McCarter Elementary welcomes teachers, and their children, back into the classroom

Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 5:23 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Public Schools is allowing teachers to work from home or come to the classrooms and bring their own kids if they want to continue education for USD 501 students.

Some teachers have children of their own, so USD 501 is allowing them in the school while they teach their course through Zoom calls.

Pamela Munoz, a kindergarten teacher at McCarter Elementary for USD 501, is one of many trying to keep kids engaged while ensuring her children get their work done as well.

She said, “I have to be very animated and I have to make learning fun because if I’m just sitting there, in a monotone voice and going over basic information like they’re going to get bored right away and so I try to make it fun. I try to throw in a game, have them touch their head or touch their nose, like get them moving.”

“It is helpful because they have a place to come and I don’t have to worry about finding someone to watch them. They’re pretty self-sufficient which I am very proud of because they can do their thing while mom does her thing.”

Creativity across all grades, not just preschool and kindergarten, are being encouraged by TPS.

“Teachers have got to be flexible and with whatever is thrown at us, I mean, we just divide and conquer and we work together,” Munoz said.

Principal of McCarter Elementary, Kathy Cooney, said “For some teachers, it’s easier to teach from their classroom where their materials are, but at the same time, they have children especially elementary aged children that they cannot leave home by themselves. We were granted the flexibility to allow them to come back and be in the teacher’s classroom as the teacher is teaching her own personal children.”

Having no students in classrooms or walking in the halls at McCarter Elementary is unlike anything she’s experienced.

“It is like something out of a movie, that I would have never had imagined,” said Cooney. “Of course we’d love to have all the kids back. It was wonderful to finally get to the point yesterday where I could log on to a zoom classroom and just see them on the computer. That was just so rewarding just even that because we’ve all been waiting for so long.”

TPS believes because it is a family unit utilizing the same space, the chance of increasing the spread is low.

Cooney said, “If they are a family unit they are all sharing the same germs already and so, we feel that it is safe to go ahead and allow that to happen because this year we are really trying to contain as much as we can. Once we get to phase two, and we enter what is known as the micro classes, we will have no more than 15 kids in each class M-F in person. So, we are really trying to make sure that we don’t cross classes.”

The curriculum hasn’t changed but the techniques and ways to stay productive are more challenging, but Cooney believes the core values have not changed.

“You just observed a kindergarten teacher and she spent a lot of her time just teaching the kids about the different buttons and how to operate, How to turn your camera on, how to un-mute yourself, stuff like that,” said Cooney. “It also takes teachers, we want to start with the curriculum and we are starting with the curriculum, but we also always start the year with some getting to know you activities to build those relationships.”

TPS believes they have a plan set in place, and with creative techniques and teachers, can continue to educate properly until it’s safe for the kids to be back in the classroom.

“Kindergarten and preschool, they are just so hands on and they need to be able to do that and parents are doing a great job at home but in the classroom, they can get so much more hands-on learning and that’s what’s really needed,” said Munoz. “I’m excited to have them back, I’m looking forward to it. Yeah, it’s going to be different and we’ll get through it, but we can’t take away that hands-on learning. That’s a must.”

“We would never want to lose a life, we don’t want anyone to get sick, we don’t want the virus to spread in the schools so we have to watch the COVID numbers and in conjunction with the Shawnee County Health Department, I have all the confidence in the world that Dr. Anderson, our superintendent, will not bring us back until it is safe for everyone to be here,” said Cooney. “Of course, we’re rooting for that day but for now, airing on the side of safety as you saw, the kids are getting a wonderful education and I’m very proud, like I said earlier, of our response, it’s superior.”

Munoz and other TPS teachers have been recording video lessons since last spring when the pandemic began. USD 501 offers gym class lessons and music lessons on apps students can download as well.

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