Dual Language SchoolsStaying Connected Through a Medium That is Accessible

03/2020
Author Photo: Kerri Valencia

By: Kerri Valencia

Faculty Instructor, TEACH-NOW Graduate School of Education, Montgomery County Public Schools

Photo for: Staying Connected Through a Medium That is Accessible

I have two jobs in education. My full-time job is as a kindergarten Spanish teacher in a two-way Immersion program in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. I am also a part-time faculty instructor for TEACH-NOW Graduate School of Education, an online teacher certification and graduate program. I am fortunate enough to spend the day with amazing emergent bilingual children in the classroom and my evenings and weekends with teacher candidates all over the world whom I teach through a Zoom virtual classroom platform. When the coronavirus first hit China, I had several teacher candidates working there who said that their schools were about to be shut down for two weeks. Two weeks quickly spread to three, then four and so on. Very quickly, the virus spread from China to neighboring countries and suddenly candidates all over Asia, Europe, and North and South America were affected.

  

Observing all of this and working with teacher candidates in affected countries made me wonder how we would handle things here in the U.S. when it reached us. While most of the candidates I work with in TEACH-NOW are in private international schools where they can switch to online learning for students, I knew that would not be a viable option for all in my public district. I began to worry about how my students would be affected once the wave of the coronavirus hit the U.S. In my particular school, we have many students who don’t have internet access at home. They don’t have computers. They rely on free breakfast and lunch at school. Their parents will be largely affected by a lack of childcare and worried about their jobs, adding loads of stress on all in the home.

  

Last week the governor in my state mandated that all schools would be closed for two weeks starting on March 16. That gave our county one day to prepare! I decided that I wanted to do something to help my families stay engaged and connected even if they didn’t have internet or computers. Most of the families have cell phones, so I decided to create a YouTube channel and provide a daily read-aloud in both English and Spanish. This would allow access to most, and hopefully all, in my class. On the last day of school, the teachers all stuffed the kids’ backpacks with county-provided work packets for each grade level, as well as our own teacher made packets, books from a quick trip to the school library, and whatever other supplies students might need.  Many of my students don’t have crayons, pencils or paper at home, so I sent as much as I could with those who needed it. There are still far too few resources for Spanish and the provided materials we were given by our county were in English, so I knew I wanted to give my students something more in Spanish each day.

I sat my students down before they left and told them that we would not be in school for a while, but that I would be sending YouTube videos to them every day so we could still have our story time. They were beside themselves with excitement. I intended for the channel to be for my students alone, but I decided to share it with the school as another teacher was also uploading stories for our school’s PTA page. I also shared it on my Facebook page so that other dual language friends could use it if they like. Every day I send the story link along with a message for my students in an email to all my families. I have gotten my own family involved as well. Yesterday my husband and daughter read a book in English and Spanish together. My hope is that this is a bridge for my students, a way to stay connected to their teacher and some learning. I hope that they look forward to some quiet time listening to a story and ease some of the worry and tension for a few minutes. My read-alouds are from the heart, not perfectly edited videos, but intentional story-time sessions where my students can sit down and hear their teacher read to them every day. I hope that this situation settles down soon, but until it does, Bedtime Stories with Sra. Valencia will be there for any kiddos that want to listen.