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Lessons from COVID: Pandemic stories from NM teachers, parents and children

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After a year of mostly remote learning for many teachers and students in New Mexico due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some children are once again walking the halls of our schools.

The Journal invited New Mexico families, students and teachers to share their stories from this unique transition.

Those who responded shared stories of successes and of struggles from this school year.

Their stories are below.

To share more stories about your children and how they’re moving into the next phase of life, send an email to yourstory@ abqjournal.com. You are welcome to include a high-resolution photo.


Let’s not waste pandemic’s lessons

Shyla, “mayor” of Aimee Parra’s Mesilla Elementary School kindergarten class, helps in-person and remote students edit a sentence. (Courtesy of Aimee Parra)

My kindergarten class is like a small town community.

We each hold important roles that make learning fun and engaging.

Each day, Shyla, our 5-year-old mayor, shares our learning goals and reviews academic skills previously covered. Olive, our meteorologist, shares the daily weather report and Aziah, our record keeper, reminds me to record our Zoom session for those absent that day.

All of my students regularly participate in discussions about the logistics of the day and our learning goals. My teaching through these leadership roles has increased my kindergartners’ achievement in written language, communication and other academic skills. We have learned that working together has increased cooperative learning opportunities, too, like providing constructive feedback on a writing project in real time to our remote learning peers, as we sit in our classroom.

All of this is important in forming a learning community that strives to achieve academically and succeed in life.

Now that we are back in person, all of the children in my classroom have adapted well and are thriving. Even when we were remote, my students and I have found that our community was an empowering place to be and learn together. Throughout this isolating year my kindergartners, led by our mayor, Shyla, stayed involved and engaged, often showing up early on Zoom. They weren’t just coming to learn, they were coming to be part of our community.

This experience has opened my eyes to the learnings we can take from the pandemic and the possibilities of reimagining our schools so we can better serve our students and communities.

Now, as New Mexico is proposing more days and longer hours for students in classrooms, I am wondering if that’s what is best.

Even before the pandemic, educators and policymakers knew that our educational system was lacking. Rather than simply adding more instructional days to the calendar or more hours to our school day to compensate for the challenges of the pandemic and learning loss, we should use this time to examine the most important skills our students need for a successful future.

To me, these skills begin with social emotional learning. These include empowering students to use their voices to advocate what they need, teaching strong communications skills and self-reflection. The focus on these skills will lead to better solutions to harness leadership in the classroom and ultimately to better academic outcomes.

Like her peers, Mayor Shyla finds learning fun. Because she is a leader, she has engaged in the standards more deeply. Shyla leads by example, sharing to our learning community that, “she is a good kinder leader because she teaches her friends what to do in class and how to do good listening.”

In fact, she encourages others to lead, providing an opportunity for a very shy, new student to believe in herself and say with pride, “When I am amazing in class, that makes all my friends amazing, too.”

The questioning, discussion and negotiation among the members of our learning community are rich and are just what my students need to combat any learning loss.

This pandemic has awarded us all an opportunity to rethink and enhance education. Let’s not waste it and instead empower our students as leaders in their own educational journey. They deserve nothing less!

– Aimee Parra, kindergarten teacher leader at Mesilla Elementary in Las Cruces and 2020-2021 Teach Plus New Mexico Fellow of the Year.


My students face adversity head-on

Joaquin Cordova

This past year in virtual learning has been impactful in multiple ways.

Unceremoniously, my professional and personal life became intertwined. At any other time it would have driven a person crazy. Not me. This whole situation has been a huge blessing to me. I got to stay home with my family and welcome our son to this world. Not to mention I got to spend time with my 11-year-old daughter and witness her as she continues to grow. Our other daughter came home to us and is doing great. Also I have a loving and supportive wife who is an indescribable source of strength for me.

I also have the privilege of teaching the secondary students of El Camino Real Academy.

During this long period of time, my personal and professional life stuck together no matter what. No matter what life has thrown our way, we continue to stand united. I will admit I do not know what my students went through on a daily basis but I do know this for sure — they took their time out of their life and out of whatever they may have been going through to show up for class and work.

We came together to be the best that we could for each other … even with the circumstances. In life we face numerous decisions that we must make, and with pride and a tear in my eye, they made the right one. I have taught students that I have called Champions, Team Ganas, Team Power and now this year I have my Impact Players. My students are not at a deficit for lacking in person learning. They are people who face adversity no matter the circumstances to live their life and receive an education. AMEN.

– Joaquin Cordova, teacher at El Camino Real Academy in Albuquerque


A disaster for students

This year was a disaster for students.

Many parents were still working while students were left home to babysit, making it difficult for them to log on to their classes. A great number of students did not even log on to their classes or attempt any of the work, resulting in 80% F’s. APS put the final nail in the coffin when they announced all students would pass regardless, so why even bother.

A lot of technology issues. Many students did not want to turn on their cameras or join in classroom discussions. Most of the time I felt like I was talking to myself. This was also the year for a new curriculum rollout for science. It was full of hands-on labs and projects that we could not do. It also switched the years of material presented, so seventh graders missed out on important topics they will be tested on in the eighth grade.

OK, so much for the complaining — on a positive note, this turned out to be a window into their lives.

I met family pets, learned how to make posole and found out many of my students had interests outside of school I never get to see in the classroom.

– Angela Jarvis, seventh grade science teacher at George I. Sánchez Collaborative Community School in Albuquerque


Learning a brand-new skillset

Michelle Joy Joseph, teacher at Mission Avenue Elementary School in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of Michelle Joy Joseph)

This is my 15th year teaching and it is more like my first!

I completely redesigned teaching for online learning. Because of this, I learned things I never imagined: How to be a YouTube star, create curriculum that is online and kid-friendly, and all about Google suite. All to make sure I meet my 28 students’ academic, emotional, social and physical needs.

My students are engaged and learning every day. I assess their emotional needs constantly and adjust instruction with Maslow in mind. We have a strong, empathetic and inclusive classroom community (that includes their very supportive families and pets).

Yes, they learn reading, writing/typing and math. But SO much more. We do STEM challenges every month. Students used the Design Process to engineer new animal adaptations, weather safe houses, theme parks, catapults and more.

Also I create Bitmoji classrooms to teach social studies standards. Students explore the rooms to complete AVID notes by clicking on the artifacts that I linked to text, videos, maps, etc. They learn all about important historical events across time.

My dad, a retired Sandia Labs’ Distinguished Technologist, stars in a YouTube video in the WW2 room. He shares stories about WW2 weapons and how they could be safely displayed, inspiring my young engineers. Many of these things they never would have experienced in a normal year. We will actually complete both the reading and math curriculums (a first)!

On April 5, things changed again. Since then, I teach nine in person and 19 online.

My challenge is to continue all I do and attempt to keep in-person students as safe as possible using the CDC guidelines we can follow, during a traumatic global pandemic that killed my uncle in January.

– Michelle Joy Joseph, teacher at Mission Avenue Elementary School in Albuquerque


Back-to-school means one-on-one

Collin Donovan, a La Cueva High School senior. (Courtesy of Collin Donovan)

I’m a 12th grader at La Cueva High School and so far I’ve been enjoying going back to school in person.

I’m able to get the one-on-one help with my teachers, where when I was online I could not get that same help.

When they say that we were going back to in-person learning, I thought and thought about it and then I came to my conclusion about it. My conclusion was that since it was my last year, I should go back to see La Cueva for the last time.

– Collin Donovan, senior at La Cueva High School


Thank you to teachers

Shanna and Greg Jarrett’s daughter, Lilly, in class during remote learning with dog Rosey. (Courtesy of Shanna Jarrett)

We have a 10th grader and a sixth grader attending Albuquerque Public Schools.

They both returned for the in-person option on April 5 and so far it is going very well for both of them.

Remote learning was difficult for our son in the 10th grade, despite the valiant efforts of his teachers to keep him engaged. His teachers and the school did everything they could to help him be successful while online, but he has found it much easier to stay motivated and turn in his work since returning in-person.

Our daughter, the sixth grader, thrived in online school and found that it suited her needs very well. But, she wanted to go in-person because she had never been inside her school and was anxious to get to know the building and meet some friends. She is thrilled to be at school with her teachers and peers, but misses being at home with her dog.

We are prepared for the fact that there may be quarantining or shutdowns if COVID cases pop up at their schools, but we know that both kids’ teachers will ensure smooth transitions back and forth regardless of what challenges may arise in the next five weeks.

All of the teachers, faculty and staff at both schools have been phenomenal in supporting our kids this school year, both academically and emotionally. The teachers have given so much of themselves to their students this year, and we are humbled by the amazing work we have witnessed from them. Our kids learned a lot during this past year, especially resilience, patience and flexibility. We are so glad that they had the support of their schools and teachers during this scary, difficult and uncertain time. Thank you to all teachers for being there for your students!

– Shanna & Greg Jarrett, Albuquerque parents


Leaving traditional APS altogether

Paul Gessing’s three daughters. (Courtesy of Paul Gessing)

I am a parent of three girls, two of whom were in elementary school at an APS school during the aborted 2019-2020 school year. When they went home on that fateful March day we had no idea when they would return. As it turns out they won’t be returning.

During the 2020-2021 year we chose to homeschool the older two with the youngest remaining in a preschool. It has been a great opportunity to really understand our children and their learning styles. It was a challenge but we were lucky to have both the human and financial resources to do this.

While virtual learning can work for some children, it is tougher for younger kids like mine and we didn’t want to have them in front of a screen several hours a day. We regularly ask the kids whether they enjoy home school and they say “yes.” One of the big advantages they repeatedly mention is how they don’t have their learning interrupted by misbehaving classmates.

Next year all three children WOULD be in a traditional APS school if we were sending them back. Instead, we have a sixth-grader at an APS-authorized charter school Instead, we have a sixth-grader at an APS-authorized charter school and the younger two (fourth grade and kindergarten) will be attending a Catholic school.

– Paul Gessing, Albuquerque parent


Dear 2020

Luis Lopez-Maldonado

You made me broke broken bronchitis — Lord Jesus!

There’s uh fire! And my people still

locked up in cages red hats on stages

the cheap cheap wall going up up

into the white between Mexico y

Los Estados Unidos, and February

comes and goes and we skip March

cry in April for my first lockdown birthday,

but false prophet opens rich mouth and

lies tries to divide blue and red white

from everyone non-white, you see you

made us broke broken this-brownness

sanitizing for breakfast lunch and dinner

virus spreading like butter like oil like water,

death in spring death in summer death in fall

death in winter comes and stays bodies

devoured by hospital beds but

“we have it totally under control.

it’s one person coming in from China.

it’s going to be just fine” porque

it wasn’t fine lost control lost faith

lost the punctuation, you see 2020

you’re done 2021 almost gone

almost nuestro pasado: and still

this boi will sing with collapsed lung

dance with inflamed muscles

paint with sad sand hands;

behind plastic thing, mask on,

students numb students sad

students confused, and I tell them:

be thankful we are breathing,

listen to these desks that want

to warm our cold hearts fill

our veins with color, because,

write this down: the sun will rise

in the morning, and then

the next morning too, and the

incomplete moon will fade

somewhere up above the blue

desert sky, even before you wake up …

– Poetic prose by Luis Lopez-Maldonado, seventh grade science special education teacher at George I. Sánchez Collaborative Community School


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a story about how coronavirus has affected you, your family or your business? Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? What issues related to the topic would you like to see covered? Or do you have a bright spot you want to share in these troubling times?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com or Contact the writer.

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