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story.lead_photo.caption California High School Photo by David Wilson / California Democrat.

Since California's school district decided to close the doors on its schools during the COVID-19 outbreak, faculty members have had to quickly come up with alternative ways to keep their students engaged in their remote lessons.

California is a Google School, meaning they use Google Classroom, forms, sheets and docs during regular classroom settings already. Many teachers, especially at the high school, are using these tools to facilitate their assignments and lesson plans during this time.

"Each teacher at the high school is approaching this a little differently," California High School science teacher Jamie Johnston said. "However, most of us already had digital components built into our curriculum, so we are trying to capitalize on those as the students are already familiar with them."

Johnston posts videos of herself giving instructions on lesson material, and her students reach out via email or video chat when questions arise.

A lot of California's teachers are employing similar strategies to make sure their students are still getting the help they need, even if it's in a new format.

"The math department has been meeting regularly via Zoom to figure out the best way to meet the needs of our students, educationally but also emotionally," CHS math teacher Denise Banderman said. "It's a hard time for everyone."

Banderman is providing videos of herself teaching lessons and using an online service for homework practice, as well as making use of email and Remind. The math department, in general, is also holding daily Zoom meetings for any students who need help from teachers.

History, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to navigate during this time because students really benefit from classroom discussion, CHS history teacher Ashley Atteberry said.

"For the most part, I am putting everything on Google Classroom," Atteberry said. "It's kind of a student self-paced one. I'm not having kids do daily assignments — it's more like they get tasks at the beginning of the week, and they're basically self-guided."

Since it's hard to have discussions during this time, Atteberry said she makes up for that by presenting her class with other resources and visual aids. She has made herself available if her students have any questions, but she said she believes if they can figure out how to be successful during a challenging time, it will really help them in the future.

When it comes to learning music, singing in choir or studying any other art form, it can be difficult to do over the internet, mostly because such classes require more of a group atmosphere.

"I'm trying to do things that are relevant and that the students will learn from, but the bottom line (is) they are neither singing or playing the piano, so that is a real bummer," CHS music teacher Michele Bilyeu said.

Bilyeu's choir is continuing to do online sight-reading exercises similar to what they did in regular classes, and her piano students are completing online theory exercises and music analysis of songs in their piano books, along with reflections on pieces they listen to.

At California Middle School, Google Classroom has been implemented as well, as instructors try to keep in contact with and continue to challenge their students as much as possible. Eighth-grade English teacher Amelia Elliott said California teachers had to pivot very quickly when closures first began, something unlike what she's seen in her career thus far.

"The remote teaching needs of the COVID-19 closure are something else; not only have I never heard of anything like it during my 11-year teaching career, I haven't heard of anything like it during my lifetime especially not so widespread or rapidly evolving," Elliott said. "In 24 hours, we went from discussing the need for a contingency closure plan to having to implement a closure plan, which left a very limited amount of time to pull things together and create a distance learning environment."

For Elliott's classroom, things haven't changed too much since her students are already used to a "flipped classroom," where lectures are homework and projects are worked on in class with person-to-person support, making things like checking Google Classroom for their work and learning through videos more familiar to them. Her lesson plans are still focused on learning and student growth, and communication with her students is being facilitated through email and Google Classroom. Elliott said her goal is to keep her students engaged — she's doing this by relying on video lesson plans, tutorials to help students understand, posting attendance challenges and staying in contact with students and their parents.

This sudden transition has not only been hard on California's students but the teachers as well. CMS science teacher Krista Davis said despite the challenge, she believes the community will be able to step up and succeed.

"As with many transitions, this transition to teaching/learning from home will offer many opportunities (for) our school and community (to) be resilient and rise to the challenges that the COVID-19 crisis presents," Davis said.

The resources she's using to help her students learn from home include Google Classroom, Quizlet, Discovery Education and Gmail. Luckily, their science book is completely digital, so Davis' students won't have to worry about that transition. Davis said she has also been taking advantage of NASA and its wide variety of online resources that give students the opportunities to explore satellite images.

The students at California Elementary School may be experiencing the hardest transition because they're not quite old enough to take advantage of digital interaction with their teachers. Second-grade teacher Ashley Byrd said CES teachers are doing what they can to help nonetheless.

"While remote learning is less than ideal, we are making the most of the situation and doing what we can to help out second-grade families," Byrd said.

Before school closed, Byrd sent home learning packets, workbooks and books for her students to read. She has been using the class Facebook page, Remind, SeeSaw and email as avenues to communicate with the students' parents and share additional resources. On the classroom Facebook page, Byrd made a read-aloud video for her class and invited students to comment below to engage in the story, making it a fun way to interact with her students.

The most important thing elementary teachers can do at this time is try to continue providing their students with the best learning experience they can, fourth-grade teacher Kelly Hall said, considering these young students are now out of their usual learning environment. Hall said students haven't been the only ones learning as they go.

"Lesson planning during the COVID-19 breakout has definitely been a learning experience," Hall said. "There are so many aspects to keep in mind when considering at-home learning. We have to acknowledge that not all students have internet access or a device to use for online learning, and some students only have a few hours in the evening to get support at home because of parents still working."

Hall's lesson plans have consisted of an educational packet divided into daily work, as well as activities for art, P.E., music, library and computers. Those who have internet access received an alternative packet. She has also been sharing videos of the students' favorite books and read-alouds through the class Facebook page.

"Teachers are using a wide variety of resources to meet the needs of students during this time, as well as provide support for the parents with the work their children are being asked to complete," fifth-grade teacher Rachel Hees said. "We are doing our best to keep communication lines open, with a variety of types being used."

Hees has been using Google Meet, which she uses for live class meetings. She said she uses this time to talk to students about the adjustment and to answer any questions they might have while they work from home. She also has been posting short lessons to help her students with fractions and other math lessons. She makes sure to utilize the Google Suite and the Google Classroom page and allow students to reach out to her in ways that are most convenient to them, such as the Remind application, email and their classroom Facebook page.

Teachers and faculty members within the California school district are coming together to make sure students have an easy transition during this difficult time, even if it means going that extra mile.

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