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Central Washington University

K-12 Teachers Relying on CWU Training During School Shutdown 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Being a teacher is challenging enough without having to learn a new skill set on the fly. But K-12 educators around Central Washington have been forced to do exactly that since a statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March abruptly ended the school year. 

Joseph Chang of Ellensburg has a technology background and is enjoying a relatively smooth transition to online teaching. Others, like Lisa Cyr and Deanna Quenzer of Yakima, spent the first few weeks attending online training courses and are slowly adapting to the world of remote learning.

With the help of technology and training, all three Central Washington University alumni say they are figuring out ways to provide their students with the personal attention they need to prepare for the next phase of their educations.

“One thing I learned at CWU was to put your students first and always make sure you’re meeting their needs,” said Quenzer, a 1996 Central grad who teaches kindergarten at Nob Hill Elementary School in Yakima. “Like many others I know, I went into teaching because I care about helping people.”

Cyr, who teaches fifth grade at McClure Elementary School in Yakima, knew the transition to online teaching would require time and patience. But when presented with the challenge this spring, she leaned on the strong foundation she built while attending CWU.

“I went to school to become a professional teacher — not an online teacher, or a fifth-grade teacher, or an ELL (English language learner) teacher,” said Cyr, who earned an education degree in 1996 and a history degree in 2000. “Central helped me become a professional teacher. And now, I have the skill set to find whatever I need and then implement it.”

Chang became a Wildcat about 10 years after Cyr and Quenzer, but his experience was similar. He didn’t just learn to teach children; he learned how to reach students from a range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Those skills have helped him excel in both the physical and virtual classrooms.

“The equity and sheltering techniques I learned in my Teaching ESL classes have been ultra-valuable,” said Chang, a second-grade teacher at Mt. Stuart Elementary School in Ellensburg who graduated from CWU in 2009 (information technology) and 2014 (education).

Sheltered instruction is an approach to teaching English language learners that integrates language and content instruction. Chang credited CWU professor Yukari Amos for helping him understand the value of these techniques so he could incorporate them into his own teaching methods. 

“During the shutdown, I have been able to focus on my ELL students by using the strategies I learned at CWU,” he said. “I really believe in stressing equity right now because I’m worried that the disparity between socioeconomic classes is going to grow exponentially.”
 

Concern for their students

Like most elementary school teachers during this time, the well-being of their students is a primary concern for Chang, Quenzer, and Cyr. All three went into education so they could positively influence the lives of young people. And without those day-to-day interactions, they are feeling a significant void in their lives.

“It’s been heartbreaking,” Cyr said. “There are some days where I just want to cry because I felt like I was just starting to reach certain kids in my class. I could see that I was starting to prepare them well for middle school. We had developed a mutual respect, and I could see that light in their eye. I’m mostly mourning those kids, but I’m also mourning the other kids who just wanted to do all of the fun things we get to do at the end of the year. … It’s definitely been a grieving process.”

Quenzer said she worries about the few students in her class whose families have had limited contact with her during the shutdown. Now that school has moved entirely online, she isn’t sure how all of her students are managing.

“We always try to provide equity in education for all of our students, but I know some of them don’t have access to a computer at home,” Quenzer said. “When we see them every day, we know they’re getting meals and that they are staying safe. But now, we have no idea. That has taken a toll on me because I worry about them. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights since this all started.”

Chang said the hardest part for him is knowing that his students are missing out on the face-to-face interactions they look forward to every day. While they absorb valuable social skills from one another in the classroom and on the playground, they also learn to follow the direction of their adult mentors. 

“The best part about my job is being around kids, having fun and joking around with them,” Chang said. “I always try to build a community inside my classroom, and not having my students with me every day has been very difficult.” 
 

More of the same to come?

No one is looking forward to starting a new school year online, but that reality is coming into focus more with each passing day. As the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened in parts of Washington over the past month — including Yakima County, where Cyr and Quenzer live — every school district is preparing for the possibility of extending online instruction into the fall.

Cyr fears that not being able to personally interact with her students could affect her ability to prepare them for the jump to middle school. 

“I’m really nervous about building connections online because we don’t have a control method like we do in class,” Cyr said. “Teaching online has been frustrating because … you miss the kids who are raising their hand and saying, ‘huh?’”

Quenzer said she is most concerned about the 5-year-olds who have never been in a classroom before. To help incoming kindergarteners acclimate, schools in the Yakima School District host an orientation week prior to the official start of school. If the upcoming school year is delayed into the fall, those kids could miss out on a vital educational experience.

“The transition program is huge,” she said, “and that won’t happen if we don’t go back in the fall. I worry, but I have learned through this process that worrying does nothing. I can only take care of what I can, and that’s what I have to focus on.” 

Quenzer and Cyr both applauded the Yakima School District’s efforts to help them provide the best possible online experience for their students. Regular training courses are giving the district’s teachers valuable new resources to help them respond to their students’ needs.

Chang has been equally impressed with how the Ellensburg School District and Mt. Stuart Elementary staff have handled this life-altering disruption. But no matter how much he and his colleagues prepare for what might lay ahead, they recognize that the students and their families are the ones who have been most affected.

“This is a perfect Band-Aid right now, especially the way the staff at my school has been doing it,” Chang said. “But I really hope we’re not shut down in the fall. All I’m hearing is how much they are missing school and how much they want to be with their friends and teachers right now.” 

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, david.leder@cwu.edu

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