Q&A with a Colorado teacher whose classroom is now online because of coronavirus

Last Updated by Brittany Freeman on

Earlier this week, I blogged about helping my kindergartner through his first day of remote learning now that his school is closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. I'm a Rocky Mountain PBS producer and my son is a student in the Jeffco school district. 

Jeffco was the first district in the state to transition to remote learning earlier this week, and Denver Public Schools announced yesterday it will make that transition on April 7. I chatted with my son’s kindergarten teacher, Christy Wheeler, on Thursday about how remote learning has been working from her perspective as an educator.

What was your reaction when you heard that school buildings would be closed and classes would be held remotely?

I was shocked at first. Then I started to think about everything I would need at home without packing up my entire classroom.

How much extra work has been involved in transitioning to remote learning?

It has been a lot of extra work. I spent one night logging on to all my student accounts to put them on Google classroom and then making sure they had all our websites bookmarked so that they could find them easily. I have an amazing team. We divided and conquered the workload. We have been texting back and forth nonstop. I wake up to their texts and go to bed with a last-minute text.

What have your days been like so far? Have families been able to make the transition smoothly? Are you answering a lot of questions about the technology? 

The first day I [received] a lot of questions via email and on Google Classroom. Things have smoothed out and kids are accessing what I want them to do. Everyone has been patient and respectful and very thankful.

You’ve been taking attendance every day. What kind of participation are you seeing from your class? 

I am seeing a lot of participation from my class. Out of 22 students, only three haven’t logged on to Google Classroom.

What’s one thing that has worked well so far, and one thing that needs to improve? 

Google Classroom has worked well. It allows me to upload a variety of types of assignments and post videos for kids to watch, practice their learning, and to move.  

I need to learn Zoom [video conferencing] so that I can deliver lessons directly to my students and so they can see each other and talk. The social skills in kindergarten are so important and it is the one thing that is lacking. I know they miss each other. The other thing [missing] is the hands-on part of our classroom. Our afternoon was math centers and purposeful play. It built oral language and helped them learn how to play and talk to their peers.

I wrote in the first blog about how much my son is missing his friends and you said that so much of kindergarten is about learning how to socialize. Do you worry about the kids missing out on that?  

Yes, this really concerns me. They have come so far in their social skills, which they can’t work on now. I hope adding Zoom will give them some of that socializing back. It won’t be the same, but it will be better than what we are doing now.

The great thing from my perspective as a parent about the virtual classroom is that we’ve been able to maintain a form of connection. Even just reading your posts with pictures of your pets and rocks you've painted and the comments his classmates are posting seems to help my son feel like he’s still part of a class. How can we increase those connections going forward?

It is something that I have been thinking about. Right now they can only leave me a comment, but I am thinking of letting them leave comments to each other. Zoom will help as well. [One parent] did make a Zoom meeting and I know some kids did log on today. I am going to add the link tomorrow as well and join in. I can’t wait to see and hear them.

My son really loved seeing his friends on that Zoom call today and being able to talk to them. Do you plan to do more of that kind of thing? 

Yes, we will meet up tomorrow just to chat. After spring break, we will meet up for lessons and discussions. It is something that I am not familiar with but am looking forward to learning about.

Next week we take a break from our remote class for spring break. What will your spring break be like?

I will be working on lesson plans with my teammates. I will also be learning about Zoom. I will take some time for me and do some reading. My son and I are going to build my Steamboat Willie LEGO set next week and possibly paint his room.

It feels increasingly more possible that kids might not return to class this semester. How would you tell your class about that, if you had them in your classroom today? 

We received an email last night that we would be out until April 17th. Honestly, when I got the email, I came down to my office and cried. My kids have come so far in so many areas. I truly love my job and my kids. My favorite moment is first thing in the morning when I go to let them in [from the playground.] They are all standing at the door looking for me. When they see me, they get the biggest smiles and start yelling my name. I don’t know how I would tell them without crying, without being sad. It just isn’t the same. I miss them all so much.

Many parents who read this may have children who go to schools where remote learning has not been implemented yet. Can you share any resources for parents who are trying to come up with their own lesson plans on the fly? 

There are so many resources out there for parents. Whatever your child needs, you can find a YouTube video that will explain it. For the little kids: Jack Hartmann, Dr. Jean, GoNoodle, Sesame Street, Fluency and Fitness are just a few that I have used.  

Many companies are making their websites free during this time. Authors and illustrators are uploading videos of them reading their books. There are lists of free websites for kids to access floating around Facebook.

Teach your kids how to cook, do yard work, paint a room, do laundry... there are lots of things you can teach your children that you do every day. Make it a learning experience. One thing I know your children, my students, want more than anything is your time. Put down the devices and connect with your kids. Play a board game, paint a rock, build LEGOs, fold the laundry, or give your dogs a bath, and just enjoy the time with them.

Any other advice for parents who suddenly find themselves homeschooling their kids?

Be patient with you children and their teachers. Make your kids move. My kindergartners move every 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t make them sit for an hour and work quietly. Let them stand, lay on the floor or walk around the house. Let them use M&M’s for counters while doing math or Kool-Aid powder to write their spelling words in.  

Take time for yourself. It is okay to tell your child that you need a little quiet time. My students love it when I give them a head lamp and a book, turn off the lights, and send them off to read. It is so quiet, and they are engaged. Make it different and make it fun!

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Insight with John Ferrugia is in-depth, independent and incisive. John and a team of investigative journalists present thoroughly researched stories of significance to Colorado.