Justice Page teacher: ‘Election week was like a roller coaster’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Tracey Schultz, science teacher, Justice Page Middle School

It’s been pretty rare to have a kid who’s sick [with COVID-19], but I am  hearing with more frequency that it’s in a family or that a family is connected to it. As far as staff morale, there are so many different levels. Right now, I have coworkers who are directly affected, so they’re now juggling all of this and COVID-19, which feels really imposing. I have coworkers who have lost child care for their own kids because of COVID, which makes doing this challenging job really impossible.

Election week was like a roller coaster. In kids’ social studies classes, they were talking about the election really directly. In homeroom, we were talking a lot about the importance of everyone voting. Of course, kids always want to know, “Who did you vote for?” It’s always interesting to talk about, because we want to be really careful. We’re a public school and, you know, it’s not our place to say, “This is how we vote.” Kind of my standard line with the kids is, “Well, you’ve known me for about a quarter. You’re sixth-graders. You can probably infer how I would vote, and you’re probably right, so that’s as close as you’re going to get to the answer.” They’re never satisfied with that answer, but that’s what I feel like is professional.

We just rolled out [at-home] science kit No. 2 this week. Our principal mentioned in a Sunday night update that she had some PTA funds that could be spent immediately. I wrote back and said, “Kit two! I’ve got a list all ready to go” (which I didn’t). I said, “Is that possible?” And she wrote back, “Of course it is. Get me your list right away.” I had been thinking about some things in the back of my head, but very quickly I put that plan on paper.

We’re studying light and sound energy here at the start of Quarter 2, so we were able to pick up some really fun things that they can use to do some nice light and sound experiments. That includes — I didn’t totally think this one through — but there’s actually a pretty nice kazoo in this kit. The sound quality is really good. Yesterday, I had much kazoo playing in class, because the kids were so excited to have these. Then another teacher sent a video of kids playing the kazoos in her class, so I thought, “Oh, oopsie, I didn’t really think about how the kazoos might visit all the classes.” But we’re all just excited to see the kids excited about things.

One thing that’s new Quarter 2 is that the district activated the automated attendance calls. I’m glad that these calls are now happening, because for kids who are trying to do distance learning on their own at home, it can be hard for families to know if they are there. I can say personally that I was really struggling to make my own attendance calls Quarter 1. Because obviously the best attendance call is one that happens in the moment, right? I’d see, “These three kids are missing. I’m going to call them right now.” But it’s very difficult to do that and teach 30 kids live online.

Now that I have a better handle on some of the tools in my toolbox and what is working for kids, I’m doing frequent participation check-ins during science class. I’ve mentioned that I can put a poll question out on Google Meet. It’s really easy for me when I put a poll question out there to see who’s doing it, because I get a report after class emailed to me that says the kids’ names and what answer they picked. The kids are also now doing a really nice job with their cameras, so I can say, “Turn on your camera. Hold your paper up to the camera. Let me see this wave that you just drew and labeled.” So at the beginning of every class, we talk about how we’re going to participate in class that day, and then I hold them accountable for that participation.

We had a great chance to interact with Justice Alan Page live last week. We had a chance in our homeroom to listen to a read-aloud that he and his daughter did of their newest children’s book. Then the kids could submit questions that they wanted to ask Justice Page, and this week, we had an all-school morning meeting live with him moderated by our principal [Shannon Tenner], who is herself a Justice Page scholar. Every homeroom ran their own Google Meet, and then as teachers we joined the Google Meet where Principal Tenner was hosting Justice Page and shared that screen with the kids.

Then Thursday was the anniversary of Justice Alan Page Day in Minnesota. We encouraged the kids and staff to have bowties — he’s famous for always wearing a bowtie. At the end of the day, we did some photos, all coming to the same Google Meet and wearing our bowties to honor him. He showed up for those and he was part of those photos live, which was very special. It’s so remarkable to have someone who is living that you honor at your school in the present moment.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.