After several weeks of the coronavirus stay-at-home order, the governor determined that schools won’t reopen until the fall. This means that students will lose precious class time and miss connections with their peers. Long-awaited graduation celebrations will be canceled. But the learning won’t stop.
Amid this uncertainty, teachers, schools and communities, like West Chicago, have joined forces to help students stay positive and continue their classwork. WeGo Together for Kids, the lead agency for the West Chicago Neighborhood Network, has been helping School District 33 to holistically support students, both in and out of the classroom.
When District 33 heard that schools would close indefinitely, they quickly mobilized support from WeGo to distribute tablets and iPads to nearly every student in the district so they could participate in e-learning. Many of the teachers also observed non-academic barriers that their students were facing.
WeGo has identified the unique needs of the families in the district and, with the help of a grant from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, has purchased items for care packages. These care packages include essential items such as diapers and toilet paper, as well as a few fun treats for kids such as coloring books. WeGo delivers these items from their office straight to each family’s front stoop on a weekly basis.
Throughout these efforts, teachers remain a critical source of stability for students.
“[Teachers] can connect a family to us if they hear of a concern that comes up,” explained Joie Frankovich, Coordinator of Partnerships for WeGo. “We will wrap our arms around that family and build a relationship with them so the teacher can continue the teaching part.”
Teachers are finding creative ways to stay connected. One teacher started an Instagram page for students to follow his CrossFit training. Another posts her students’ artwork on a Facebook photo gallery each week. They also are thinking about their students who have limited technology, taking the extra step to put together printed learning packets to ensure equitable access for all families.
Here at United Way of Metro Chicago, we’d like to recognize May as Teacher Appreciation Month by highlighting several teachers in West Chicago who consistently support their students, especially in the face of a crisis.
Many of these teachers are parents, too, looking after their children in between classes. Yet, they continue to give their students dedicated time and attention. Thanks to all the great teachers across the Chicago region!
Meet four incredible teachers from West Chicago’s School District 33
“That announcement will be in my memory forever.”
Janet Ayala, a language arts teacher at Leman Middle School remarked: “The [students] thought they were going home for the weekend and they never got to see their friends again.”
Now, activities like joke-of-the-day add a lighthearted touch to their virtual lessons. “I think it’s important for them to see that they still have a support system,” Janet explained. “Just because the schools are closed doesn’t mean their teachers are no longer there for them.”
“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
Laura Anderson, a librarian at Wagner Elementary School, referenced this famous Mason Cooley quote when explaining how she encourages her students to read. As a librarian, she’s used to seeing over 300 students throughout the day. To stay connected, she gives some students “home library tasks” like finding their favorite book to discuss with the class. And Laura personally responds to every student who reaches out to her, answering nearly 100 messages each day.
“I try to respond as quickly as I can, so they know that I’m paying attention to them and that I care about what they’re doing, which I do,” Laura said.
“I just hope [students] enjoy seeing what other students are doing and the parents get to see what their students are doing.”
Christine Cintula, an art teacher at Pioneer Elementary School, found that connecting one-on-one with her students virtually has been a benefit that the normal, busy classroom environment didn’t provide. As a way to bond with her fellow teachers, she started a “Draw and Sip” social gathering where they share advice and laughs. They’ve even made a separate child-friendly event for their students — with milk as the chosen drink to sip.
“It’s almost therapeutic for us,” Christine said. “We’re doing a project but we’re also talking about things like, ‘I’m struggling with this in my class’ and we give feedback to each other.”
“I know it now more than ever: I love what I do. Being there physically with students is my calling in life and I can’t wait to get back to it.”
Michelle Lewis, a dual language kindergarten teacher at Gary Elementary School, was disappointed to end her school year without closure or at least one last hug from her students. She believes if there is one thing she can do right now, it’s to create stability for them.
“What they don’t need is more change right now,” Michelle explained. “If I can keep a little bit of my normal greetings and goofiness that they’re used to, I think it’s triggering similar feelings for them.”
Is there a teacher who’s made an impact on your life? Share your appreciation for teachers by making a donation today! When you support the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, you’ll help ensure that Chicago-area students can access the supports the need during this crisis.