August 25, 2020
By Kelli Gile, Office of Community Resources
WALNUT, CA— It’s an unprecedented start to the new school year as courageous and compassionate Walnut Valley USD educators provide instruction from empty classes and home offices.
“I had a hard time sleeping last night as I always do before the first night of school,” said Sarah Sherman, a third-grade teacher at C.J. Morris Elementary.
“Yet as soon as I saw the smiles on the kids’ faces as they popped into my Zoom meeting – that nervousness when away!”
Classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds remain silent with nearly 13,500 students learning from home with the support of families due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My class was super patient as we navigated taking attendance, making creations on Google Slides, and turning them in,” Sherman added.
“We’re all in this together – no matter the distance!”
A bottle of hand sanitizer, facemask, ring light, and Starbuck’s vanilla latte rested on Katie Larson’s desk as she delivered a Roots of Civilizations lesson in her vacant South Pointe Middle School class on August 17.
“I’m happy to see my students – even if it is over Zoom!” the social studies teacher shared.
Educators spent months preparing to pivot to new online learning platforms in order to provide students with high quality, engaging, and rigorous learning experiences.
“Our teachers are working hard to provide online virtual experiments and interactive engaging lessons through all curricular areas,” said Jennifer Burns, Diamond Bar High’s Math and Science Chair.
“Even though we’re in a virtual environment right now, Performing Arts programs are providing meaningful opportunities for students with skill development, connections, and performances,” added music director Steve Acciani.
“Even virtual environments aren’t going to hold us back!”
“I love how much energy and effort faculty and staff put into our virtual back to school night,” said Walnut High English teacher Jennifer Maletz.
“This is a great way to still communicate with parents and have them feel connected even at a distance. I also had to upgrade my technology skills, which is a bonus!”
“Distance learning has definitely pushed teachers to try new things and grow as educators in a way none of us ever imagined,” added Suzanne Middle School language arts teacher Alexis Lujan.
“And our students have been so gracious!”
South Pointe science teacher Megan Kojder’s students had a chance to get creative while designing personal Bitmoji scenes.
“The kids are using science, even though they didn’t realize it, by learning the CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) method of asking and answering questions,” she explained.
Dedicated teachers are determined to connect with their new classes of students learning remotely.
Walnut High English teacher Marissa Beemer keeps tabs with students during a social emotional check in at the end of each week.
“What struck me was the number of kids who say they were fine, but thanked me for caring enough to check in,” she said.
Social studies teacher Eric Shin enlarged students’ virtual Zoom images by cleverly projecting on the whiteboard pull-down screen in his South Pointe classroom.
He’s spent a lot of time getting to know students and helping them learn to regulate emotions about living in quarantine.
“It’s so necessary right now,” he shared of the priority to make connections and create a strong classroom culture.
After a few days, the kids started asking “When are we going to actually start history, Mr. Shin?” he said.
“So I told them ‘this is the day – I hope you enjoy it!”
Vejar Elementary teacher Lauren Gullotti led her 35 fifth graders through a series of Brain Break stretches on August 17.
“They’d typically be out running during recess time – so they need this chance to get moving!”
Gullotti began the school year by giving students a healthy outlet for expressing anxiety, stress, and concerns as well as gratitude and desire to stay connected with others.
“With COVID shutting down schools so abruptly, we did not have the ability to offer students strategies for coping with the changes they experienced,” she explained.
One of her first assignments was having children pen letters to first responders, grocery store employees, families, and friends.
“It has helped students express themselves in a positive, thoughtful way,” Gullotti added.
Educators also dealt with computer issues, log on glitches, and even a Zoom website crash during the online launch.
“Every morning at 7:57 a.m. before we close our classroom doors to admit our students onto Zoom, we all shout to each other (from at least six-feet apart) to have a great day and pray all the technology stuff will work,” shared kindergarten teacher Dani Hawkesworth at Westhoff Elementary.
Quail Summit Elementary fifth grade teacher Jessica Cadena’s power at home went out 28 minutes before the school’s virtual back to school night.
“The theme this year is grace!” she said after rushing to school just in time for the event.
“We miss our kids so much and teaching in empty classes and home offices is not how we ever pictured our days,” said Elementary Learning Specialist Jill Takayama from Walnut Elementary.
“But our heart for kids and passion for teaching is still there!”
“One thing is for sure this year,” transitional kindergarten teacher Christa Richard from Castle Rock Elementary said of the historic time in education.
“We will have many challenges ahead of us, but if we learn to lean on each other and work together, we can get through this.”
Several elementary schools even adopted a “Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons” theme for the school year.
Collegewood Elementary second grade teacher Diane Zell dubbed the first day of school “Magic Monday” standing at her laptop perched on a student chair.
“I’m just trying my best!” she said with a smile about the new online program.
At Maple Hill Elementary, third grade teacher Lisa Peterson welcomed students (virtually) into a decorated camping area for a read aloud.
“I can’t wait for you to come back so you can be sitting around our campfire!” she said opening The Potato Chip Champ.
Down the hall, a trio of physical education specialists, Judy Ameluxen, Bryce Fidel, and Judi Quimpo, delivered their first online class with freeze dances and balance exercises.
“Isn’t it a lot harder to do it with your eyes closed?” fitness expert Ameluxen queried the Zoom group.
“We have to really concentrate!”
First grade teacher Ashley League’s students had a chance to get their wiggles out singing, dancing, and practicing patterns with the popular Banana Banana Meatball song.
Across the hall, Kristin Thomas chatted with her online students as they returned from recess.
Their little faces were projected eyelevel on the veteran teacher’s laptop resting on a plastic storage bin.
Many teachers are using the thumbs up or down signal for a quick understanding check during Zoom classes while students are on mute.
Fourth grade teacher Jodi Yim distributed green, yellow, and red construction paper cards to her class.
“I can immediately see where they are - and if someone is stuck I have them show red, yellow if we need to slow down, or green if they are good to go!”
“The learning curve for technology skills needed in distance learning has been steep,” she commented.
Students need to toggle back and forth between Zoom, splitting the screen, and opening applications.
“In Google Classroom, they’re learning the difference between what’s being streamed and their class assignment,” Yim said.
“And we’re constantly reviewing online etiquette!”
On August 19, she taught a Dandelion Breathing technique during a Mindful Moment lesson.
Students imagined picking a dandelion, making a wish, and then blowing the seeds into the air.
Then, she asked her young charges what they had wished for.
“Three children said they wished they were back in school,” she shared with a heavy heart.
Although teachers miss being face-to-face with their students, they are dedicated to making the best of the situation.
“This is a school year like no other we’ve ever experienced, but there’s no place I’d rather be as we get to the work of educating and forming relationships with our students,” said Rhonda Barnes, second-grade teacher at Quail Summit Elementary.
“Let’s remember to give each other extra grace, generous smiles, and loads of patience!”
Signs of the times! Hand sanitizer, facemask, laptop, ring light, and Starbucks latte sit on teacher Katy Larson’s desk at South Pointe Middle School.
Quail Summit Elementary fifth grade teacher Alex Surdam launches district learning on Aug. 10.
Collegewood Elementary second grade teacher Diane Zell delivers first virtual lesson on Aug. 10.
Walnut High English teacher Jennifer Maletz working in empty class during district learning.
Walnut Elementary teacher Chris Moon delivers lesson on Aug. 12.
Diamond Bar High science teacher Greg Valor takes roll on Aug. 11.
C.J. Morris Elementary fourth grade teacher Laurie Eyestone reviews reading assignment.
South Pointe Middle School social studies teacher Eric Shin Zooms with class.
Get Moving! Judy Ameluxen, Bryce Fidel, and Judi Quimpo lead online physical education at Maple Hill Elementary.
Vejar Elementary fifth grade teacher Lauren Gullotti uses her Harry Potter wand while leading Brain Break activities.
Diamond Bar High math teacher Peter Kottke works a problem for his second period class.
Chaparral Middle School teacher Tommy Pak takes roll on August 10.
Castle Rock Elementary teacher Lori Stokes welcomes students to online learning.
Evergreen Elementary teacher Scott Jones makes connections with virtual class.
Vejar Elementary second grade teacher Katy Schooler introduces speech and thought bubbles.
Making Lemonade! Maple Hill Elementary third grade teacher Lisa Peterson reads around the campfire.
Maple Hill Elementary first grade teacher Kristin Thomas connects with Zoom class.
Suzanne Middle School language arts teacher Alexis Lujan Zooms from her empty classroom.
South Pointe science teacher Megan Kojder’s students design Bitmoji scenes.