California Educator

June/July 2021

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in-person instruction in April, says Candy Blanco, child nutri- tion services instructor for the district. "One day a week, we had our 'Grab and Go,' where students up to age 18 could get a week's worth of breakfast and lunch," explains Blanco, a member of Redlands Education Support Professionals Association, who trains all the district's child nutrition employees. "For a lot of families, this wasn't enough. It opened our eyes that a lot of people here are living in poverty." Students' parents or guardians could pick up the food, no questions asked. Over time, the program was expanded for dis- trict employees to pick up food if necessary, which was the case when other family members lost their jobs. "In the rain, the snow, the wind and heat, we handed out food, even during the summer," says Blanco proudly. "We did every- thing we could to make sure that all our students were fed." Blanco marvels at how district employees pulled together as a team as never before. For her, that was the pandemic's true silver lining. "Classified [staf f ], teachers and administrators work in different capacities, but all of that changed in the pandemic. Everyone stepped up to help our kids. It was awesome how everyone came together." B l a n c o h o p e s t h a t t h e s a m e s p i r i t o f c o o p e r a - t i o n , re sp e c t a n d t e a mw o rk c o n t i n u e s p o st - p a n d e m i c . Strengthening parent relationships For Yvonne Molles, an early childhood special education pre- school teacher for students with autism, the pandemic provided opportunities to work directly with parents in a way that has never happened before. "I'm an early intervention specialist," says Molles, president of the San Bernardino County Teachers Association. "Before the pandemic, we'd see parents once a year at Back to School Night and host seminars for them. But now we are Zooming directly into their homes. We're teaching them while they are doing things with their children instead of sending them home with instructions. It's more effective because parents are now able to understand exactly what they need to do as I guide them and help them in real time. ey have become equipped with a whole new skill set." She hopes to continue working directly with parents when things get back to normal. "ey are much more successful helping their kiddos succeed when we collaborate together." Your Silver Lining Have you found a few positives as an educator this past year? We'd love to share your story. Let us know in 250 words or less (subject to editing); email with "Silver Lining" in the subject. "I could focus on all the negative things. But there are also silver linings. The challenges we've faced have definitely made us stronger." —Yvonne Molles, San Bernardino County Teachers Association Becoming union strong Prior to the pandemic, says Molles, about 20 members attended union meetings. When the coronavirus forced her chapter to go virtual, she was pleasantly surprised to see attendance rise. "Now we have between 50 and 180 members in attendance out of 326 members, which is a huge increase. We are doing member engagement activities like online bingo for fun, giving out gift cards as prizes. And through online meetings, we have enhanced the relationship we have with our superintendent." Recently, the executive board discussed amending the bylaws to allow virtual meetings to continue when the pandemic ends, which she thinks is an excellent idea. "The pandemic has been rough," says Molles. "And I could focus on all the negative things that have happened. But there are also some silver linings. The challenges we've faced have definitely made us stronger." 25 J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 21

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