As the education community in Colorado has responded and adapted to the rapid changes necessitated by physical distancing in COVID-19 response, I went out looking for stories and examples of how our network of partner school districts are adapting to virtual learning, and how PEBC Residency participants have played a part in helping communities come together, supporting students through this time of unprecedented change.
Today, we’re bringing you to Eagle County, one of the most heavily-impacted areas of the state by the COVID-19 outbreak. I recently spoke with Kendra Anderson, who serves as one of PEBC’s mentor teachers for our residency cohort in Eagle County Schools. Kendra teaches 7th grade language arts at Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards, CO, and has spent the year as the mentor teacher for resident Brooke Paxton. PEBC recently selected Kendra as our nominee for the National Center for Teacher Residencies Mentor Teacher of the Year award.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Hi Kendra, thanks for taking the time to chat today. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your school community?
This is my 22nd full year of teaching, my 3rd year at Berry Creek. I’ve taught 7th grade Language Arts my entire career, starting in Texas where I was born and raised.
Berry Creek is a great community. We have a diverse student body that looks a lot like the county, in that there is a mix of high and low income families, and we have a large Hispanic population. A large portion of our students are on free and reduced lunch. [editors note: per state data, Berry Creek’s student body is 74% Hispanic/Latino, and 50% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch.]
Right now, our students are dealing with a lot of stress – A lot of our students have so much on their plates at home watching after younger siblings, for example. For some, their parents have lost jobs.. A lot of them are missing being at school.
This is the first year of PEBC Teacher Residency’s partnership with ECS, and you have had a resident (Brooke) in your classroom all year. How has that experience been overall?
At first I was a little afraid to be honest – am I going to be able to let go of my classroom to someone else? Brooke was so easy to work with. I started from day one to let the students understand that we are both teachers; at first it was kind of a struggle for the students as they saw Brooke as “the sub” but we stayed consistent and eventually they came along. I can definitely see a change in how they treated her and their respect for her.
Specifically to COVID-19 – and knowing that Eagle County is one of the hotspots for the outbreak in the state – how are you and Brooke focusing on supporting your students and community at this time?
We’re having students focus on one core subject each day. Mondays are for math, Tuesday’s are science, Wednesday is Social Studies, Thursday is Language Arts, and Friday is a make-up day. The specials are sprinkled into each day. We think that’s gonna be easier for the kids to feel like they don’t need to do every subject every day.
The work Brooke and I did at the beginning of the year is paying off now, as the students are still viewing both of us as their teachers. When we sat down together to plan at the beginning of the distance learning, we knew we’d be out of school for at least three weeks. Brooke said, I really want to do as much of the planning as I can because I want the experience. What we landed on is that Brooke is doing all of the lesson plans, uploading student content to Schoology, and then I go in and review; so essentially she’s been taking the lead. We have another co-teacher that focuses on ELL and we collaborate each week via Google Hangouts to plan the next week’s lessons.
One of the interesting things right now is how we’ve been thinking about how we can think differently about student learning. Once we learned CDE was planning to pause state testing and assessments for this year, we started thinking about how we can bring lessons to students in different ways – what can we do to continue to work on grammar and argumentative writing, for example, but that can be a little more creative than specific test prep.
We also have office hours where we are available every day for the kids. All of our content is uploaded to Schoology on Mondays, so that even though students aren’t expected to work on it until Thursday (the Language Arts day), it’s available to them in case they want to get a head start. We’re time-stamping all of the assignments so that students have an expectation for how long each piece should take them to complete. We also have office hours where we are available every day for the kids.
Sometimes, our students are even reaching out to Brooke before they reach out to me!
That’s a great window into your planning and work together. Are there any other benefits of having a resident in your classroom? What else have you appreciated about working with PEBC this year?
I love working with Lindsey (Thomson, PEBC’s Residency Field Manager for Eagle County), especially the mentor seminars where all of the residency mentors get together once a month. We get to help each other solve problems together and have a bunch of different perspectives on how to support our residents in the best way. The last time we were together we were able to talk through some of the common coaching conversations that all of us have had with our residents, and it’s interesting because we’re a mix of elementary, middle, and high school teachers and we each work with our residents in slightly different ways. I really appreciate that aspect and how we’re able to come together to connect as a community and problem-solve.
Kendra Anderson was interviewed by Evan Kennedy, director of strategic initiatives and public policy for PEBC. Read more about PEBC’s policy work.