April 20, 2020 Moonshine Minutes
Part 1: Becca
Good morning and welcome to your Monday Moonshine Minutes. I’m Becca Loux, reporter/editor for Moonshine.
As April comes to a close and we look ahead uncertainly at a summer that Gov. Newsom has assured us will not be filled with the usual Tahoe/Truckee concerts, festivals, sporting events, and other gatherings, let’s check in with our smallest citizens and their mentors as the young minds of our region are shaped through distance learning.
My co-editor Juliana Demarest spoke with parents whose roles have shifted to that of teacher as well, dealing with many challenges as TTUSD and its families navigate the paradigm shift.
Part 2: Juliana
The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District robocall came in at the end of day on March 20, right as the school bells were ringing at 3:15 p.m. The plan, said Superintendent Dr. Robert Leri that day, was for schools to resume April 6, with spring break the following week still in place. But by April 3, the final call came when Leri announced distance learning would be in effect for the remainder of the school year.
Jennifer Gregory of Russell Valley told Moonshine Ink: “I am normally a very level, non-anxious type of person. I have homeschooled my kids in the past and continue to do so now, and I have always worked from home. So, most people are like, ‘Oh, you’re fine. It’s other people who are being affected.’ This is not the case. I have had so much anxiety that I feel literally crippled.”
Wendy McKechnie is a third-grade teacher at Glenshire Elementary in Truckee. She’s also got two kids of her own who are now to be homeschooled like their peers, which gives her the unique experience of getting to see both sides of the coin as an educator and mother.
McKechnie said, “The real struggle for me has been juggling the online distance teaching of my students with helping my own two boys with their online learning. I’m a mother first and foremost. Seeing my own kids struggle with this and trying to understand what’s going on in the world has kept me up at night.”
McKechnie said it has been an adjustment for both her family and her students, and she is trying to do what she can to keep that connection with her class. Having their school-issued Chromebooks helps with that, allowing her to greet students each day with a video in Google Classroom and having Google Meet hangouts at lunchtime during which kids can ask questions, show off their pets, tell the class about a book they’re reading, or anything else they’d like to share. She’s even had daily themes, like “crazy hair” and “silly socks” days.
She told us: “I miss my classroom. I miss the kids and their smiles and their hugs and the look of excitement when they learn something new.”
While becoming a homeschool teacher practically overnight would be an adjustment for anyone, for those with special needs children, the situation presents another level of challenges. Kara Fox knows this firsthand — her son Julian, 12, is nonverbal and operates on the level of a toddler. At school, he has a team of about a dozen individuals working with him throughout the week in very specific areas. Julian’s mom told us he “has a very regimented schedule at school and it’s hard to emulate that at home.”
For younger kids, it can be just as challenging to create that kind of learning environment, and Glenshire Elementary transitional kindergarten teacher Margie LaPoint is grateful that technology has become a more integral part of education than it was only just a few years ago. Although kids in lower grades do not have school-issued Chromebooks, most have access to various electronics that enable them to stay connected to their classes. On any regular school day, LaPoint has 12 iPads in her classroom. When the distance learning order came down, she loaned out every one of them to students in her class.
In an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, LaPoint has taken to going into her classroom for a live feed version of her class’ community circle. In the classroom, her students would gather in a circle and pass around a sock monkey, taking turns listening and speaking to one another, the stuffed critter gripped in the hand of a tiny speaker. Now LaPoint sits solo in C-1, the youngsters seeing her and their classmates via a Zoom video conference. The sock monkey has been replaced by a thumbs-up when someone wants to speak, LaPoint in control of a mute button to allow them to share.
Missed connections for students aren’t just about the teacher/student relationship. They’re missing out on making memories with classmates and friends, memories that only come in school and on adventures like class trips.
McKechnie shared, “My fifth-grader … misses his friends and is crushed by the fact that there will be no Pigeon Point field trip, fifth/sixth-grade dance, teacher versus fifth-graders tennis racket baseball game, talent show, and more. It’s like everything he’s been looking forward to throughout elementary school is gone, just like that.”
Kids, she reminded, are quite resilient and will come out of this just fine. And for the adults in their lives, there is much to be learned from the youths.
McKechnie said: “I am trying to be the best homeschool teacher for my students and their parents, as well as for my own boys, but this has not been easy. Many tears have been shed. Mostly mine, but my boys, too.” She feels hopeful though, continuing: “We’re all in this together and everyone is doing the very best that they can. And that is enough!”
Part 3: Becca
Thanks, Juliana. We are constantly amazed at the juggling act that the superhero moms on our staff have always performed, and Juliana, with two school age kids involved in distance learning, has been a force to be reckoned with during this time as a reporter, a teacher, and, always first and foremost, a mom.
As always, read the full story on our website, moonshineink.com (that’s ink with a k). Know that we’re updating our coverage daily, and check out the new coronavirus tab on our site, which offers a dropdown menu for easy access to our rolling, live updates and photo gallery and our coronavirus central where we include all relevant investigations, art, opinions, and research as we publish it on COVID-19 in Tahoe.
Peace out, Tahoe, and enjoy the blissful mountain air, cleansed by rain and less polluted by transit than usual. We may be living in a joint nightmare of sorts, but we know how lucky we are to be where we are through the pandemic.