‘They miss their kids:’ Carson City school staff forge ahead during pandemic
Speech pathologists are using teletherapy to help improve students’ skills. Teachers are creating or using videos on Zoom meetings. They’re reading favorite books online and showing favorite stuffed animals or toys, calling and talking to students daily, making sure they’re doing their homework, continuing to learn and build their skills.
The delivery for classroom instruction has changed in the past few weeks, but the teachers’ passion for it in the Carson City School District has not, according to Christine Lenox.
“Kids are adapting well to this,” Lenox said. “Change is hard. They’re having to be really creative. For my itty-bitties, my 3-year-olds, this is a confusing time for them.”
Lenox, Ed.D., the district’s director of Student Support Services, oversees Carson City’s special education services for students between 3 and 22 years old. The district, which has offerings for prekindergarten to young adults in transition seeking assistance and obtaining employment after they graduate, extends its resources in speech pathology, clinical psychology and school assessments. Lenox said approximately 200 district staff provide expertise in these areas across all the district’s sites.
Once the assistant director of Student Support Services for the district and a speech language pathologist and paraprofessional at Carson High School, Lenox is well tied to the families she serves now.
“Everyone has been very supportive and ready for some of the changes we’ve been working on,” she said.
Moving to a digital platform the week of March 23 after COVID-19 spurred the need for social distancing caused a profound impact for the district’s special education population. It took a swift adjustment, though it was hardly a change to the relationship among teachers and students, Lenox said.
“Our teachers have been taking their work and looking at each individual kid and how to support that,” Lenox said. “Our students’ change is really hard. It’s like the Titanic – the rudder is not big enough.”
Lenox said it’s harder for her teachers to be away from their students.
“They miss their kids,” she said. “The teachers want to come back. They all want to do their job. Their love is to be in their classroom. They’re grateful we have a digital platform and can see those kids on a Zoom meeting, and that wouldn’t have happened without it. There’s a really nice relationship being built with this as well.”
Teachers generally stay on their same routine and maintain that daily contact. Classes at the secondary level remain on task and on schedule.
First period classes that go from 8 to 9 a.m., for example, stay that way online, and staff members help each other in teams, Lenox said. They also ensure they continue to meet the standards and make sure their students have everything they need at home.
“Teachers all work together and come up with lessons,” she said. “If you have four teachers and one got sick, the other three pick up the slack.”
Lenox said teachers are able to formulate plans for tangible lessons for students at home and find videos for them to watch or appropriate websites for them to read, whatever the subject might be. If it pertains to music, students can look up information about Mozart or Tchaikovsky, Lenox said.
“(The staff is) holding up well,” she said. “We have an amazing team. They’ll be tired later, and they are concerned.”
Everyone has a chance to make a difference from home. Paraprofessionals, nurses, social workers and administrators are all doing their part digitally, Lenox said. Students also are receiving their meals at various locations.
“Everyone in the district has a role from custodial to (Superintendent) Mr. Stokes, and they all believe it’s so important to get every student across the stage; the goal is all the same,” she said. “It’s so worrisome when we’re looking at the budget. Everybody does a great job.”
At the end of the day, though, Lenox said, mental wellness for the staff comes in the form of getting to be around the students.
“This job stinks without kids,” she said. “There is that passion that is driving them to do this job. There’s something that has them connecting and wanting to help, and it’s more powerful than money, and that’s the piece that’s missing and it’s harder on our staff.”
Lenox said it’s important for families to know even while school campuses are closed, staff members and administrators remain available for questions or concerns.
“We’re still available from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and you can always e-mail the principals,” she said.
Sierra Lutheran High School
Private Sierra Lutheran High School also is reporting success in its transition to digital learning. Brian Underwood, director of school development, said staff ensures students have time to collaborate with staff and each other for academic and social needs.
“The faculty, staff, and student body of Sierra Lutheran High School have exhibited tremendous resiliency at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak and have adroitly adapted to the tools and strategies necessary to further the school’s Christian mission, alongside its college prep focus,” Underwood said.
The school is offering a Zoom writing workshop on April 16, adapting its curriculum to help its students as school closures remain in force through at least April 30 per state mandates until further notice.
“Among the greatest priorities for the school, at all times, is ensuring that the spiritual, social and emotional needs of the faculty and staff are met,” Underwood said. “In this present environment, this includes intentional contact the faculty initiates with students, devotional and chapel messages and routine contact of various kinds. For the staff, it includes individual and group time to check-ins throughout the week and scheduled prayer time.”