside and Gearhart principal Juli Wozniak echoed that sentiment, adding, “It’s pandemic teaching.”
“The whole situation has been really challenging, it’s ever-changing,” she said. “It’s very different from what we do on a daily basis.”
For the academy, as well as The Heights and Gearhart elementary schools, students left a week early for spring break with the anticipation of reconvening in April. Over the next couple weeks, however, Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate to close public schools to help stop the spread of COVID-19 extended to the end of April, and then the remainder of the school year.
By the time students returned from spring break, educators at all three schools were prepared to use Google platforms to deliver instruction online and connect with their students on a daily basis. Their first priority, however, was to reconnect with students and families and continue to foster the relationships that create the foundation of robust education, Wozniak said.
As the pandemic is an evolving situation, state recommendations for distance learning have also changed, Fredrickson said. According to a letter sent to Gearhart and Seaside students April 10, the state recommended 45 minutes teacher-directed daily instruction for students in kindergarten or first grade; second and third grade, 60 minutes; and for fourth- and fifth-graders, 90 minutes.
Instruction includes prerecorded videos, assignments in Google Classroom, paper packet assignments, math workbooks and social studies pamphlets, among others.
Additionally, the state recommends one to two hours of supplemental, student- or parent-directed activities for kindergartners and first-graders; two hours for second- and third-graders; and three hours for fourth- and fifth-graders. Supplemental activities include board games, puzzles, independent reading, arts and crafts, watching educational programs, imaginative play and journaling.
“We’re doing our best to recreate the classroom, which we know we can’t do virtually,” assistant principal Jeremy Catt said.
What they can do, he added, is help the environment feel normal and comfortable enough for students to complete the school year. “In no way do we expect our teachers to be perfect at it. What we do expect is we’re continuing to build and maintain our relationships with each other — for staff wellness — and with our students, as well.”
The academy’s curriculum, according to Fredrickson, requires interaction with teachers on a daily basis, so they are engaging students via back-to-back 30-minute sessions, with short breaks worked in, from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays through Fridays. That’s followed by regular office hours from 1 to 3 p.m., when parents can get help for technology issues, ask questions about academics, or just talk if they need to.
For enrichment classes, such as music and art, the academy provides links to music snippets and activities kids can do with their parents.
“We’re just doing what we can every day to make sure the kids can still have access to new material and new knowledge,” Fredrickson said.
A range of needs
One issue that came to the forefront early on was equity — or the fact not all students have equal access at home to resources necessary for distance learning. To address the issue, Fredrickson surveyed families to see who had access to computers or other devices, as well as the internet. Spectrum’s offer to provide 60 days of free internet to families with K-12 students starting in mid-March helped bridge the gap for multiple people in the community. Meanwhile, the schools sent home devices to ensure each child has what they need to receive online instruction.
Equity also means delivering the amount of contact and support students need for success. According to Catt, some students are able to succeed meeting with their teachers once per day, while others may need several interactions and additional support to navigate their schoolwork or meet their social emotional needs.
“That’s a question we’re asking all families: ‘How can we support you?’” Catt said.
Besides academics, the schools also are working to address students’ nutrition and wellness needs and ensure families are getting the additional resources they need during this time. If they haven’t heard from students, administrators use what means they can to check in on families and see how they’re doing, which may include welfare checks.
Fredrickson said although they can’t provide mental health services, financial assistance or nutrition support for families, their staff makes sure parents and guardians know about the food pantry, unemployment benefits and other public resources and services.
“Our teachers are communicating constantly with the families and trying to check in to see what they need and what we can do to help,” she said.
Both she and Wozniak praised the efforts of their staff to connect remotely with the students.
“Taking a not-so-great situation and doing what the teachers and families and students have done in such a small amount time is a huge positive,” Fredrickson said. “Every day, being able to see the kids’ faces is such a positive thing. The teachers, from the bottom of their hearts, miss the kids so much. And it’s so great to see the collaboration.”