December 2020

Making Distance Learning Feel Close

Teacher of the Month is a monthly feature in Growing Up in Santa Cruz. We honor local teachers based on your nominations. Send your nominations to [email protected] and please stop in and thank Kianti’s for their uplifting community spirit!

By Brad Kava

The 5th grade teachers at San Lorenzo Elementary School faced a double whammy when this school year started.

First, there was COVID-19, which forced students to be taught on home computers. Then, there were the horrible wild fires that wreaked havoc all over the district and forced school to start weeks late.

But parents and students who nominated all of the 5th grade teachers for “Teacher of the Month” said they not only found ways for their students to survive, but to thrive.

“This is night and day from the spring,” said Melissa Herceg, who has twin boys in the grade. “Spring was crisis learning and this is true distance learning.”

Teachers Megan Glover, Julia Ordahl, Briana Smith, Kristen Borgen and Raissa Gale came up with a plan to make elementary school more like middle school. Rather than having each of them teach all subjects to their students, they started team teaching with each focusing on their expertise.

They came up with games to make learning fun, created monthly musical themes to engage students and scheduled small group and private meetings to get to know the kids better.

“Some parents in other schools have told me they never hear from their kid’s teacher. This team is responsive. I never feel alone. They had an introduction meeting with every kid and parent and they had a power point to show where we are and where we are going.”

Principal Danielle Winters said she’s extremely proud of these team teachers. She used to be an SLE teacher before becoming the chief executive.

“The majority of our teachers chose to do this this year,” she said. ”The reason is to share the load, if you will, and be an expert in one area to support all the kids. With the overwhelming time it takes to prepare distance lessons, this was a way to share the workload.”

Teacher Julia Ordahl said the team was thrown into distance learning last spring, but worked since then to come up with techniques to make it more personal. Her biggest challenge was keeping the kids interested, even in larger groups, but students and parents say it’s working.

“I’m super grateful we are safe and we have options and we have the technology to do this because this would be a lot harder if it happened 20 years ago,” she said.
Mrs. Ordahl cried with joy when she got her prize from Kianti’s and Growing Up. Principal Winters said it really boosted their spirits in a tough year.

The reviews from other parents and kids have been fantastic:

“I like the way my teacher Mrs Ordahl adds jokes to morning meeting,” said Jack Herceg, 10.

Added his twin, Wyatt: “This year is a lot more clean. A lot more clear. The teachers use Ed puzzles and Kahoots and my teacher, Mrs. Smith, she shares the LEGO stop motion videos her son makes too.”

Teacher of the Month is a monthly feature in Growing Up in Santa Cruz. We honor local teachers based on your nominations. This month Kianti’s Pizza & Pasta Bar at 1100 Pacific Ave. in Santa Cruz donated dinners, wine and keepsakes. Send your nominations to [email protected] and please stop in and thank Kianti’s for their uplifting community spirit!

San Lorenzo Valley Elementary

Megan Glover, Julia Ordahl, Briana Smith, Kristin Borgen, and Raissa Gale

Fifth Grade Team

I would like to nominate Mrs. Smith for this award. She is a 5th grade teacher at San Lorenzo Valley Elementry School. My daughter is in her class and she was really bummed about distant learning this year (as last year’s distant learning didn’t go that well). Mrs. Smith has done such a great job of not only making distant learning fun but has done such a great job with all the curriculum. She has done all of this while having 2 young kids of her own and a husband who is a firefighter and has been gone on many strike teams helping with all the fires. My daughter Tia adores Mrs. Smith and is having a great last year of Elementary school. Many thanks to Mrs. Smith and all the great teachers that are working so hard for our children.
-Charise D.

I’d like to nominate the fifth grade team at SLE to be honored as teachers of the month. The team works so well together and my fifth grader is doing really well under their collaborative instruction! During our kids’ last elementary year they are providing them with emotional support, academic challenge, individual attention and supportive feedback and I couldn’t be more grateful!
-Erin Maver

We would like to nominate the 5th grade team of teachers at SLE because they have done an outstanding job of keeping the kids engaged, motivated and on task despite these challenging times. It takes a special group of people to make online learning entertaining. A special shout out to Mrs. Glover! We really appreciate their dedication to the students. 

We would like to nominate the SLE fifth grade team. My son was lucky enough to be in a 4/5 combo last year with Megan Glover and was able to experience her awesomeness in person for more than half the year. He had the opportunity to loop with her again this year. Not only does he have a teacher that makes him laugh and keep him engaged, she also gets him. I had the pleasure of hanging out in her classroom a few times, and I wish I had her as a teacher growing up!

This year my son has all of the fifth grade team helping him learn ana achieve his goals. He tells me weekly about the one on one attention he receives and how proud he is that they recognize his hard work.

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