Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Martha Deichler 

Classrooms Close Down; Teamwork Ramps Up

Borrego Schools Close in Light of COVID-19


Last updated 4/3/2020 at 1:07pm

On Friday March 13, teachers in the Borrego Springs Unified School District found out at noon that school as we know it would be over at the end of the day for at least two weeks. They scrambled to get students the books and materials they would need for the next week (the second week, March 23 – 27, was Spring Break).

At a Zoom online meeting with staff a few days later, Superintendent Mark Stevens shared the news from the County Office of Education, "As of April 1, all schooling will be via distance learning with online learning or paper packets." There would be no classroom teaching, no face-to-face interactions, no small group work. Teaching as we know it would be no longer. In light of COVID-19, BSUSD would be doing everything possible to prevent the virus from passing from one student to another and home to parents and grandparents.

Now the school district had a new set of challenges. How to provide distance learning for students with no Internet or no laptops? How to train teachers not experienced with online learning? How to get work packets to students with little or no physical contact? How to make sure our students are actually learning and doing the assignments? How to give out grades? How to feed our students – all 360 – who qualify for free meals each day? How to stay in touch with students and parents during this crucial time? How to reach and counsel students struggling with anxiety and depression?

The challenges seemed overwhelming, and staff at first appeared shocked and apprehensive. Then the teamwork and creativity that teachers are famous for, clicked in. Minds began churning and out came ideas and solutions. Middle and high school teachers already had in place Google Classroom, an online Learning Management System where they post assignments, communicate with students/parents and track students' progress.

With some quick training and practice, all teachers (K – 12) learned how to navigate Zoom, a video-conferencing program that allows multiple participants to be seen and to communicate with each other and the teacher at the same time. Voila the classroom! Teachers with more technological expertise assisted others and pretty soon all teachers were up and running with their new "classroom." Administration set up a schedule so classes' Zoom times wouldn't overlap and students miss a class.

Principal Sherrilynn Polanco and primary teachers decided that teacher created work packets with directions for parents, would be better suited for students in Kinder and First Grade, for whom "zoom" more describes the way they move through their day! These packets will be delivered around town by our bus drivers (following proper sanitary protocols) who will now be transporting schoolwork in lieu of children. The collective ingenuity and teamwork of ALL district staff is to be credited with the quick response to this unprecedented situation. Our students will now be able to continue their learning as well as possible.

There is still more to do and top on the list is finding another 24 or so Chromebook laptops for students as well as the Internet challenge - how to bring it to off-line areas of town or to families who can't afford it. Richie Fuentes, our technology specialist, is working on that right now and is experimenting with Kajeets, a hot spot apparatus that students can take home and use to connect with the Internet – if it exists in their area of Borrego.

Heroes always rise up in times of crises such as this one. Much like the health workers who rush into the hospitals with COVID-19 patients while others rush out, our Food Service Staff, under the direction of the indomitable Cathy Parades, have kicked into full steam. Every morning they arrive at 6 a.m. to begin preparing breakfast and lunch items for distribution at four major bus stops in the Borrego Springs Community, including Ocotillo Wells.

Following all sanitation guidelines for COVID-19, they carefully prepare, load into vans and distribute food to hundreds of students each day. Not only do students look forward to receiving the food, they enjoy seeing familiar and smiling faces from school. High School Principal Baay reports that she receives texts daily from students pleading to return to school. Now, there's a switch!

A shout out goes to local businesses who have helped so generously with donations of food and supplies: de Anza, Rams Hill, Keslings Kitchen and Desert Pantry. Kudos to our teachers for their dedication and desire to stay in touch with students and parents to make sure this new way of learning is successful. Last week, I witnessed middle school teacher Justine Smiley practicing her Spanish phrases, "Hola, mi nombre es Mrs. Smiley y soy la maestra de su nino," before picking up the phone to call a parent and check in on her child.

"Hello, my name is Mrs. Smiley and I am your child's teacher." Some things have changed big time in the last couple of weeks and some have not. A caring teacher will always be of paramount importance in a child's education.

Whether the classroom is a computer screen or a room with desks and chairs, it's the teacher who makes the difference. Our teachers, with the support of admin and classified staff, are ready to take on this challenge of our lifetimes.

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