California Educator

April/May 2020

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 16 of 51

"[The student] had tears streaming down his face. He said he was scared. He had just started to make friends and feared they would all be gone when he came back to school." —Shellie Bittner, Irvine Teachers Association Shellie Bittner and son MEALS AND CHROMEBOOKS A F T E R A D M I N I S T R A T O R S S E N T staff an email that school was closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shellie Bittner and her team of teachers and instructional assistants worked frantically, gather- ing textbooks and resource materials for students to take home. In the midst of the frenzy, she saw a student crying. "He had tears streaming down his face," recalls the education specialist at Greentree Elementary School, who works with students with mild to moderate disabilities. "He said he was scared. He had just started to make friends and feared they would all be gone when he came back to school." Bittner, a member of Irvine Teachers Association, explained that he and his friends would be safer at home and reassured him that things would turn out OK. She went outside to supervise students leaving the campus and saw other students crying. "I made promises to these students that I'm not sure I can keep," says Bittner, "but I didn't know what else to do. I broke all the rules and hugged my students. At my school we were trying very hard to be calm, supportive, reassuring, and display positivity." Bittner has a 6-year-old son with autism whose school was closed. She is doing her best to keep him on track, but he is having problems adjusting to a new routine. Meanwhile, she is figuring out how to stay connected remotely with her students and create lessons for them, as required by her district. She and her colleagues work into the wee hours to manage it all, and her union is negotiat- ing how they can fulfill their contractual obligations from home. "My district is doing many things that can be celebrated, such as handing out breakfast and lunch at my Title I school, setting up a system for students to check out Chromebooks, and facilitating hotspots for connectivity if that's an issue." She worries about students, and is calling families to make sure they are OK. Meanwhile, she transmits happy, positive messages through her school's Instagram and Facebook pages. "I CRIED AND CRIED" M E R C Y V I L O R I A - G A R M A N teaches at Bill E. Young Jr. Middle School in Calipatria, close to the Mex- ican border in Imperial County. Her husband is in the Navy, and after her school closed in response to the pandemic, she joined him in Norfolk, Virginia. Viloria-Garman, president of Calipatria Unified Teachers Association, knew her school would be closing, but was not allowed to tell students and parents for most of the day. "I'm printing packets for them and students are asking me questions and their parents are texting me and messaging me on Facebook and I couldn't say anything," she says. Fifteen minutes before dismissal, she was given the green light to announce that school was closing for a few weeks. "When the governor said this might go on until fall, I cried and cried." She worries about her students. Most are low-income English learners; many have dif- ficult living situations, with school being their "safe place." For now, she is communicating with parents on the Remind app, trying to set up Zoom meetings with students, and wondering how distance learning might happen, because many parents don't have computers at home. Most have smartphones, but it's difficult to access Google Classroom on those devices. She hopes her district will allow families to check out Chromebooks from schools, but there are not enough for every student. 15 A P R I L / M AY 2 0 2 0 Mercy Viloria-Garman

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of California Educator - April/May 2020