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LVJUSD Teachers Go the Distance

May 1, 2020 - Livermore, CA - It may have started when they were in elementary school and a particularly compassionate and inspiring teacher led them to think, “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher!” It may be that after a career in business or research, they volunteered at a local school and thought, “I can make a difference with these students, and I want to be a teacher!” Whatever launched the career of our teachers, inherent in each decision was a desire to work with children to help them grow and thrive.

Because of COVID-19, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) teachers are still helping students grow and thrive, but without the daily boost of working with them in person. Distance learning has shifted how we deliver education and has shifted the role of the teacher. But what remains constant is the complete
dedication by each of our 680 teachers to the growth and success of their students.

Creating a caring connection with students and their parents is of utmost importance for Lynn Sanford and Katrina Nino who co-teach preschool at Croce Elementary to students with special needs. They conduct virtual circle time 4 days a week that provides routine and learning. “We sing a little song to start our day, then we check the weather, look in the counting box or sing the days of the week song,” said Sanford. “We always read a book or two, and we end with sharing a video that relates to our theme. Right now we are reading and singing about bugs, butterflies, flowers and frogs.” Distance learning for preschool, according to Nino “is really coaching the parents to teach.” The teachers regularly add new activities to a Google Drive they have shared with parents, and post supportive
resources from the Adapted Physical Education (A.P.E.) teacher, and Occupational Therapy (O.T.), Speech, and Behavior therapists who complement each student’s individualized educational program. They support students and families with video conferences every week so that families can share successes and work through challenges.

Rancho Las Positas Elementary Principal Steve Martin refers to Transitional Kindergarten (TK) teacher Bonnie Pastrnak and instructional aide Jill Brackett as the “real life Dynamic Duo” when it comes to distance learning. Their challenge was to keep 4-year-olds, at the beginning of their educational journey, engaged and focused so that they would continue to learn essential foundational skills. In addition to conducting virtual meetings with all of their students via Zoom and then Facetime sessions to support students individually, “These modern day Rancho superheroes create amazing work packets and drop them off at their students’ front porch,” said Martin. Because of the dedication of Pastrnak and Brackett, their students are still learning strong, even at a distance.

When Heidi Robinson received the news that her TK students would not be returning to her classroom at Marylin Avenue Elementary, she immediately began to create activities that would help learning come alive for them at home. Robinson created packets with two weeks’ of learning and then delivered each packet to each student at their home. “I thought it would be easier for me to go to their homes instead of having their moms or dads pack up the entire family to bring them to the school to pick up the packet,” said Robinson. “While I was at their homes, standing outside at a safe distance, we could practice the alphabet song with movements, or count, or practice our nursery rhymes, or talk about the 7 Habits. They LOVE when I am at their house!!” Robinson keeps the classroom routines alive through distance learning by creating videos. She leads a phonics lesson each morning and reads a book that students can watch before bed. Three times a week, her students meet via Zoom at 5:30 pm, the time requested by parents. “That time works best for the families because the parents can cook dinner and I keep the kids engaged,” said Robinson. Her TK students love to sign in to see their classmates and teacher while they practice phonics.

In addition to delivering chromebooks and materials to her students’ homes, Erin Lockhart is available to her fourth grade students and their families through emails, phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, WebEx meetings, and chats on a driveway. “I am here for them educationally as well as emotionally,” said Lockhart. “My kiddos send me emails or pop in during Office Hours. I take those moments to check in with them, to make sure all is well.” She holds class as well as Student Council meetings via Webex, maintaining as much of the classroom routine as possible and encouraging students to develop their leadership skills. Lockhart, along with co-advisors to Student
Council, Patty Santin, Lisa Valverde, and Andrew Lockhart kept students involved so that they still had a voice in what was happening at their school, and still felt they were doing their part as elected representatives while planning Spirit Week activities that promote connection and morale for all Croce Elementary students.

Mendenhall 7th graders have been bringing computers to school since they started middle school, so signing in to Webex to participate in their Core class with Kyra Pervere is almost second-nature. But without seeing her in person every day, students rely even more on technology to stay connected and continue learning. Pervere uses Google classroom to provide students with a detailed daily calendar that includes links to essential assignments as well as home learning opportunities, and she starts every week with a Monday email message to focus and encourage students. Pervere’s comfort with technology allows her to provide students with many online options to turn in work - Google Classroom, Google Forms, StudySync, Newsela, and Gmail. “I miss my students,” said Pervere. “It's different because I have to anticipate student questions and am unable to check for understanding because of the missing interactions and physically seeing their faces and reactions.”

In the neighborhood of Granada High School (GHS), Bryan Hahn may be seen with his rolling white board, standing on the sidewalk outside of a student’s home demonstrating how to solve an Algebra II equation. When the doors of GHS were still open, students congregated in Mr. Hahn’s classroom because they knew he was a teacher who cared about them. Today, his visits allow students to be themselves as he works with them individually to solve a math problem, or as he listens to a real-world teenager’s concerns. “I would much rather be teaching in my classroom with human interaction, said Hahn. “I want to be able to connect with my students at a personal level and not through a computer.” He provides students with weekly agendas that include recorded lectures with links to lessons and extra work as desired, and classes meet through Zoom. “Everything is different, yet we are trying to
keep some resemblance of the classroom structure,” said Hahn. He added, “I feel like throwing a party the FIRST day we get back to school. That is going to be a happy day!”

“As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week throughout our community, we realize that teachers, like parents, find meaning in their lives through their commitment to helping children grow into young adults,” said Superintendent Kelly Bowers. “Our teachers are meeting the challenges of distance learning and maintaining and even growing their connections with students. I have never been more proud of or more grateful for our teachers than I am right now.”