Carson City teachers eager to see students again
Bordewich Bray Elementary School staff members have been pulling out their rulers, creating circles on their classroom carpets where the legs of desks must remain for social distance, and they have moved out furniture to make more space. Nutrition services workers are marking off seats in the cafeterias as needed. Playground quadrants have been designated with classrooms being assigned and rotated and current students constantly ask where they’re to play each day – all to welcome back the school’s littlest learners next week.
It’s a lot of extra preparation lately, but nearly everyone working for the school is anxious to see the return of the children most in need of in-person, on-campus instruction. The Carson City School District’s recent announcement to bring back prekindergarteners to second graders to campus are invigorating teachers and staff members at its elementary sites before the Oct. 20 traditional model start date.
First grade teacher Michele Cacioppo at Bordewich says she’s among her many colleagues who are looking forward to next week’s start.
“I’m very excited to back and see the little guys back in the classroom and watch them learn and be excited about learning,” she said.
While Mondays will remain full remote learning days, Tuesdays through Fridays will become full, in-person, on-campus instruction days and bring these students out of their cohorts back into class. The hybrid model has been a challenge for younger students and their families to adapt to since the board first approved it in July, she explained Wednesday.
“Having to go onto Google Classroom and do everything online is different,” she said. “We tried and the parents have been great, but they’re working. Some kids were able to do it easy, some not so much. It was a struggle.”
For her class, with 14 students currently, more students have fallen behind in learning how to read and write at home as a result of being working through the hybrid model because it’s been harder to target those specific skills without the extra attention.
“We’re definitely going to have to make up some lost ground (in the classroom), I think, because only seeing them twice a week was hard, and we try to teach them as we could. … You cannot replace the amount of time … and I need time in front of them.”
Cacioppo, teaching for 20 years, said it was hard to know and assess where students’ struggles and strengths are on those essential early academic skills both for testing purposes and for her own as a teacher to get them to the next grade level with success. Math, for example, has been a little easier to teach through the programs such as Google Classroom, and her class overall is more on track there than in reading or writing.
“We need to be able to give them guided strategies and find the patterns that are missing and what words they’re mispronouncing,” she said. “The parents, they’ve been trying. They work all the time. In daycare, I see some kids turning in work from Google Classroom at 6 at night. They’re working late because they want to please their teacher and get the prizes, if there’s prizes. We do stickers and give them high fives.”
Jessica Dunbar’s second grade room at Bordewich is ready with 18 desks lined up.
“Having the kids come back and only having that Monday being our digital day will be nice as a teacher and as a parent and getting to have more days in a row to really start and finish our activities will be nice,” said Dunbar, a teacher for 15 years.
For her, keeping “multiple brains” going as a teacher and a parent focusing on what her students and her own two children have needed should be simplified by bringing everyone to in-class instruction again. They also struggle with various motivation levels or might have different resources at home if family members aren’t comfortable with the technology as well, she added.
“I think all kids come in at different levels and leave at different levels, and that’s not going to be a pandemic year, either,” Dunbar said. “We’re going to have kids in a gap in a ‘normal year.’ But there’s definitely more of a gap, and I don’t know if ‘gap’s’ the right word, but there are definitely kids at different levels because even though they have school, they’re not in school doing that. That looks different for lots of kids.”
She said doubling the number of days with her students in the classroom will help increase their achievement by the end of the year.
At Seeliger Elementary School, Carol Reed, second grade teacher, said overall, the year so far has been going well.
“I’m happy they’re coming back, especially with the smaller kids,” she said. “They need to be hearing things (in person) to help them. … With the second graders, they’re a little more independent. I can’t imagine trying to teach first grade and kindergarten (remotely).”
Reed said learning how to teach online and in the hybrid model had its difficulties loading assignments to make sure students could access their work. She spent time communicating with parents through the district’s parent form ParentSquare and troubleshooting after school but said she eventually helped families get on track. Keeping the curriculum going without having kids repeat certain concepts was something else to overcome in the process.
“A lot of times, the kids at home are doing the same things, and then we’re doing everything else,” she said. “It’s a bit of a balancing act.”
But the parents overall have been very supportive, making sure they’re emphasizing with their children the importance of being safe, Reed said.
“I’ve asked them do they want to stick with this and if they can, and I think it’s hard on families of young children, having the reasons of trying to work, especially with the younger kids and being responsible. They need the support.”
Reed, who has degree in psychology and has taught for 28 years, said although some of her students have fallen back somewhat academically, that has been the nature of them having to learn at home in the hybrid model.
“They may not have the parental support to help keep them going,” she said, adding, “They need to be in their classroom getting direct instruction.”
Dunbar said the social and emotional interaction especially is important for younger students and to keep them engaged and hungry to learn.
“At the end of the day, these guys are at the beginning of their educational career and they need to have joy in every lesson because we need them to want to keep learning,” she said. “I think whatever path they end up taking, as long as they’re happy, healthy productive citizens of society, that’s great.”