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News: 09/15/2020

Learning continues at Dunbar – just from a distance

Fourth grade teacher Brandy Melendy teaches from her classroom at Dunbar School. Students at home use Chromebooks and other materials supplied by the school. Photo by Alec Peters.

In a classroom empty of students at Dunbar Elementary School, fourth grade teacher Brandy Melendy energetically said, “OK let’s take a break and do five jumping jacks!”

Where were the students? On the screen of Melendy’s laptop, where they dutifully “got up” and did the jumping jacks with her. Then it was back to working on math, from a distance.

Dunbar’s Sonoma Valley Unified School District is just one of many districts in the county deciding that starting out the school year with distance learning was the best way to keep students and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For me, going to work and teaching from the classroom is going really well,” said Melendy. “My teaching materials are here, and I’ve created a teaching stage where my technology devices can be navigated simultaneously. It’s a juggle and a serious learning curve regarding the apps and platforms that work best for specific tasks.”

Students in second through fifth grade all have Chromebooks they were assigned last academic year, and log in each morning for school.

Teachers start out the day with a “Morning Meeting” where there are opportunities for the kids to talk and listen to each other about topics that aren’t necessarily academic-related.

“Sharing and comparing stories about how they are spending their time during this unfortunate moment in time helps ward off feelings of isolation and fear,” explained Melendy.

“It’s important to allow them to laugh and be silly for a bit, and also important to develop routines and virtual agreements so that students can learn their best while distance learning.”

There are breaks during the day for active play, snacks, lunch, and a block for other specialized instruction (music, physical education, etc.) and independent study.

Attendance is taken a few times a day.

“We all need to know which students are present, and who is dropping off at the end of the day,” said transitional Kindergarten teacher Dawn McIntyre. “Also, who is having trouble logging in earlier, but attending later. We can’t help parents and students if we don’t know the issues.”

Some students at Dunbar have had internet connection issues, as well as some experiencing glitches with their Chromebooks and iPads. When that happens, Dunbar librarian and Glen Ellen resident Tracy Salcedo has been designated as the technology support go-to person. When a student has a tech problem, Salcedo helps to get any issues resolved quickly so students don’t miss valuable class time.

Because the academic needs of younger students are different than older classes, and supplies may be limited at home, McIntyre and kindergarten teacher Mara Irwin created activity kits (glue, scissors, paper, etc.) and delivered one to each of their students.

“No matter what, I am insistent on young children having things in their hands,” said McIntyre.

A number of Dunbar teachers, as well as other staff members, are working from the school site. Custodial staff makes sure all surfaces are disinfected regularly, gloves and masks are worn when outside of the classroom or workspace, and social distancing is maintained while Dunbar is “open” during the day.

Office staff mans a temperature-taking station each morning, helps organize drive-by distributions for school supplies, and keeps in constant contact with the school’s 160 students with phone calls and reminders about the distance learning schedule.

“This is truly a group effort and everyone is doing their best to make it as positive as possible, working as hard as we can to navigate this unknown,” said Melendy.

Dunbar principal Jillian Beall agrees.

“Our Dunbar staff are doing a phenomenal job to ensure our students are learning and connected to our Dunbar community,” said Beall. “The ways in which our staff is collaborating, innovating, and quickly gaining expertise in new online platforms is truly inspiring.”

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