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As the teachers at Roger Quist Middle School watched their quarantined students struggle with a life without friends, social gatherings, activities and adapting to a new way of learning virtually …
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As the teachers at Roger Quist Middle School watched their quarantined students struggle with a life without friends, social gatherings, activities and adapting to a new way of learning virtually last year, they looked for a symbol that could inspire them to get through.
Now, more than 200 eighth-grade students have emerged with newfound resilience, creating a permanent art installation to represent a year of living like a cocoon before spreading their wings to be like butterflies.
“Who doesn’t like a bug as part of that vision? It brings so much beauty and happiness,” said Taylor Marino, Quist Middle School Science teacher. “Butterflies and moths and similar organisms are so unique and so different from our students. We wanted them to personalize something that they could leave in our school, not only for us but for their classmates and kids to come.”
“We have something in our building that was a collaboration. It’s one of the reasons for the placement in the window, you can see the mountains in the background. The balls are a cocoon version of them and the butterflies are where they are- a metamorphosis, “ said Beth Marks- Berner, Quist Middle School English Language Arts teacher.
The butterfly installation is made of old manila folders that were purchased from a thrift store. The folders are heavy and so the kids can cut out patterns of butterflies, color them and construct them into the butterfly and cocoons.
Struggling during the pandemic
Students Malone Stadler and Leslie Gutierrez the pandemic impacted each of them differently.
“I feel like it positively impacted me because I got to hang out with my siblings a lot more and make better relationships with them,” Stadler said. “I’m excited to be in class, I was tired of being home all the time. I wanted to go to school and see my friends. And I didn’t care if we had to wear masks.”
It was harder for Guitierrez.
“It was hard for me learning online and not see any classmates. I was never one to ever struggle in school and I enjoyed going to school. I had no motivation to do anything. I think we learned a lot this year and we connected and got close especially on the last day of school. I’ll never forget it,” said Gutierrez.
The pandemic impacted the teachers personally and emotionally, too.
“I didn’t realize how hard my parents worked and didn’t realize I liked her brother.
“My family was a lot of fun,” said Marks-Berner.
Marino got married during COVID but also connected with family.
“Getting married was happening with COVID or not. I count my blessing for my family and have retained during COVID. I think that this year has allowed me to reflect upon how I see myself as both an educator and a woman and how I can have those two things complement each other,” said Taylor. “My focus is my family and our beautiful students, their families, their homes. I have learned to not take it all so seriously,” she added.
Emerging from their struggles
The teachers saw students emerge with resiliency to adjust to a new way of life without friends and doing activities. The students also realized how hard the teachers were working and develop a reconnect with them.
“As an eighth-grade teacher we don’t always get noticed, but this year, I never got so many thank you cards, emails, texts from kids of appreciation,” said Marks-Berner.
Marino said the impact of the pandemic for them was the school had never done this type of teaching before and had to pull something together to finish up the 2019-2020 year. Then this year they had to change the lessons to teach in-person and online simultaneously. Also learning completely different instructional strategies.
There were student successes, but connections fell through the cracks.
“Kids were not turning cameras on or speaking during online classes, to be very engaged kids. We could speak to the kids but didn’t see their body language. We didn’t have the warmth and connection we would have if we were standing next to a child, “ said Marino. “For teachers as sensitive as we are, it’s emotional. It’s just not something we can take lightly.”
Marino said COVID was a good year for the school to take risks and experiment with their jobs of teaching. For Marino teaching science online was a challenge because science is a hands-on activity for students.
“There are other ways were can learn scientific argumentation, it is not necessarily something we do with our hands. It’s something we can do with our brains,” said Marino.
The kids learned science with more thinking and reasoning.
“I hammered on them with this type of learning a lot and it will benefit them in language arts, math, and social studies. It’s a skill that kids need more of because scientists don’t sit in labs all day making things explode. They look at data, they look at graphs, and they look at patterns,” said Marino. “ Don’t get me wrong, I love to make things explode and the kids do too.”
English Language Arts is hand on so Marks-Berner had to be creative with her lessons. With
Language arts is learning how to give speeches and move around, collaborate, reading out loud with poetry other written materials.
“We were limited, the kids couldn’t get within six feet of each other. I approached this with fairly reasonable expectations that this wasn’t going to be a normal year and learned a lot too,” said Marks-Berner.
The future going forward
Marks-Berner said, “I’m going to spend the whole summer reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work. We take the positive things that we learned from last year. We should learn from our experiences.
“I hope that this year, gives all stakeholders, teachers, parents, policymakers, administration, something to think about, I mean, our education system, it’s time for a makeover, “ said Marino.
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