Teachers, students and families making adjustments as classrooms remain closed

When California Governor Gavin Newson extended the shelter-in-place order through May 1, CJ Cammack, Martinez Unified School District (MUSD) superintendent followed the state Department of Education order to do the same thing.

State Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond said, “It is imperative that we exhaust all efforts to minimize the disruptive impact a school closure can have on our students and their families.” That has proven easier said than done.

The purpose of the order is to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, but it is taking a toll on everyone, especially students, teachers, and parents.

Alhambra High School (AHS) seniors seem to be impacted the most.

Michaela Rezentes

“It is really hard. Everything we have worked for, for four years, and not being able to celebrate it,” Michaela Rezentes said. She and Kylie Joseph are AHS Associated Student Body co-presidents.

Kylie said, “It didn’t seem that much different, because a lot of what we do is online anyway, – until they announced that it was extended for another month.”

Although the academic heavy lifting is over for seniors, school sports are gone, all of their graduation plans are on hold, and their social life consists of phone calls, texts, and Google Hangouts.

“We will try not to cancel AHS senior events,” commented Cammack. “We will postpone what we can.” The San Francisco Exploratorium was booked for the senior ball. Now, Cammack says it may be moved to June.

He said MUSD teachers and staff have shown initiative and creativity in their efforts to help students keep their spirits up and stay academically motivated, including a tour of the Morello Park neighborhood displaying signs with encouraging messages. That good idea made the local TV news. “It was really a great afternoon for students and families,” Cammack recalled.

Kylie said, “My sports medicine teacher is really on top of it. She makes a slide show for the week and gives it to us on Monday. It is due by Friday. On Wednesdays, we have Google Hangouts when we can discuss it and ask questions.” The librarian has been reading online and some teachers are making packets or workbooks for younger students, in addition to the online experiences.

It has reportedly taken some time to be sure all students have the necessary technology and an Internet connection at home. Some Internet providers have agreed to lower costs, defer back payments, or make special arrangements for students, according to Cammack.

Homeschooling remains a challenge even with modern technology. Cammack says it is not fair to ask parents to do the work of trained professionals.

Brenda Leal, President of MEA, Martinez Education Association and a classroom teacher, agrees. “It is not homeschooling. It’s crisis schooling,” she said. “Many are trying to work, and teach from home, care for an elderly family member, and worry about finances,” she noted. “Parents need to be gentle with themselves.”

According to Leal, some kids cannot do as well academically without the school district’s support for the community and for their families. “You really do have to be on a schedule at home. That will help make them (students) more successful,” she said.

She described the online learning experience as a “flipped classroom.” “The students watch the teacher online and then the teacher interacts with them. At the high school level, you can push out more content,” she explained.

So far, assignments for home-study have been somewhat less demanding than standard classroom work, but teachers and staff will be re-grouping and refining online education methods during Easter vacation.

No matter what methods are used, academic progress is bound to be uneven simply because of differences in each home environment. A parent who preferred to remain anonymous said her son’s teacher called to say the boy had not turned in his work for the week, even though the child told her it was done each time he was asked.

The demands of her work make it difficult to check the Martinez Junior high School students work every day and her husband’s work schedule keeps him away from home for days at a time. The boy’s dad helped him catch-up over the weekend and the family is working out a way to handle the problem.

Another family talked about the issue of having to work from home with several school-age children who are frequently in conflict with each other.

Leal said every household is learning smarter new ways of taking care of themselves.

“We have to come up with a plan for fall,” she said. Cammack said the same thing. “When we start school, we will have to re-evaluate where students are. It seems like a long time (this has been going on). This will be over.”

Kylie said, “As long as we have a graduation, I’m not going to be upset.” She is focused on studying Sports Medicine at San Jose State.

Michaela is looking forward to her studies in Health and Human Science at Loyola Marymount and beach volleyball competitions. “Once you get over the sadness and frustration, you realize everything happens for a reason. It will all be ok,” Michaela remarked.

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