Online tools are providing ways for teachers and parents in Tuolumne County to continue the education of their students while the coronavirus pandemic keeps them stuck at home.
Kristi Robinson gave her first virtual lesson on Wednesday to the class of seventh graders she teaches at the private Sierra Waldorf School in Jamestown using a video conferencing program called Zoom.
“I wanted there to be a way to see each other’s face and have that connection,” she said.
The program allows all 17 of Robinson’s students to see and interact with her and each other at the same time, as well as on a one-on-one basis.
Robinson started the lesson at 9 a.m. giving a shortened version of a typical lecture she would give at the start of each school day before giving them assignment to complete in two hours. She then virtually met with each student individually to go over the answers to the assignment.
Beyond allowing students to continue their learning, the virtual classes also provide much-needed structure in their daily routine.
“We’re looking at days on end of being isolated at home and not really having anything to do,” she said. “They’re used to structure and having accountability built into their day.”
Robinson said the first virtual class seemed to go well aside from a few kinks that need to be worked out with regard to sending out the links for students to join the sessions.
Rebekah Wood, whose son is in Robinson’s class, said she appreciated what the teachers at the school were doing to continue providing educational opportunities during the shut down.
“This morning it was wonderful to see all their little faces because they were just so happy to see each other,” she said. “It’s helping them stay connected and stay academically where they need to be.”
Marcia Williams, the school’s administrator, said each teacher at Sierra Waldorf was doing something different to stay connected with students based on their age, class size, and developmental needs.
One teacher was doing 30-minute phone calls with each student, while another was posting assignments for them to complete in the online Google Classroom program.
“Having that connection with their beloved teacher is a way of keeping things normal and keeping children stable and being able to cope with what’s going on,” Williams said. “This is also a time when kids are really growing and developing, so we want to make sure they get every hour of education that we can provide for them.”
All public schools in the county have been closed since Monday and were scheduled to remain closed through the end of March because next week was their scheduled spring break, but the closure was extended to April 14 on Wednesday.
Sierra Waldorf is still evaluating what they will do, but Williams said they generally keep the same schedule as public schools.
Robinson noted that she would likely have to consider tweaking her virtual lessons if the shutdown continued after spring break, but she’s glad she got some time this week to test out how it works.
The Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office has offered vetted educational resources on its website for parents to help extend their children’s learning while at home, but has now formed a task force to develop a plan for remote learning after spring break.
Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker said they are asking all of the roughly 400 educators in the 11 school districts throughout the county to share ideas.
“We’re looking to support students who have access to online learning options but also looking at ways to do the same for kids who might not have that,” she said.
Methods being considered include online tools, independent study, pencil and paper assignments, and a potential partnership of some kind with the Access Tuolumne public access television station.
Tracy Webster, a fourth-grade teacher at Sonora Elementary School, said the biggest challenge will be finding a way to make it so that every student has equitable access to the same quality of instruction, because some don’t have the Internet at home.
“We just can’t stop teaching, it’s in our blood,” she said. “What I’m hearing from all my colleagues is we’re going to make this work and not let our kids get behind.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.