School Prep During a Pandemic

So what is it like to be an American teacher amidst the pandemic? How do some schools provide for both the educational and safety needs of children and families? Is it even possible? Well, schools across the country have myriad approaches with both successes and failures but I am proud to say that my Santa Maria-Bonita School District has come up with a plan that balances the well-being of our educational community with learning.

Because of the rising number of cases in our community and the fact that we are a hot spot for numbers per capita on the Central Coast of California, we spent the summer taking stock. Surveys were sent out to teachers, parents, and staff asking for input on which direction to take. Multiple meetings were held, which I was proud to take part in, and negotiations began between the union and the district.

This was a time of logic, care, and thoughtfulness. In my opinion, all parties involved only had the best interests of our school community at heart in every negotiation. It may have taken the entire summer but by the time we started school there was a workable plan in place.

What was decided?

Our district decided that given the high numbers of cases we would begin the year with distance learning. However, this would be set up like regular school with a scheduled times for every subject, attendance requirements, and rigor that would rival in person schooling. We set aside two weeks to conference individually with parents and kids. At this time we would pass out books, supplies, go over procedures, and check each child’s computer to make sure that the programs were working properly.

That’s what I’m doing right now. And this is what it looks like.

Me Setting up a Pandemic Classroom

Wish me luck!

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Between two worlds

School’s Closed Due to COVID 19

Yesterday I was stunned to receive the following email from our school district’s superintendent, Luke Ontiveros:

“Dear SMBSD Family,    As you may have heard, all schools in Santa Barbara County will close no later than Wednesday, March 18, in order to slow the potential spread of COVID-19. At this time, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County. However, all SB County school districts agreed that the need to close was prudent in light of the statewide situation.

Our schools WILL be in session on Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, for staff and students to provide SMBSD students and families with access to information, materials and resources to support learning during the closure. Schools will not be in session for students beginning on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. 

By holding school on March 16 and 17, we hope to provide working parents and families enough time to arrange for childcare. On those days, the schools will also be providing students with take-home technology, supplies and materials so that learning and academic engagement can continue during the closure. More information about this will be available soon.

Additionally, SMBSD is developing a plan to continue to provide meals to students. This information will be communicated to families through the district website, phone messages, texts and emails.

District employees WILL continue to work in a variety of capacities in order to continue to support students and families in our district. Further, more detailed information for staff members will be communicated through district emails over the next several days. Please check your district email frequently over the weekend and throughout the next several weeks for information and instructions.”

The pit that had developed in my gut during the last few days hardened. Was I living inside of a dystopian novel  about the end of days? Perhaps I’d entered the Matrix where computer entities had suddenly decided to change the landscape? Were we at war with an alien species who was using the media to spread fear in order to divide and conquer us?

The answer, of course, was none of the above. Our district, like most California districts had decided that the risks of exposure to the corona virus outweighed the uncertainty of how the closing of school might effect those involved. This unprecedented decision came so quickly that I personally couldn’t process the information.

I was in shock.

Like most of you, I first heard about COVID-19 when the Chinese cases emerged. I was sympathetic, but this was happening on the other side of the world so tucked the information away in that not-relevant-to-me part of my brain. Then it moved to Europe and other countries. North America. A nursing home in Washington. Creeping closer to my central California home.

And I started to pay more attention.  Friends sent me emails about the possible spread of the virus and how to prevent contamination. When I received the first one, I clicked my tongue thinking my friend was overreacting and playing into media fear.  Then government officials released sobering reports with worst case scenarios.

Now I was engaged. I began reading various articles with more fervor, making a mental note to follow the advice. I made changes in my classroom. It had long been my policy to shake every student’s hand as they entered the classroom. (Then use hand sanitizer or wash my hands.) But now we switched to a fist bump instead, and I then used extra hand sanitizer.

More news. Large events cancelled. Coachella. The SLO Film Fest. All school sporting, fine arts, band, and non-essential events were cancelled. Our Student of the Month Assembly was postponed until the end of the year. Even our Friday Flag Salute where the entire school gathered outside on the green for patriotic songs, announcements, and the school cheer was cancelled.

In a matter of days, our lives changed radically.

That brings me up to yesterday’s announcement. According to the letter, I would have two more days of face-to-face instruction with my sweet fifth graders, then school would be suspended. However, teachers will continue to report to work monitoring on-line assignments. Okay, now I’m supposed to teach remotely via computer with no idea what it’s going to look like.

As changes occur, I’ll keep all of you posted. Like my hard-working colleagues, I’ll try my best to give students what I can during this challenging time. And pray that all of these policy changes do help keep the most vulnerable of our population safe.

Virtual hugs and blessings to you all.

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Sugar Purge: Week 2

Okay, I’ll admit it, I fell off the wagon this last week. There were all of these maple-topped, fluffy, deep-fried donuts in the break room. For free! So I ate one.  Or two. Or…

But that wasn’t where my cheat began, oh no. It started during recess when that one pound Dove Valentine heart began to call to me. She kept saying, “Come on. I’m the finest chocolate. You won’t gain a pound. Or feel any effect. I promise.”

So I cracked open the box, unwrapped the foil, and took a bite. Feeling, well,  heaven. My heart slowed, the world looked prettier, and my breathing calmed as the creamy milk chocolate slid down my throat. Then another. Yum! And a third. A fourth. Before I knew it, half the heart was gone.

chocolateheart

And my gut was killing me.

But did I stop there? Oh no. The next day I did the same thing. During recess. At lunch. And after school. Until all I had was an empty wrapper.

gutache

And more joint pain. Lethargy. Stomach aches.  Depression.

Friday I decided to go cold turkey again, and have avoided sugar for two days now. Feeling better, I’ll try to say no, but when it’s right in front of you and work is stressing you out, man oh man, is it hard.

But my health is worth it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sugar Purge: Week 1

About a week ago I was feeling like dog doo. Everything hurt. My neck, my arms, legs, even my friggin’ hands ached. After a long day at work, I shuffled in the door and collapsed on the couch, so tired I cancelled my plans to go out dancing. And someone who loves to boogie as much as I do has to be in a truck load of pain to skip the chance to shake, rattle, and roll.

As I sat there, legs propped up, massaging tight muscles I began to freak out. I was too young for this kind of pain. Other people my age don’t deal with this. Heck, even my parents didn’t have aches like mine.

So I took stock of my lifestyle.

Now, I’ve been into health foods since my first year of college and was a vegetarian for ten years. Even when I reintroduced meat, it consisted of poultry and fish. My low-fat diet consists of salads, lots of fruits and veggies, and nuts for snacks avoiding fried, processed, or high cholesterol foods. And I’ve worked out my entire life.

But I’ve always loved sugar. As soon as a sweet cookie or smooth piece of fudge touches my lips, I’m a goner. Like a drug, it never satisfies me. I need more. And more. And more. Until finally I’m in a sugar induced stupor.

And Valentine’s week was one for the books. My intake alone must have shot C & H Sugar’s profits up by 20%. Between a class party, chocolate hearts from my students, cake in the teacher’s lounge, and a tub of Hershey’s Miniatures during the staff meeting, I must have ingested five-hundred pounds of sugar.

So I went on-line and did some research. I was surprised to discover that foods high in sugar can cause inflammation. Studies discovered that spikes in insulin trigger biochemical reactions that lead to inflammation. Sugar also  Sugar also contributes to joint pain and stiffness through a process called glycation.  This occurs when sugar bonds with proteins to form compounds called advanced glycation end products which  damage cells in the body by speeding up the oxidative process and changing normal cell behavior.

Aha! Time to make a change.

I began last Saturday with one simple goal. No candy, cookies, or cakes. I did great all weekend  since I don’t keep sweets at home. Work, on the other hand, has so many sweets calling to me I felt as if I were a drug addict in a free pharmacy.

But pain is powerful motivator and I stayed away all week.

So how do I feel one week later? Better! The pain in my hands is gone. The rest of my body feels better and I have more energy.  Neck stiffness I’ll always have, since two discs have degeneratated and last year’s hernia caused damage to a third. Still, even my neck pain diminished. Without mega-doses of ibuprofen.

I’d have to say that week one of my sugar purge was a success. I can’t wait for week two!

I’m a Dork

I’m a dork. I’ll admit it. Always have been.

While others lounge in bed snoozing away as long as they can, what do I do? I roll out of those warm, cozy covers just to set my fingers on the keyboard. Just to pretend I’m 14, skateboarding the streets of Santa Barbara, hoping my latest crush notices me. Or that I’m a slime-covered creature bent on invading dreams. Or, sometimes, a lonely alien anthropologist seeking to understand the human’s world.

I’m a nerd.

I don’t know Gucci from garage sales or microblading from microwaves. I hate to shop and never paint my fingernails. While other women accessorize with French knotted scarves, spring purses, and bright rings, bracelets, and necklaces I leave the jewelry in the box, having no idea where to start.

I’m a poindexter.

My t.v. has 1 channel, Netflix, that I only watch when I’m too exhausted to read which culturally leaves me out of the loop. While my coworkers chat about the latest show to binge watch or which star is dating who, I smile, and nod, and think, Who the heck are they talking about? All the while wishing we could talk Latin roots and word derivations in 19th century literature.

I’m even a dork at the gym.

While other gym rats reach for the weights, their brows drawn together in consternation as they lift another twenty pounds, I tap my feet to I tunes. Some might read while spinning on the stationary bike. Not me. When I’m on the elliptical, I put on “Dancin’ With Myself” and try to sneer like Billy Idol or slide my hands over air pretending to be a rapper on stage. Fun!

billy.gif

I’m a freak for music.

While others drive the California freeways as if trying to win a race to nowhere, I crank the tunes and steering wheel dance while singing off-key to a rocking beat. Not just one type of tune either. Any genre of the last sixty years is fair game for my happy gyrations. From David Cassidy to Dion. Red Hot Chili Peppers to Rage Against the Machine. Elvis to Eminem. Bee gees to Boys to Men. I love them all.

Yep, I’m a dork.

And you know what?

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Peace Weaver Poem

 

We are the weavers of children

Whether they are wading, treading, or drowning

Each child is reaching out

For lifelines to pull them from their semi-fluid perceptions,

Yet many find flimsy ribbons braided with Achilles tendons

That split, then disconnect buoys

As they struggle in turbulent effluent.

 

Sometimes suspension bridges splinter

And they hang mid-air over purgatorial precipices,

Bodies flailing and thrashing.

 

And so we come,

The weavers,

Bringing strong cordage and twine of seraphic gossamer

To silence their cries and give them hope.

And when we set to work,

The floundering souls reach out for lifelines.

 

For we know the secret.

We have only to pluck the hairs from atop our heads,

Begin intertwining them with gentle words of a peaceful future

And thus create:

Blankets to keep them cool on hot summer days

Or safety nets for acrophobic trapeze artists

 

With loving words we

Spin arks to race arid currents,

Or create buoyant suits that deflect each incoming wave,

But we must remember

To continue weaving at our numinous looms,

And make our fingers deft

To find places where weft meets warp

And make fibers of

Ethereal clouds to moisten parched radices.

 

When our eyes grow weary of patterns too subtle for children to see,

Or when aching backs and cramping forearms make for troublesome twining

Even when our hands become bloodied by sharp sutures from the unknowing

or the insane,

We must endure

We are the weavers,

Intertwining and intersecting,

Spinning fibrous cable that children cling to

That they will wrap round their waists

Before plunging into cavernous incarnations

To discover,

In the depths,

A reflection of the future

A reflection of themselves

A reflection

Of the peace weaver they can become.

Give and It Comes Back Tenfold

Giving. A simple word. But one often met with suspicion. People say, “Why help him, what’s he ever done for you?” or “Take care of yourself first.” I disagree. When you give, it not only feels wonderful but it says to others, I care. About you. My community. My nation. This amazing universe we were born into. And if you keep doing it with an open heart, it comes back tenfold.

I have experienced reciprocity from so many people over the years, I feel blessed to be Homo sapiens. But this week, something happened that brought me to tears.

Now I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and started my first novel, oh about fifteen years ago. Like many newbies, I was sure I’d get a six-figure contract after the first draft. Well, that didn’t happen. So I revised. Took courses. Joined critique groups. Attended conferences and workshops. Wrote more novels. Self-published.

And although I had no contract, I never forgot that we are all in this together. We are here to help each other become the best we can be. So as I advised other writers about their work, they did the same for me.

One day a friend of mine contacted me about his manuscript. He’d written a few drafts but still wasn’t completely satisfied. So I offered to read it over for him and give him notes, which he, in turn used  before publishing. His thanks warmed my heart. Fast forward a couple of years and he sends me an email saying he’d like to tell his publisher about me and my novels. Am I interested.

Umm. Yes! I’d had so many rejections and almosts by then I was ready to put all my savings into self-publishing.

So he did. And yesterday the publisher offered me a three book contract.

Give and watch the magic of exponential returns…

But I’m Embarrassed!

I gulped. Me? What if I sound stupid? Hell, I will. I’ll say something that’ll make Dumb and Dumber look like Einsteins,  I thought when the president of my writer’s club, Cathy Kitchco, sent an email asking if she could interview me for her weekly radio show. I pressed reply and began to type, NO WAY! But then a quiet voice whispered in my shy skull…

Stop. Writer’s need to do interviews. You’ve done them before and didn’t die. Actually were good. Be brave.

My hand hovered over the keyboard. Forcing my shaking fingers to type what my flip-flopping gut fought I told Cathy that I’d be honored to do an interview over the phone.

Then came the big day. That morning I must have cleared out every frog that ever dared to hide in my vocal cords. Ahem. Ahem. AHEM.  Then, with notes splayed all over my kitchen table, I waited for the phone to ring.

Was I shaking and nervous? Hello? Does a skunk’s spray stink? You bet I was. But a funny thing happened as I started to talk about writing. I forgot I was being interviewed and started to focus on the joy writing brings me.

And guess what? I sounded nothing like Jim Carey.

Here it is, what do you think?

https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/329723064&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true”>Woodward Interview

Supportive Environments

I was chatting with a young lady recently who was very excited about a new job opportunity. It was in the medical field, paid well, offered training and provided excellent benefits, in many ways the dream career choice.

Fast forward two months. This woman has now gone through training with top scores, learned the medical procedures to gently administer care to patients, and is ready to begin as a full-fledged practitioner. But there was one problem: her co-workers. None of them had kind words of encouragement, offered assistance, or comforted her when she was distraught when a patient died. On the contrary, these employees reported her every little mistake and tear over the suffering patients to the management.

Net result? She quit. She could not work in an environment with no emotional support. And that business lost a big-hearted individual who brought smiles to people in extreme pain.

I, on the other hand, work in a school where the staff respects and supports each other. We share lesson plans, behavior strategies for challenging students, exciting innovations and most of all empathize with each other when times are tough. For example, when I recently had a neck injury, my co-workers jumped in to help out my substitute, offered assistance, and sent me kind get well wishes. It honored me to be part of a group that truly had my back.

Now I’ll admit, teaching is a rewarding job in and of itself. Daily you see young minds growing and that is quite different from dealing with people in pain. Still there are things that we have done that I believe help to build teams.

  1. Staff meetings with team building exercises. Some are goofy, others are to provide new information but we often work in groups to achieve a task.
  2. Leaders who acknowledge the challenges of the job and affirm the successes.
  3. Release time and stipend pay for staff development.
  4. Inspirational seminars.
  5. Administrative support for challenging students.
  6. Administrators with an open door policy.
  7. A no bullying stand.
  8. Outside gatherings for happy hour, lunches, beginning/end of year parties.
  9. A social committee that sends flowers, cards, and gifts to new parents, and ill or grieving employees.
  10. Most of all, our school encourages us to be friends.