Faces on Fire Sparking learning in unprecedented times

There are approximately seven hours in a typical school day – 420 minutes, 25,000 seconds – and that doesn’t count the time “outside the bell” where our educators are connecting with parents, helping struggling students, or working to prepare lessons. There are countless opportunities within those moments for transformational interactions with students, families and colleagues. In normal circumstances, some of those interactions are public, visible and easy to acknowledge and celebrate.

In our new reality, our educators are displaying unprecedented levels of flexibility, passion and ingenuity around the clock – but behind screens that render much of their hard work invisible. We know that no one goes into teaching for the accolades, but we believe that the work our teachers are undertaking at this moment is incredible and well worthy of praise and celebration.

We know from our on-going conversations with teachers, parents and students that yet again, our Monticello teachers – like teachers everywhere – have this crazy super power to step towards the flames and continue to do whatever it takes to keep our students learning and thriving.

As we move forward in this new reality, we will be featuring some of the ongoing work that our teachers are engaged in, as they (in the words of one of our teacher highlights) “are teaching like our faces are on fire, because that’s exactly how it feels.”

Ellen Einhorn, Grade 5 Math, George L. Cooke Elementary School

Stability breeds success

Ms. Einhorn has been using a combination of daily video chats, individual sessions and good old-fashioned accountability to keep her students on track and learning. She created six groups of 5-7 students based upon their individual needs and meets with these groups via Microsoft TEAMS each day from Monday to Thursday. During these videos, she goes over lessons, does problem sets with the students, reviews homework and answers any questions from her lessons. To help students continue to progressively develop their math skills, she also includes a daily “application problem” that helps students to review the previous day’s lesson.

“It’s just like my classroom, but an abbreviated version,” she said.

She meets with three groups in the mornings and three groups in the afternoon, scheduling office hours four times per day to chat individually with students or parents, or to handle any concerns or lingering questions about the work.

Out of her 39 students, she has had an average of 37 attendees for the daily video chats. She keeps tight records of their assignments and sends a weekly recap to parents on Thursdays, so that students have the opportunity to submit any missing work by 4 p.m. on Fridays.

“Parents have been extremely supportive and quite kind with compliments regarding my remote learning lessons,” she said. “It has been a challenge, but I have tried to maintain as much stability and enthusiasm as possible so that my students will be eager and ready for middle school math.”

Patricia Whipple, Tara Komatz, Kerryn Conners and Toshia Loving, Cooke Elementary School

Teaming up for success

Patricia Whipple and Tara Komatz know that when the waters are rocky, routines can act as a beacon pointing towards calmer waters. That’s why as soon as the district shifted to a remote learning model, the two fifth-grade teachers at Cooke decided to incorporate as much of their regular routine into their online learning.

As Ms. Whipple summed it up, “the only thing we thought should change is their location.”

At school, the two teachers would normally stand outside their room, greet the students and ask them to share something about their morning or evening. Now that lessons have moved online, the teachers have asked their students to log into Schoology and say good morning, regardless of what time they have scheduled to meet with their teacher.

“Sometimes they say good morning, or share a story or ask a question about their work,” Ms. Whipple said. “It gives us an opportunity to have some “not school” time with them and also get them to “start school” at the time they’re used to.”

During the school day, the pair teaches in small groups of 6-7 students. They set up a schedule that enables them to reach every student, every day. Students work on ELA in the morning and math in the afternoon, or vice versa. Students prepare for the day’s lesson by watching a video, reading a story or taking notes, and when they are “in class,” the teachers use that time to observe how the students are understanding the material and to offer support.

Student Adila Redzematovic shows off her homemade blackboard schedule

“We are supported by our teaching assistant and teacher’s aide, Kerryn Connors and Toshia Loving, who reinforce, re-teach or pre-teach what we do in smaller groups,” Ms. Whipple said. “Everything we do models our regular day and has given the students the consistency they need to continue learning throughout this very unusual and difficult time. It has really helped with participation and has been a great experience to really connect with the kids more personally.”

Mrs. Cheng/Futrell and Mrs. Bowles/Davis’ classes, Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School

Salvaging the STREAM fair

The COVID-19 pandemic upended numerous plans and events both at school and beyond. Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School’s annual STREAM fair was supposed to take place on April 1. While it was disappointing to all that we could not hold this fun event and all its activities in school, our industrious students continued to work on their projects at home using any materials they had available to them. Between store closures and shelter in place requirements, it was no easy task, however, about 20 fifth-grade students from Mrs. Cheng/Futrell and Mrs. Bowles/Davis’ classes persevered and managed to create some great projects that both solved a problem and also reused everyday materials. Some of these projects included water filtration systems, homemade paint, homemade face masks, floating farms, homemade face scrub, and eco-friendly museum.

Robert J. Kaiser Middle School Counseling Team

"Simply put: we are helpers"

The counselors at Robert J. Kaiser Middle School see themselves as a critical part in responding to crisis, due to their training and certifications. Throughout the days in the building, crises of all sorts come up and are triaged according to protocol. A national pandemic is no different.

The group of counselors, including Ali Fischer, an intern from SUNY New Paltz and Monticello graduate, wanted to be strategic and thoughtful in determining how to counsel students during these unprecedented times.

“What we came up with is the essential and critical need to recognize that this is a traumatic experience for staff and students alike,” Counselor Jennifer Ducey said. “To respond to a traumatic crisis that is building-wide, as RJK counselors, we want to reach as many stakeholders as possible and then work on a more advanced level of support for students and families that need it. Quite honestly, it feels odd to put a label on the duties we are performing. A lot of what we are doing is very similar to what we would be doing if we were in the building.”

So, what is the team doing?

They created a bi-lingual online platform to launch a weekly “Catching up with the Counselors” narrated videos, which tackle subjects such as keeping organized while working/learning from home, managing anxiety and relaxation strategies. https://www.monticelloschools.net/robert-kaiser-middle-school/rjk-guidance-department/catching-up-with-the-counselors/

They have also updated their Twitter feed with resources, reassuring messages and even some occasional silliness to keep the audience light-hearted https://twitter.com/GuidanceRjk

Of course, with access to the internet still out of reach for many families, the counselors also rely on traditional methods of contact, such as an individual phone call to connect with families who are struggling.

Students are not the only recipients of the counselors’ care; they also work hard to support teachers via weekly Zoom meetings, gathering and sharing data.

The team holds department meetings to help brainstorm ways to troubleshoot and respond to issues as they arise.

“The teamwork of the department is the real reason we are thriving. In our unique positions, we interact with all stakeholders,” Ms. Ducey said. We know kids in a different context than their classroom teachers do -- we know the parents that raise them, and we know the educators that influence them. As we look at these humans who are in this critical stage of development, we cannot help but assess their needs, wants and fears-- and respond directly to them. Simply put, we are helpers. When there is a critical situation, we step in.”


Created with an image by Benjamin DeYoung - "untitled image"