From a distance: Tahoe Truckee students learning through ‘new normal’
Special to the Sierra Sun
Students, parents, and teachers in the Tahoe-Truckee region are adjusting to a new normal as the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District announces schools will continue distance learning through the end of the school year.
“Our district was very supportive and proactive in getting this off the ground really early which I think is a benefit. Our kids didn’t skip a beat as far as learning is concerned,” said Beth Nordy, a kindergarten teacher at Tahoe Lake Elementary School.
On March 13, TTSUD made the decision to close schools for a minimum of three weeks in an effort to prevent the potential spread of COVID19 in the community. The teachers and staff were given two days to set up online learning programs. While the transition was quick, Nordy says the district was supportive in meeting teacher and student needs.
According to Kelli Twomey, coordinator of parent and student relations, the district has provided Chromebooks to students across the region along with ordering mobile hotspots for families who do not have internet access at home. Additionally, schools have provided printed packets of school work for parents to bring home.
“We’re working to make sure everyone has equal access and ensuring students get an outstanding education during these last few months while also realizing that being in a nontraditional setting is going to present additional challenges,” said Twomey. “It’s all new and everyone is doing the best they can. People, the students, teachers, and parents, have really risen together.”
‘DIFFERENT FOR EVERY FAMILY’
Tahoe Truckee Unified continues to provide meals for students in the area. The district has provided an average of 1,900 meals a day including a bag lunch and breakfast for the following day. Meals are available for both curbside pick up and delivery.
While a typical school day looks very different today than it did a month ago, teachers are striving to provide some familiarity in their classroom routines while being sensitive and flexible to each student’s situation.
“It’s different for every family,” said Nordy. “Some families hit ground running first thing in the morning and they do assignments and take scheduled breaks. Some families have parents who are still working so they may be doing school work in the evenings or working with older siblings. I know it’s been a big struggle for families to figure out how to take this on. They‘ve done an amazing job.”
For some students, the change has meant adapting to new technology while keeping up with lessons.
Anne Silvern is a parent with two daughters, a fourth grader at Kings Beach Elementary and a sixth grader at North Tahoe School. She says one of the biggest challenges for her girls was adjusting to the online tools.
“We can tell the teachers have dedicated a lot of time and effort into trying to make it as easy as possible. Especially for my fourth grader — my older daughter is more technologically savvy because she’s been exposed to those tools already, but it was a bigger learning curve for my fourth grader to learn basics such as how to type a division sign. Teachers heard that feedback and adjusted quickly to make it more workable for the kids,” Silvern said.
COPING WITH LOST CONNECTIONS
Along with adapting to distance learning, students are coping with the loss of social connections and missing out on milestone moments such as school performances, trips, and graduation.
“I’m a very social person so eliminating the physical aspect is really hard. I feel like we’re getting a lot more done because there are less distractions but it’s less enjoyable,” Evan Hilton, an eighth grader at North Tahoe School said. Hilton says one of the biggest things he misses is band. He plays trombone in the school’s jazz band. They had been practicing for an upcoming performance and a trip to the Bay Area where they planned to compete against other school jazz bands. While he’s glad to still connect with friends via video chats, he’s looking forward to being able to physically interact with friends.
In addition to providing educational support, the school district has worked to put together mental wellness resources for both parents and students. As well, school counselors are available for virtual office hours.
“Generally speaking, I think the kids, from what I can tell, really miss each other and miss the adults that create routine and help shape the landscape of their lives. To have that taken away has been really sad for them,” said Jess Darkenwald, a school counselor at Kings Beach Elementary.
During the school year Darkenwald begins each day at Kings Beach Elementary with a Mindful Minute that is broadcasted over the school loudspeaker. She’s continuing this tradition with a recorded phone call each morning.
“All of the counselors kindergarten through 12th grade are available via email and phone if families need extra support whether it’s getting through the school day or food or housing insecurities. We’re available and wanting to help families. Please reach out to us. We really want to be there for our families during this time,” Darkenwald said. “It’s challenging because we don’t have anything to compare it to, but I think generally speaking I think it’s going really well and while I’m sure students would rather be back in school. I think the teachers and families and parents are doing a tremendous job juggling a highly stressful situation.”
Visit ttsud.org/virus for additional resources, including both mental wellness and educational materials for families.
Jenn Sheridan is a freelance writer who lives in Truckee.
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