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Summit teachers go beyond the call of duty to help students during school shutdown

As students and families struggle, teachers remind them to stay #SummitStrong

DILLON — In recent weeks, Summit High School English and literary resource teacher Paul Koslovsky has left on his Zoom and Google Meet platforms for students to video conference him to chat about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them.

He did the same this past weekend for fellow teachers. He said about 50 teachers called in to take part in the high school’s #SummitStrong video message. For more than four minutes, the video shows the dozens of staff members who connected with Koslovsky and held up a hand-written sign to share with the Summit High community, namely students.

Aside from losing the instructional and social element of in-person school since mid-March, Koslovsky said he and fellow teachers and administrators wanted to do the heartwarming video to remind the student community of their strength in the wake of two student deaths by suicide in recent weeks.

“If you are struggling, you get a look at everybody again and see you are loved, you are strong and you are not alone,” Koslovsky said.

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For nearly two months leading up to this week’s national Teachers Appreciation Week, teachers and staff members across the Summit School District have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help students and their families navigate the difficulties of the unprecedented COVID-19 shutdown and resulting at-home schooling.

In the classroom, instructors like high school art teacher Karen Fischer and her students have wowed their peers with a digital art project showcasing students’ work in a virtual-reality tour of a museum.

Outside of the classroom, social studies teacher Laura Ryer has gone out of her way to call students to check in while choir, piano and drama teacher Caroline Hesford hand wrote 120 postcards that she mailed to students. And over at Dillon Valley Elementary School, instructors like first-grade teacher Beatriz Munoz have reached out to internet service providers to get internet connection into the homes of families who did not have the technology.

Ryer, Hesford and Munoz are just three examples of teachers across the county who have prioritized connection, compassion and creativity over hard-and-fast grades and deadlines during the district’s self-described “dismissal” period, during which all staff, students and teachers have interacted remotely.

A sign showing appreciation to the teachers at Silverthorne Elementary School is attached to a fence Wednesday, May 6. Summit School District has dismissed all in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, so teachers have continued teaching through the use of web-based video conference platforms.
Jason Connolly / jconnolly@summitdaily.com

At Dillon Valley Elementary, Munoz works with her English-teaching counterpart with young students learning in Spanish one week and undertaking instruction in English the next. But the actual teaching, such as her lessons on moon phases, has given way to spending time on such things as donating leftover tomatoes to children’s families to make pizzas together at home or helping with the weekday food pickup in the elementary school parking lot, which Munoz said feeds more than 100 people breakfast and lunch.

Before the pandemic, Munoz did not share her personal cellphone number with families. But now, she’s found herself chatting with parents in dire straights — some months removed from moving here from Nicaragua or Colombia, living one family to a room in an apartment — trying to figure out how to navigate the situation after challenges like losing their source of income.

“I need to contact 50 families and make sure everyone is OK,” Munoz said.

Ryer understands these sudden stressors on families. She has students who are working 40-hour weeks at Walmart and City Market — or helping with family businesses for no compensation — to help their families make ends meet. The history, psychology and sociology instructor works with mainly Summit High seniors, including those in advanced courses like Colorado Mountain College classes. She is an instructor who typically has high expectations of her students. But now, she said, it’s the students who are the glue that are keeping the school community together. She’s focused on compassion and doing whatever she can to help students have their typical “emotional feedback loop.” That includes having her students call or video conference her at their leisure.

“As teachers, we are always leading with, ‘How are you feeling? How has your week been? How are things at home?’” Ryer said. “We end up talking more about the emotional side of things than a lesson or any particular content.”

Hesford poured five days into writing the 120 postcards — including many she had to translate into Spanish — for her students. It took her 24 hours just to address them. In a testament to the Summit County community, she put out a message on the Facebook group “Summit County Moms” for an idea of how to get so many postcards and Ash Noelle, owner of Sunny Side Up Studio in Frisco, came to the rescue, providing the postcards for free.

“I write funny jokes on them,” Hesford said. “For choir kids, choir jokes; piano kids, piano jokes. That special touch to remind them again that there is someone out here that cares about you. One of the skills we teach our students is perseverance. And, boy have they persevered.”


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