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Hello Happy Mama: Does Your School House Rock?

Hello Mama!

Do you remember the educational show “Schoolhouse Rock” that aired on Saturday mornings on ABC? It was all about helping children learn in new ways, outside of the classroom, from programming on grammar, science, economics, history, mathematics and social studies. I feel like we are experiencing our own version of this children’s show as we continue to move through this Covid-19 pandemic on DL (that’s distance learning) for the start of the school year. And, while we try to adjust our “school house” environment to be more productive for our at-home students, I thought that I would reach out to some amazing local educators to help guide us with teacher tips, helpful hacks, and even a reason to get up and dance to your own theme song.

Meet Cara Nicoletti, 4th grade teacher

Inspired by her students, Cara wrote a book to share in her classroom called, “Once Upon a Time There Was Covid-19: A Teacher’s Story about the Pandemic of 2020.”

Can you share some of the "why" behind the book and how you feel it has helped during this Covid craziness? 

Cara: The book started out as a Google slideshow of photos that I took, or the kids and parents sent me, and I posted to our Class Dojo Story page during distance learning.  I wanted to somehow put all of the photos together and try and chronicle the historical events during the pandemic. I wanted to include the new terminology, like "distance learning" and  "social distancing.” I wanted to talk about the struggles we all experienced, but also all of the positive experiences that came out as well. I knew that someday, my students and their families would want a way to look back on this important time in history. I wanted to be able to give my kids something tangible from me, their teacher, to know how much I care about them, even though we were far apart and not in our classroom. I wanted to inspire other teachers with some fun and positive ideas that I incorporated that helped bond our class together. I feel that the book helped parents and kids pause and reflect on their experiences and feelings. I hope it also serves to open up healthy conversations between teachers and students beginning this school year so that they can make connections and realize we may have some shared experiences. 

Do you have any teacher tips to help parents and students get into a better daily routine for distance learning?

Cara: First, I would recommend parents sit down with their student/s and put together a "daily schedule." This will be based around what the required attendance hours are at school as well as incorporating a homework time/schedule. This will be especially helpful for kids who will be going to childcare and may not connect with their parents/guardians until after they get home from work.  Second, make sure that the student has a "work area" or "home office" set up away from pets, siblings, TV, etc.  It needs to be a quiet place free from distractions. It is also very important to make sure that the student has all the materials needed in one place, (i.e. pencils, papers, books, etc.) It is very disruptive when a student has to excuse himself or herself to leave the video conference to collect supplies.  Kids also love to identify with parents who are working from home who also have video conference meetings.  It may be fun to set up a white board and both parents and students can write down their meeting time schedules together!   Third, have some type of reward system to motivate the student to complete his/her work.  It could be as simple as a sticker chart for each assignment turned in on time.  The parent and the student can determine together how many stickers are needed to earn a preferred activity or treat. They will also need to come up with a consequence for incomplete work. This should be agreed upon and decided mutually.  

What is your theme song for this year and why? 

Cara: My theme song for this year is "Old Church Choir" by Zach Williams.  Like the lyrics say, "There ain't nothing going to steal my joy!!  I want to listen to it every morning before I start the school day so that no matter how tough things may seem to get, I will be reminded that we all control our own joy! 

Meet Michelle Olinger, Elementary School Principal

As teachers, students and families prepare to start the school year at home with distance learning, what is the one thing you hope we all LEARN from this experience? 

Michelle: I hope my teachers, staff, students, and families learn from this to focus on the positive in the change!  There's not a lot of control you really have in many things, and COVID19 has made that very clear.  The only thing we can really count on is change. Life ebbs and flows. But I know, if we work together - Parents and School Staff - We are absolutely going to be OK! Yes, schools will "look" different, but different isn't a bad thing. This experience has allowed us all to take stock in what's important: families, relationships, our daily lives, and yes, our schools. So, whether we move forward in distance learning, a hybrid schedule, or at home learning, if we support each other and focus on the positive, our kids will learn how to overcome adversity. 

Do you have any teacher tips to help parents and students get into a better daily routine for distance learning?

Michelle: This experience has been very eye opening to me as a principal. I've seen so many changes, and choose to focus on the positives.  My #1 tip for teachers would be to really spend time upfront getting to know your kids and parents/guardians and build positive relationships with them.  This will be challenging virtually. But remember, academics will come, if students and families feel safe and supported. For our 'littles" this will be their normal, but, for our older students, school will look so much different. So, I've told my staff to take all the time necessary to ease those minds and hearts. (Of course Fruitvale Teachers are already ROCKSTARS in my opinion on this, but I'm a little biased). My #1 tip for parents would be to utilize every communication tool you can with the school. Teachers and staff want to partner with you to ensure the success of our kids. But if you don't stay tapped in, that's hard.  Know what communication tool your school and/or teacher will be using, and sign up for it. Also, help your student develop routines they would have in a regular school day.  Help them get organized, have a consistent schedule, and a quiet place to work. This will look different from house to house, but each family needs to create a school environment in their home. Teach your kids the importance of being on time.  My #1 tip for students... Persevere!  If things are harder than normal at first, you're doing it right!  Believe it or not, failing something is good. Failing allows us the opportunity to figure out why and do it again. This helps it stick in our minds.  So persevere through distance learning, through the hard stuff... and I promise you it will be worth it in the end.

What is your theme song for this year and why? 

Michelle: "Brave" by Sarah Bareilles. I LOVE this song for so many reasons. It speaks to the importance of stepping out and being brave!  Yes, life will throw us curve balls. But be the one who isn't afraid to stand up and do something about it. Be Brave.

Meet Cecilia Racicot, A-D & Foster Liaison, High School Counselor

As teachers, students, and families prepare to start the school year at home (distance learning), what is the one thing you hope we all LEARN from this experience?

Cecilia: I hope as a society we all learn how interconnected our lives truly are. I think as a busy society focused on Individualism; we often forget amidst our daily lives that our actions affect the lives of others. I think this virus is highlighting the ways we must look out for one another specifically. I hope we also learn to give ourselves more grace in all situations. This experience has impacted everyone differently, but we can all give ourselves more grace every single day and do the best we can with the tools we have available to us. I also hope we learn to slow down a bit, I think being forced to not take on too much has really helped me to prioritize my life better than ever. 

Do you have any tips to help parents and students get into a better daily routine for distance learning?

Cecilia: I think with such a focus on being in front of a device all day it is especially important that we all get outside every single day for some amount of time. Beginning the day with an outdoor meditation or a family walk through the neighborhood will help to start the day on a positive note. I think students and families should still be setting alarms and getting out of bed and getting ready for virtual learning as well because it helps to get in the mindset of "school" even if they are not leaving the house. 

What is your theme song for this year and why? 

Cecilia: "The Schuyler Sisters" by Hamilton Cast. As a former History teacher, I keep thinking about how living through this Pandemic will be remembered in future history books. When I planned a COVID-19 wedding, I realized that our wedding pictures would be primary source documents one day as our guests were in face masks. I am motivated to be living life on the right side of this historic experience we are all navigating together. This song also reminds me that, despite it all, we are blessed beyond measure.  Yes, we are making history as we continue to move forward through this pandemic. And I truly believe that we can all LEARN something from this experience. Focus on the positive, give grace when needed, and continue to learn new ways to “do school” together.

Raise your hand if you want your School House to rock this year! Yes, me too! Choose your theme song, play it loud and proud, and let’s go. We got this! How will you rock this school year? Let’s keep the conversation going on social with #hellohappymama and tag me in.

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Tags: Education, Enrichment

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