WCCUSD Schools Closed By the Coronavirus But Many Lessons Left To Learn

By Denis Perez-Bravo

West Contra Costa Unified School District students, teachers and school officials continue to adapt to the online learning environment that will last at least until May 1.

The Contra Costa County Office of Education announced that campuses would remain closed, because of the coronavirus outbreak, until May 1 and that students could be back in school by May 4.

“I expected closures weeks before the shutdown because we talked a lot about the progression of the coronavirus in class,” said Annaliese Ruano, a senior at Richmond High. “However, I didn’t think that it would be for such an extensive period of time.”

So far, Ruano has tried to keep the same schedule of school in the morning and leisure time in the afternoon. Most of her classes have consisted of online work and reading with the occasional lecture from a teacher on Zoom.

One of those Zoom lectures was for her favorite class, a psychology and mental health course called Mind Matters. Although being able to see and hear her teacher onscreen helped, it’s “definitely not the same,” she said.

“I’m that person who asks a lot of questions. That’s also where the downside is. I don’t get to ask all my questions or have an engaging conversation about the material with my classmates,” she said.

For Ruano, reading words on a screen can get boring fast and so getting used to onscreen learning will take some time.

“It’s a big transition that was sprung on us so quickly; I’m still figuring it out,” she said.

On March 13, the last day of in-person classes before the shutdown, Ruano’s teachers scrambled to create a plan of action in 20 minutes, she said.

WCCUSD teachers are in the same boat as the students, as they are also trying to figure out how to be efficient online teachers.

To ease the needs of students and help teachers get their footing, last week, the district opened all schools for three hours March 19.

Students were able to get general information and pick up materials for distance learning including Chromebook laptops, tablets, workbooks, books to read and band instruments to practice at home.

Kennedy High School math teacher Christina Meagher talked to students in the campus library, helped them get Chromebooks and encouraged them to take books home.

Meagher will teach about 150 students online. Some of them will be learning Algebra II and some, Geometry.

She is worried that because her students cannot give instant feedback, they will have to put in extra effort to learn than they would in a physical class.

As time goes on, she expects to change what she teaches and they way she teaches in response to changing situations and students’ needs.

“The curriculum will have to be adaptive to the circumstances,” Meagher said.

As teachers try to figure out how to help students get the most out of their classes, school and district leaders have their eye on the bigger picture.

The main goal is to give the student the opportunity to learn.

“Right now, how it stands is that students must be provided learning activities, but those activities are not currently graded,” Kennedy High School Assistant Principal Helene Burks said.

And because closures will extend more than the original four-week period stated, things will have to change.

“In high school, you are looking at graduation credits that have to be completed, so I’d imagine there will be some state-level politics that will have to shift,” Burks said.

There are a lot of moving pieces and students, teachers and administrators can do nothing but keep teaching and learning and wait for answers.

WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy and his office are still looking to answer key questions internally about graduation, grades and the future of seniors, WCCUSD Communications Director Marcus Walton said.

“We won’t have definite answers for a few days at least. It is going to take some time to get answers because it is important that we get it right,” Walton said.

For now, seniors such as Ruano stand in limbo on their grades and high school mainstays including walking the stage and prom.

She is on the path to being the first in her family to graduate from high school and, therefore, proudly works hard to set an example for her siblings. She has been accepted to multiple universities, among them San Francisco State University and UC Merced.

But her life is on pause, and she worries the coronavirus will continue to spread because of a lack of urgency the public has to self-quarantine.

“It is uncertain whether or not I’ll ever get to wear my prom dress or walk the stage,” she said.

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