Mary Lokelani Shire
Aiea Intermediate School
Mary Lokelani Shire, English Language Arts Teacher
The Kids Are Alright!
If you had told me a year ago that my students would be able to successfully bounce between multiple different modes of learning, stay 6 feet away from their peers at recess, wear a mask at school all day and keep their hands impeccably clean, I probably would have laughed at you. My students are awesome, but they are middle schoolers after all! They are full of energy, occasionally push the boundaries, and are inherently social beings. Yet, I have been so impressed by the students at my school this year. The resilience they have shown through the ups and downs of the last 9 months has me convinced that the kids are going to be alright in the long run.
The start of this school year was a roller coaster. Just a few days before students were scheduled to return to school in a hybrid format, COVID-19 case numbers in Hawaii spiked dramatically. The state readjusted plans for the start of the school year several times and in the end, the decision was made for all students to start learning in a full-distance model. With the hard work of teachers and staff at my school, we were able to quickly distribute Chromebooks and mobile hotspots to students who needed them for distance learning. Although there were some challenges in getting a handful of students online initially, within a couple of weeks I had over 95% of students attending my daily online classes. I also had some of the best work turn-in rates I had ever seen.
The start of in-person teaching was pushed back several times due to high rates of COVID-19, but when cases finally declined, the decision was made for our students to benefit from in-person teaching again in mid-November. I was worried about returning to face-to-face teaching, because I live with older family members who are more at risk for COVID and I just wasn’t quite sure it would be possible to keep everyone safe.
My worries were largely banished by the efforts of my school, as well as the behavior of my students upon their return. My school did an excellent job of doing everything we could to follow the rules of the Hawaii DOE and the CDC to ensure we could operate safely. Our class sizes were cut in half and desks were spaced 6+ feet apart. We had procedures in place to screen students as they entered the school as well as a plan for what to do if a student presented symptoms during class. Places were marked off for students to stand and sit around campus and lunch schedules and procedures were rearranged to ensure social distancing. Hand sanitizer dispensers, extra masks, and cleaning supplies were placed in each classroom along with scheduled daily custodian visits. Our school also provided a full distance option for parents who did not feel comfortable sending their students to campus.
When students arrived on campus, they slipped right into following all the rules. They use hand sanitizer every time they enter the classroom and social distance as needed all over campus. When they need a mask break, they ask to be excused, step outside for a moment and come back in and get back to work. Occasionally I need to remind a kid that their nose should be covered, or to stay six feet apart at recess, but overall their behavior had been impeccable.
We are now in the sixth week of our new model. It’s not a perfect model, but it is a model that has kept our students, teachers, and staff safe while still providing in-person classes for students.
I know that students will need extra support this year. Some will quickly make up for the lost time, while others may need more in-depth help. We will have to work together to ensure that students have the support they need. Despite this, I think there are some silver linings to this experience. Over the last nine months, students have learned life skills such as perseverance, adaptability, and the ability to work independently. These are skills that will benefit them with whatever path they take in the future. With teachers, school staff, and families supporting them I believe that in the long run, the kids will be alright. And I can’t wait to see what they do in the future!