WALNUT, CA—Monday, April 20, was the first day of Phase 2 remote learning classes for Walnut Valley USD families and educators who are adjusting to life during the coronavirus pandemic.
Students received detailed schedule information from school leaders, teachers re-configured their entire instruction system, and over 3,000 Chromebooks were distributed in preparation for launch day.
“We are excited to reconnect with our students,” said Suzanne Middle School Principal Dr. Amy Smith in a Sunday evening announcement.
“Get a good night’s sleep, check emails, and get ready to finish the 4th quarter strong!”
“Our students' wellbeing is our District’s top priority,” said Educational Services Director Dr. Jeanette Koh.
“As the nationwide closure disrupted the normal routine and daily social connections for our students, we appreciate our teachers and staff connecting with students during distance learning.”
Teachers can pre-record lectures, use live video chats, and hold virtual office hours for real-time interaction with students.
“I found myself really paying attention to my tone in the lessons and joking with the kids as if they were sitting in the classroom with me,” said math and drama teacher Helen Papadopoulos of the new online learning experience.
“Because I am recording my lessons, when I meet with them virtually, we spend time just talking to each other about the things we’re been doing to stay busy,” she said.
Papadopoulos said many of her charges say that they miss their teachers, having a regular schedule, and even hearing the bell signaling that it’s time for the next class.
But, a comment from one student really caught the attention of the 35-year veteran teacher.
Teachers are used to seeing kids sitting right next to each other and sending texts or Snapchat back and forth, she explained.
“One student wanted to be back at school because they were ‘tired of communicating virtually,’” Papadopoulos reported.
“They miss that closeness and support we all feel when we’re around people, and that’s why it’s so important for us as educators to connect with them as much as possible. The Social-Emotional Learning work we’re doing is not only important, but crucial for our kids.”
“It’s not the same as face-to-face, but it feels good to see our students again,” said Walnut High choir teacher Lisa Lopez who was thrilled with 90-100% online attendance in her classes.
On the first day, Lopez had some fun demonstrating the pitfalls of singing live as a choir over the Internet.
She directed students to sing the national anthem or happy birthday song acapella and to watch their conductor’s hands “carefully.”
“There is a lag because everyone has a different network speed, so for every class, the singing evolved into giggles!”
Schools offered a crash course to help educators hone skills in Google Classroom, Zoom, FlipGrid, and other digital programs.
“Music teachers tend to focus on conducting, score study, studying our instrument, and running programs. So, especially for us more ‘seasoned’ teachers, we had some catching up to do very quickly!”
Lopez said she valued the time training and preparing for the e-learning.
“Although it probably felt like an eternity to parents,” she commented.
"But, this isn’t really distance learning, it’s crisis learning. Our District put together a coherent plan so that we could be as successful as possible while also giving each other grace as we navigate this crazy time.”
“The first day was memorable seeing how eager and excited students were to meet their classmates through technology,” said Vejar Elementary third grade teacher Jenny Kim.
“Although we can’t possibly replace the genuine connections built throughout the year, I’m so grateful that we get to carry on with the relationships this school year and beyond.”
“Even with school closures and strict social distancing measures, administrators, teachers, parents, and students still made learning possible, remained supportive, and focused on our vision of Kids First,” Kim added.
Diamond Bar High math teacher Courtney Corona created a home office by taking over her brother’s room while he is serving in the military.
“Before distance learning began, I personally emailed each one of my students individually to see how they were doing,” she said.
Students chose words from a Mood Meter to best represent how they are feeling during school closure, with results ranging from bored and calm to stressed and lonely.
“This week, we will be discussing our collective feelings and how to encourage each other,” Corona said.
Prior to the launch, South Pointe Middle School science teacher Shelly Yamashiro created a video with classroom photos and information welcoming students to the online learning platform.
“Let’s make the best of our current situation and try to have fun while learning – we will get through this together,” she said using green screen technology with floating sea anemones.
Yamashiro told students she wants to help and support them through the “new normal.”
“It’s OK, feel sad, happy, anxious, or bored during this unprecedented time - I know I have,” she said.
“Look at the bright side, you can wear your sweats or PJs all day, don’t need permission to go to the bathroom, you can eat and even chew gum, and best of all, have your favorite (furry) family member by your side.”
Suzanne Middle School orchestra teacher Ami Garvin hoped to ease back into the swing of things during the first week and quickly learned how eager her students were to return to class.
Zoom meetings were running long, and although she left a five-minute “passing period” between classes, students were “chomping at the bit to start the next session,” she said.
“They were posting on Google Classroom demanding the join code. At one point, one student “yelled” in all caps: “WHERE ARE YOU MRS. GARVIN?” she shared.
“It’s an indicator that they crave normalcy and connection with their fellow musicians.”
Garvin also transformed her coveted crafting space, that features Workbox 2.0 cabinets, into a virtual office complete with a familiar background.
“I took a picture of my classroom whiteboard with encouraging messages so that students could feel like they were back at school.”
She reported that colleagues researched and held trials with virtual classroom options prior to the kick-off.
“I am surrounded by amazing educators that let me test my Zoom set up with them because we all want a great experience for our students,” said Garvin.
Students were eager to jump back into learning, catch up with each other, and share.
“They were doing lots of cooking and baking, and staying up way too late!” said Language Arts teacher Alice Chen.
One class wanted to play an impromptu game of Kahoot, so the Suzanne teacher let them take the reins.
“They stayed past their class time and opted to take the 30-minute break with me instead,” she said, reminding them it was time to sign off for their next class.
“These students really miss the social part of the school, and I miss working with them in person.”
“I will remember fondly how Walnut Valley leaders took care of all of us - the students, the parents, the teachers, the community,” Garvin added.
“They made so many quick decisions to help keep us safe and healthy. The teachers rallied to set up online learning using technology and innovation to do what's best for kids while keeping in mind the impact all these changes have on families. I am so proud to be a member of the Walnut Valley team.”
Suzanne Middle School teacher Helen Papadopoulos begins digital learning on April 20.
South Pointe Middle School science teacher Shelly Yamashiro welcomes students to digital learning with green
Language Arts teacher Alice Chen gets ready for class during Phase 2 distance learning.
Walnut High choir teacher Lisa Lopez launches virtual instruction classes on April 20.
Vejar Elementary teacher Jenny Kim begins Phase 2 Digital Learning on April 20.
Diamond Bar High math teacher Courtney Corona teaches classes remotely from her brother’s bedroom.
Suzanne Middle School orchestra teacher Ami Garvin teaches digitally tucked in her home crafting space.