a guest blog by Angelica Izquierdo.
Back in March, I was coming home from a research trip to Northern Ireland. I spent ten days learning about Catholic schools, Protestant Schools, inclusion, and shared resources with a group of principals and educators from Los Angeles. I will never forget taking the train from Northern Ireland into Dublin with spotty WiFi and starting to realize that schools were about to shut down. The next week was a blur. I was jet-lagged beyond belief, people were concerned about my health after traveling, and we received our official news that schools would be closed. We thought it would be two weeks. We made packets, we made Zoom links, and we were confident we would see the kids back in their desks in no time.
Here we are, in October, and our return to campus still has not happened. I also moved to a new school in a new community. Getting to know teachers, parents, and students in the midst of a global pandemic seemed intimidating. Prior to July 1st, I reflected upon my experience as a principal in a pandemic. Many parents bring their children to smaller, private schools for the community aspect. How did this translate online? Yes, I was swamped with finances, PPE, plans for returning, navigating report cards and assessments, enrolling students, and more, but community had to come first. Holding my own office hours was an integral part of the day. At times, parents had questions. Most of the time, however, students would stay on Zoom and ask questions before their class started. Some of their parents were essential workers and their interaction with the world outside their homes was minimal. Our students need to feel connected to their community.
On July 1st, I started my new position. I zoomed with parents, had socially distanced meetings, and heard their concerns for distance learning. Many of the conversations were repetitive and I would head home exhausted. Yet, each and every conversation builds community. My fiancé, a chef, volunteered to lead Cooking Classes for our families, I held game nights, I read stories on Zoom, I had lunches with students via Zoom, and so much more. My summer break was by far the most intense summer of work in my educational career. Now, however, parents and students are comfortable with the new principal. They know what the bottom half of my face looks like and we have built mutual understanding and respect.
Everyday, I gather the whole school on Zoom. It’s stressful! We rename kids, monitor the chat, and give them a minute to unmute themselves and sign off. My Vice Principal and I hold our breaths and hope for the best. This community activity, however, gives the students an opportunity to see each other, to be silly, and to feel a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Our families need a sense of community during these uncertain times. In Los Angeles, we do not know when our school will be together once again. While we anticipate the return of our younger students soon, there really are no clear timelines. Giving parents and students the opportunity to have safe social interaction (even on Zoom) and feel like we still are a thriving community is healthy for all of us. Yes, it takes time. Yes, my eyes are tired and Zoom exhaustion is real. I know, however, that the extra effort is worth it. The connection between families, teachers, and the school is vibrant.
During all of this, we have learned so much. We’ve made mistakes on Zoom and will continue to make mistakes. Last week, I gave remote control of my screen to a fourth grader when managing the waiting room. Last night, my pre-assigned breakout rooms with 100 parents did not work and I felt like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter as I tried to calmly manage manual sorting. A couple weeks ago, the school internet went out and a student became host of a classroom. We are still putting the pieces of that puzzle together.
I don’t know what next week will bring, but I am sure I will have more stories to tell. There will always be hundreds of things on my to-do list. It seems endless and sometimes in the middle of the night, I think of things to add. My daily priority will always be community. When we come out of this, that will still remain the focus. When we have community, we can get through anything. When we have community, we can have mutual understanding. When we have community, we can push our comfort levels, express our concerns, and continue to grow together.
Angelica Izquierdo has been in education since 2009 and is a 4th year elementary school principal in Los Angeles, California.
She believes in inclusion, social emotional learning, and educating the whole child. It is her goal to work collaboratively with teachers to inspire success and a desire for a better world in each student.
Angelica runs on copious amounts of coffee, counts down to Christmas, will always eat a cupcake for dinner, and has a deep love for the Backstreet Boys.