Navigating a new digital landscape Educators transition to online teaching

Photos courtesy Kathy Faber
Pagosa Springs Elementary School kindergartners won’t let the coronavirus get in the way of their learning as students and parents work together to continue education from home as part of Archuleta School District’s distance learning. Students work on assignments from home, but also are able to hear their teachers read stories and lessons.

By Chris Mannara
Staff Writer
Archuleta School District teachers have not let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them from teaching their students.
Pagosa Springs Elementary School (PSES) third-grade teacher Melissa Thornton explained in an email to The SUN on Monday that she is using a combination of Google Classroom and her own YouTube channel to educate students.
The average day for Thornton’s students involves lessons in English language arts, math, physical education, art, enrichment activities and 20 minutes of independent reading time, she explained.
“Most of my students are logging in at 8:00 a.m. each day to complete our Daily Writing Prompt. I can provide written feedback, stay connected, and ask questions about how things are going or what needs they may have,” Thornton explained.
For Thornton, the majority of her in-person teaching methods have been transfered to the online platform.
“We are maintaining connectedness with our students through Google Hangouts and phone conversations,” she wrote. “We are even holding small group video chats to answer questions and reteach concepts. We have backed off of our regular in-person pace as to not overwhelm our families.”
Assignments are turned in via upload to Google Classroom or through email to the teachers, Thornton explained.
As an educator, Thornton explained that she is amazed by PSES teachers rising to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The students are our No. 1 priority and we will do everything we can to ensure their education continues,” she added.
The transition to online learning has been an emotional one, Thornton noted.
“As teachers, we are continuously building relationships with our students. The COVID-19 virus may have slowed us down a bit, but it has not stopped us in any way,” she wrote. “The building may be closed, but we are still their teachers and will continue to use whatever means possible to continue to build those relationships with our students and prepare them for the next steps in their lives.”
PSES kindergarten teacher Kathy Faber explained in an email on Monday that parents and students can access daily lesson plans and practice reading and math skills from the kindergarten website.
“Each teacher has an individual page for the children to be able to listen to their teacher read stories and practice daily routines such as letters, sounds, and sight words,” she wrote.
As a kindergarten teacher, Faber explained that she has to imagine her students in front of her as she goes through lessons and stories.
“We ask them questions and pause to give them time to answer. We may ask them to tell their family their responses,” she explained. “We want it to feel as normal as possible for the children, so we try to teach as if we are all in class together. “
Kindergarten teachers are checking student progress through various platforms, but are also asking parents to take pictures of certain assignments and either have them text or email the pictures to the teachers, Faber explained.
Faber added that they have been encouraging parents and children as they learn at home, offering sample schedules, but also encouraging them to play and spend time together as a family.
“It is incredibly difficult not being with our kindergarten kids. We miss them. There is a hole in our hearts for sure. That’s the most difficult part,” Faber wrote, adding that she is proud of students and their families for stepping up.
PSES Reading and Math Intervention Teacher Stacy Lewis explained in an email on Tuesday that her role involves helping students and families progress in learning in any way she can.
“Within these first few weeks, I have communicated with families explaining that I am an additional resource that can help them during this time,” she wrote.
Lewis explained that she has been able to translate the majority of her work to the online learning platform.
“During distance learning, I speak with students through Google Hangouts throughout the day. The fourth grade team and the Summit Learning platform have given the fourth grade students I work with experience in different modes of online instruction,” she wrote.
Lewis also helps students via her YouTube channel with vowels, consonants and sight words.
Middle school
In an email to The SUN on April 6, Pagosa Springs Middle School (PSMS) Principal Chris Hinger highlighted the work of multiple teachers for their work done in Google Classroom.
These teachers include: fifth-grade English language arts teacher Natalie Baca, sixth-grade science teacher Kylie Morris, seventh and eighth-grade math plus teacher Isaac Moening-Swanson, art teacher Julie Ogier, eighth-grade science teacher Anita Hinger and eighth-grade math teacher Andrew Guinn.
Hinger also shares a principal’s message to students via his own YouTube channel.
High school
Pagosa Springs High School (PSHS) Principal Sean O’Donnell noted in an email on Tuesday that all the PSHS teaching staff is doing the best they can in pushing their content out on Google Classroom and through Google Meetings.
PSHS Art teacher Jenna Gannon has been utilizing a YouTube channel in order to inform students about various projects from interior design to 3D projects.
Pagosa Peak Open School
Students and teachers alike at Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) have been connecting via online learning through Zoom, according to an email from PPOS Instructional Coach Emily Murphy.
“Class rituals continue through circle times where students have the opportunity to share their work, feelings and ideas. Lessons hold tight to hands-on experiences with children using beans and Legos to count along with their peers; songs they sing together; books they make, read and then share; and seeds they plant as starts for a school garden,” she wrote in an email on Tuesday.
Each PPOS student has the option to participate in their school work with weekly paper packets, Zoom calls, Google Classroom, or check-in calls at home, Murphy explained.
PPOS School Director Angela Crossland explained in an email on Wednesday that PPOS students are still participating in art classes via Google Classroom.
“Karla our Kindergarten advisor began Zoom connects related to their animals and art project,” Crossland wrote.
Additionally, Crossland has been working with sixth-grade students on assignments, specifically one relating to using 3D printing technology to solve problems.
“Perry, our music teacher, has videos on a youtube channel as well as in a Google folder as some students can not access youtube from their computers,” Crossland wrote. “These videos teach about music and highlight local musicians. Lexi our Americorp food security member has been adding nutrition and cooking videos as well.”
Crossland explained that she is proud of the PPOS team for embracing the change and being creative with the transition to online learning.
“Each one of them has a growth mindset in this time of change. I am also proud of our parents as they have embraced the changes as well, have given us quality feedback, and have really engaged in distance learning,” Crossland wrote.

This story was posted on April 9, 2020.