This article is part of a series where the Paper team connects with leaders in education to highlight different experiences and perspectives on the changing realities of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When talking to Veronica Miranda, Patterson Joint Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent, a feeling of reassurance swelled within the Paper team. There’s no question that this proud mother of five who started in the district as an elementary bilingual educator almost two decades ago has seen it all before. Even at this present time characterized by uncertainty and misinformation, Mrs. Miranda balances amicability with a no-nonsense pragmatism.
“I’m in a really good position to make things happen,” Miranda says when we asked about her role at PJUSD. As Assistant Superintendent, her main responsibilities include providing professional development for teachers and any additional enrichment and remediation programs to school sites.
And her ability to make things happen is the foundation for how our partnership came to be.
“Every year through the Local Control Accountability Plan, one of the biggest needs we had was tutoring. How can we get tutoring? We provided a good source of after school tutoring, especially for our high school kids. The problem was that not all the kids were able to access it because either they had sports or they were bussed home and they couldn’t stick around. Or they didn’t feel comfortable. One of my children told me, ‘I’m not going to get tutored, it’s going to make me look dumb.’ And that’s the attitude our kids have. I’m not going to let anybody help me.”
Finding a way to make supplemental support accessible to every student, while eliminating any trace of the stigma that comes from taking advantage of those resources, doesn’t sound like an easy feat. But, as she is known to do, Veronica made it happen and partnered with Paper.
How then does a person whose role revolves around enriching the lives of both students and teachers do so remotely? Listening to Veronica explain it, the key is compassion.
Remembering the Heart
As we began delving into Patterson’s reaction to COVID-19 closures and how it was implementing a remote learning plan, Mrs. Miranda shared the following quote from Dr. Brad Johnson with us that she’d previously sent to her teachers:
“Relationships before Rigor. Grace before Grades. Patience before Programs. Love before Lessons.”
The quote communicates a simple yet poignant message. What matters most, particularly now, is making sure that students feel supported. Or, as Veronica so eloquently explained:
“Many of our teachers were under the assumption that it’s business as usual. The biggest thing has been letting our teachers know we are in a health crisis. It is not business as usual. You got to remember the heart. We want our students to remember everything we taught them. A year from now, they might not, but they are going to remember your face. They’re going to remember you communicating with them. They’re going to remember you touching base with the family. We can’t forget to address the social and emotional needs.”
Acknowledging the importance of those needs in light of the pandemic, Veronica issued learning expectations to her teachers to make sure the entire faculty was on the same page with regards to what they can reasonably ask of their students.
And while those expectations were different from grade to grade, what they shared was underlining the importance to remember what the home life could be like. Every student has a different home-life situation that can have a tremendous influence not only on their ability to adapt to remote learning but also on whether or not they have access to it.
“Many families are doing what I’m doing: working from home. And then what happens? Kids can’t get online and do work because their parents are working. So they’ve got to wait until 4 o’clock to actually jump on their Google Classroom. That’s why the expectation for any new learning is you record it so kids can access it. Making them aware of what the situations are is so important. You may have kids at home who are taking care of siblings. What we’ve told our teachers is that if you hop on your Webex at 9 am: number one, no the kids are not going to be up. And two, if they were, they might be feeding a little one or they might be taking care of other things. I think the impact is you need to have a flexible setting. And we’ve encouraged our teachers to do wellness checks.”
The form the wellness checks take is up to the teacher, Mrs. Miranda went on to explain. For example, a teacher may choose to send out a daily survey to their students that simply asked them, “How are things going?”
Considering the context each individual student is living under and meeting it with compassion seems to be the best way to encapsulate Patterson’s remote learning strategy after speaking with Mrs. Miranda. Providing support and structure to the students is the priority, which is exemplified with the emphasis on the well-being of the students, but also they have adopted a no-harm approach to grading. With the stay-at-home orders being issued shortly after they had concluded their Q3 reviews, they decided that students’ grades would only be enhanced. Meaning, if by the end of Q3 you had a B- in a math class, you could do no worse than a B-. Everything you do from this point on can only enhance the grade you’ve earned up to this point.
And though plenty of measures to be more understanding have been put in place to support students amid the uncertainty, at the end of the day equity is the deciding factor in its effectiveness. Despite distributing Chromebooks to students in need of devices, there are some students who will not be able to access the internet like some of their peers. If necessary, the district can provide paper packets to those students, but the only way to know a specific family’s needs comes from creating strong bonds. Can those kinds of connections be built without a strong sense of compassion?
Veronica Miranda emphasizing the importance of understanding and compassion in education during this time is best summarized when she says, “I know that kids will work when they know teachers care.”
Our interview concluded with Mrs. Miranda recalling the first week of stay-at-home, she saw a post on social media from a teacher who only the day before couldn’t wait for spring break and take advantage of a much-needed vacation. But now, any fantasizing about the restorative benefits of a vacation couldn’t be further away. The thing at the forefront of her mind was that she wasn’t going to be in front of her kids. So while our conversation was primarily focused on how their response to remote learning affected students and their families, the fact of the matter is this affects all of us, teachers included. And, until we've been told by public health officials that it’s safe to return to the classroom, compassion for ourselves, students, peers, and neighbors can have the biggest benefit.
Relationships before Rigor. Grace before Grades. Patience before Programs. Love before Lessons.