Laguna Teachers Bring Their Work Home During Campus Closures

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(Top right) Marianne Bynum in a Zoom meeting with fellow Top of the World fifth grade teachers (clockwise) Melinda Witt, Tami Schonfeld, and Shannon Stringham. Courtesy of Marianne Bynum.

Top of the World Elementary teacher Marianne Bynum faces the challenge of educating 30 fifth-graders from home following the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s decision to close its campuses due to the coronavirus.

She holds live Zoom meetings three days a week with her class, produces video lessons, and schedules Google Hangouts with individual students, all while caring for her own eighth-grader and fourth-grader who are also studying from home.

“It’s a time to shine for a lot of educators,” Bynum said. “Nothing replaces the loving feel of a classroom in real-time.”

Despite this learn-as-you-go program, Laguna teachers are striving for continuity of instruction from where students left off in their classrooms, avoiding arbitrary and busywork. In addition to teaching her students, Bynum is also coaching fellow fifth-grade teachers on how to use technology to keep their students engaged in learning.

“It like opening a whole new school while the kids are in school,” said Sarah Hopper, a speech pathologist and president of the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association.

Over the past week, school district staffers have distributed 476 Chromebooks to students via a drive-thru in the District Office’s parking lot, Deputy Superintendent Leisa Winston said. The priority were students enrolled in first through fifth grades who share personal devices at home with parents or siblings. Parents of Kindergarteners were invited Tuesday to pick-up iPads, which were already being used in classrooms by the district’s youngest students.

This technology allows students to access assignments and video lessons posted by their teachers to Google Classroom. Bynum described the digital platform as a “lifesaver.”

“They don’t seem super phased because this generation is so familiar with being on devices,” she said.

However, many of Bynum’s fifth graders say they miss face-to-face interaction with each other and her. The distance has also affected her personally.

“As soon as I ended my first class, I thought ‘I miss my kids. I miss my classroom,’” Bynum said.

Despite the unprecedented disruption to their education, Laguna Beach students have shown remarkable resilience, Bynum said. Some students are concerned about parents who work in healthcare but most are just tired of hearing the word “coronavirus.”

To reset her students in the morning, Bynum leads a discussion about a topic unrelated to the virus. Earlier this week she asked students to name their favorite ice cream topping and why they chose it.

“Our message is you can’t control outcomes you can only control your moment,” she said.

A silver lining in the chaos is students say they’re enjoying spending more time with their family members, playing games at home or going on walks together.

Fortunately, Laguna Beach teachers and students don’t need to prepare for statewide testing in May. The California Department of Education announced last week that it suspended the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress because of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding coronavirus disease. School district officials are waiting for additional guidance from the state on how to grade students, particularly college-bound seniors, during the closure.

Winston praised both teachers and support staff for the admirable job they’ve done under the circumstances. She also noted that the administration stands ready to help teachers and parents troubleshoot technical problems.

“The majority of parents were so appreciative and supportive and I think it’s just the community coming together to do what we can during this challenging time,” Winston said.

On March 13, the Board of Education voted to close Laguna Beach public schools for two weeks. Spring Break is still on for April 6 to April 10. The school board is expected to meet sometime next week to discuss a possible extension of school closures after April 12.

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