Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts to adjust the way they educate their students. The Inquirer reached out to local school districts to highlight the different ways teachers are reaching out to their kids. This is the first Q&A in what will be a running series of stories about their tremendous work.
My name is Olga Montoya. I teach kindergarten at Nixon-Smiley Elementary School.
What are some ways you’re staying connected with your students online?
I have stayed connected with the students by using FaceTime and regular phone calls. Some parents have Facebook and Twitter, which also helps us to stay connected. I am making videos with instructions on how to use online math and reading programs and sending them to each parent individually. I have walked each parent individually by helping them download the apps and to log on successfully.
What inspired you to stay connected?
I was inspired to use FaceTime to stay connected with my students. I wanted to have real life conversations with my students and see their reactions. For example, when I FaceTimed one of my students, I was able to see her reaction when I said, "I miss tying your shoes!" I was able to see her expressions and hear her giggle live on FaceTime. This brought me so much joy to hear her. A lot of my parents are bilingual and need extra support in order to ensure that my students will have the best possible chance at increasing their learning. In order for my students to succeed, I have to equip my parents and encourage them. Teaming with the parents is the best resource I have for my students' success.
What kind of reaction have you gotten since connecting online with your students? Were you surprised? Did it exceed expectations?
My parents are very appreciative to me for reaching out and taking the time to connect with them. My parents have gone above and beyond to partner with us and keep themselves and their children accountable. I am so excited because my parents are able to see their students participating in learning and basically be "in the action" of their student's academic success. This by far has exceeded my expectations — parents are so understanding and want to help.
Why do you feel it was important for you to stay connected to the kids this way?
First and most importantly, I love every single one of my students. I need them to know that I care about them and I am rooting for their success even while we are apart. I have high expectations for my students, so they need to know that just because we are in this situation, does not mean we stop learning. I also want them to know their safety and needs are important for me. I ask the parents every time I talk to them if they need food or paper supplies. I need my babies to be taken care of. All of my parents have cell phones and the capability to FaceTime, but not all parents have a tablet or a computer. In essence, I had to use what was accessible to my parents.
How is your workspace setup at home?
I use my dining room for my workspace only because I have a lot of room and the lightening is perfect. I also use my office when talking on the phone with parents because I have my desktop computer to document any needs and academic progress my students are making. I use my tablet and mac computer to make videos.
What’s the one message you wish to convey to others during this time?
Life will sometimes throw challenges our way, but we cannot miss out on opportunities to build relationships. This pandemic has allowed us to really communicate with our parents and in return, build meaningful and lasting relationships with the parents and the families of our students. Right now, we have time to do just that.