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Manteca Unified teachers go ‘live'
EU teacher
Ag teacher Tristyn Silva logged on with a strong turnout of students for distance learning.

When Peter Gale returned to the classroom, he didn’t expect his computer know-how to be a valuable school-wide tool for distance learning.

The English teacher at East Union High had previously been part of the Manteca Unified School District’s Community Outreach Team, serving as webmaster for the district’s website and YouTube channel.

Based on that, he has an understanding of how to target an online audience.

“He’s been very useful to us,” said EU Principal Raul Mora on the tech-savvy Gale.

MUSD resumed classes on Thursday with Phase I, as specified in the 2020-21 Teaching and Learning Models for Return to School, calling for students to learn from home, teachers and students connect virtually with a combination of live instruction, assignments and recorded lessons – this option was implemented due to the uptick of COVID-19 cases in the Central Valley.

Mora praised his teaching staff for their creativity in personalizing online instructions.

Earth Science and Biology teacher Ashlee Teczon created a Bitmoji, a personalized emoji, of herself on her virtual classroom calendar.

“I wanted to go with something that best expresses myself,” she said.

The summer was a busy one for Teczon, who spent most of it on professional development, including how to use Microsoft Teams, which is a unified communication and collaboration platform used as the virtual classroom.

She’s able to do virtual labs or show videos of a natural phenomenon.

Teczon and others are trying to find the best way to teach and learn online. “I’ve told my students that I’m learning as they’re learning – we’re all on the same boat,” she said.

Ag instructor Tristyn Silva will use Teams much like a DIY podcaster. In order to teach a floral arrangement class, for example, students would attain the necessary materials including flowers on a drive-thru supply pick-up day.

“I’ll show them how to do the arrangement live,” she said.

Silva noted that last school year distance learning model served as an intro to understanding Teams. “It gave us a taste on what to expect,” she said.

Much has been fine tuned.

Now each school has a daily schedule, including teachers meeting with students and conversing one on one.

Gale uses Flipgrid to conduct his learning sessions.

“It’s a safe contained secure learning environment where students can chat,” he said.

Honor students in his English class will continue to chat on a topic even without Gale’s presence. He was quick to realize that some students prefer the online sessions in the comforts of their home, where they can better articulate.

Gale, in the words of Simon Sinek, posted: “Everyone of us wants to feel seen, feel heard, and feel understood.”

Annette Taser teaches the district’s only Intro to Musical Theater course.

She had to find ways to adapt her performance-based class to an online format.

“Act on camera – what can be better,” said Taser, pointing out that people enjoy going to the movies.

She viewed distance learning as a great opportunity towards teaching.

On her first day back, Taser wore a dress featuring the popular children’s book character Curious George, crafted by her former student Angel Summers, who is a costume designer in Portland.

She even had the book, ‘The Complete Adventures of Curious George’ with a posted note of a quote by playwright Lynn Nottage – “Replace Judgement with Curiosity” – while sporting a matching Curious George facemask, at her work station positioned on center stage.

On this first day back, students had to follow a schedule unlike that of last year. “We all need structure and accountability,” Mora said.

Teczon noted that 24 students clicked on according to the class schedule. “We had all but one or two that didn’t log on,” she said.

Most of the teachers also reported strong online turnout.

“Our goal is to return kids back to campus. But without a cure (for the coronavirus), we have to pilot this new normal and keep everyone safe,” Mora said.