Guest post by Jennifer Wilson
I have been teaching at Hood River Middle School for ten years now. I teach 8th grade, and before teaching, I coached multiple sports to kids and adults in the community. I very much identify with Brenda McKinney’s approach to teaching and her emphasis on building relationships with students first, so they don’t fall through the cracks.
I feel that my strength in teaching is building relationships with students in and outside of the classroom. I run an after-school Ski Bus Program with 120 students. I also teach an elective class at the end of the day called “Explore the Gorge.” A big component of this class is getting kids on mountain bikes that don’t have their own bikes and often don’t know how to ride a bike. I collect used bikes from our community for the program. This time with students outside of the classroom has been extremely helpful in building relationships inside the classroom.
I must confess that when we didn’t return to school from our Spring Break in March 2020, I was shell shocked and not adequately prepared for distance learning online. When our school went to online schooling, I didn’t have a Google Classroom, nor did I know how to use the platform. The personal connections that I had developed over the year were gone! I felt incredibly ineffective, and this crushed me.
I could tell you about so many students who went “ghost” (did not engage in classwork) this spring because they were babysitting siblings, didn’t have internet access, or worked a full-time job. But there is one student that really impressed me. Juan (changed his name) is a student that I had been spending many of my lunches and after school (before his basketball practices) tutoring with writing and reading assignments. He went “ghost” with online schooling, and I was worried because he didn’t answer my emails or phone calls. I ran into him at one of his new jobs; washing dishes at a local restaurant. He gave me a huge hug and explained that both his parents had lost their jobs, and his uncle had just tested positive for COVID. I asked how I could help, and he said that he needed a bike for transportation to his many jobs as he was also cleaning houses for his mom, who was taking care of his uncle.
I sent out an email looking for bikes to my friends, and I collected about ten bikes and helmets. I emailed a couple of kids from my classes that I thought might need a bike, and the word traveled fast! I had eight students contact me that needed a bike for transportation. I delivered them to the students, and It was so good to see the students in person (with a mask on and social distance) and check-in with them. I heard all kinds of stories, and it confirmed the inequities exposed by this virus in our communities and across the country.
I collected a really nice mountain bike and helmet for Juan and dropped it off at his house several days after running into him. I told him how proud of him I was because he was doing the right thing for his family, and he replied, “Yeah, like Nelson Mandela, right, Ms. Wilson? He did the right thing because it was the right thing to do.” I cried because even though he struggles with academics, he has solid values and understood why I teach about Nelson Mandela.
This guest post was written by, Jennifer Wilson, while taking the online course, Education in the Age of Pandemic, by Mike Seymour. For more information on courses available, check out our website at www.hol.edu.