BOCA RATON, Fla. — It's certainly a different type of first day of school in Palm Beach County.
On Monday, all students started the 2020-21 academic year with distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Boca Raton, Hammock Pointe Elementary School teacher Jessica Cuchel is excited to start the year, but said it comes with mixed emotions.
"I’m definitely very excited to start the new year, to start going back into a routine, a sense of normalcy," Cuchel said. "I’m excited to meet my students. I just wish I could meet them and have them physically in the classroom instead of our virtual classroom, so I’m just nervous about how all of that is going to run."
Cuchel said she’s hopeful the internet runs smoothly, but knows there will likely be some interruptions.
“The logistics of teaching online, that’s what I’m anticipating. I know how to teach in the classroom and have them come in with me, so it will be interesting to see how it all works online, teaching them, keeping them engaged, and making sure every student is reached that’s also another concern of mine," said Cuchel. "Some of my students I know for sure don’t have computers and they are coming in, we just don’t know exactly when, so I just feel so bad for those parents who have reached out to me and they are super concerned and nervous about how their child is going to get an education as well."
INTERVIEW WITH TEACHER:
Cuchel said teachers will be live everyday, and the day will run bell-to-bell as if they were in a brick-and-mortar school. She knows that may not be easy for her young students.
"I have the kindergarten 5-year-old little babies. That’s going to be hard for them to physically sit at a computer and listen to me teaching. An all-day affair is going to be different, so we’re going to be doing a lot of brain breaks, a lot of movement as much as we can. But yeah, it will be structured as if they were in school," said Cuchel.
Cuchel added she understands how parents feel too, as her own daughter is starting kindergarten this year as well. Cuchel said her daughter had been looking forward to attending school with her.
"I’m going through it as well. I’m also a parent, my daughter is starting kindergarten so I’m experiencing both. I’m experiencing the teacher side and I’m experiencing the parent side and what you’re really missing but also how it’s just going to be a different type of first day, a different type of first couple of weeks in school. It just looks different. It doesn’t mean that it’s bad, or anything it’s just, we’re gonna stay positive, we’re all doing this together, we’re all learning at the same time," Cuchel said.
Cuchel's daughter Madison will attend a program at her preschool where she can participate in her virtual learning while Cuchel is teaching.
"She was so excited to come to school with mommy cause that’s all I would ever say to her," Cuchel said. "That’s mommy’s school. When you’re in kindergarten you’re going to come to mommy’s school. You know, all this stuff, hyped it all up, and who knew there would be a pandemic where she wouldn’t be able to come to my school, so now she’s a little confused. She’s like, well, you told me I was coming to your school, why am I doing this on the computer? You told me I was coming to your school. She’s like, can everyone just start washing their hands so this virus can go away and I can come to mommy’s school? If it was that simple!"
Cuchel said she is also preparing for when students are allowed back on campus, when Palm Beach County enters Phase Two of Florida's reopening plan.
"I believe students learn best in the classroom. You have all the materials, it is hands on, just being with the other students, socializing, it is what is needed for kids. The concern is following those CDC guidelines and making sure all of the kids are safe, they are wearing their masks, staying 6 feet apart, washing their hands. It’s going to be a constant, not struggle, but kind of battle to make sure I’m still teaching but also making sure they are staying safe. Keeping them safe is going to be our main focus as well as educating them," Cuchel said. "At first I was setting up my room as if they were coming in, then I started to realize they aren’t coming in just yet. I need to make sure my space for virtual learning is set up and warm and inviting, instead of my classroom setting for example. And now that we’re setting up for both simultaneously, we’re kind of setting up a virtual setting and making sure our board are nice and welcoming whereever you choose to sit and do your teaching, but now we are also planning ahead to make sure our classrooms are ready for when and if we do open schools."
Cuchel said she has done virtual "meet the teacher" sessions with all students and families to make sure they are comfortable and confident signing online.
"Having a positive attitude around your kids, I know that’s hard when everything is coming at you and you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, but you don’t want your little ones to feel that way. You want them to feel like this is normal. It’s a little weird that I’m going on the computer but that’s OK. This is how I’m staying safe, I’m still gonna get an education, I’m still gonna see friends on the computer, so just kind of taking it day by day and staying positive and know that the teachers are working alongside with you and are here to support you and be there every step of the way," said Cuchel.
This is Cuchel’s 11th year teaching and 8th year at Hammock Pointe Elementary School.