By Oneiz Mercado
No one was prepared for COVID-19. This pandemic, as we all know it, started abruptly and changed people’s lives around the world. Of course, I was not an exception. I am a Spanish early childhood educator in DC and before the virus outbreak, my major focus during morning meeting in my classroom was on academics. I wanted to follow the curriculum and help my students learn, recognize, and write Spanish sounds, numbers, and shapes. I spent little time assessing my students’ feelings.
Thankfully, during distance learning, I was able to shift my focus and concentrate on my pupils’ social-emotional well-being. I spent a large portion of our online group meetings allowing time for my students and their families to express their feelings. I provided different options for them to communicate what was on their minds. Our time was full of songs, drawings, games, and more than anything, laughter. The time we had to see each other virtually helped us to get to learn more about everyone who was part of our classroom.
By the time we had our last virtual meeting, our “Moving Up” ceremony, my students were more than just part of my classroom – they were my children.
After more than eight weeks of distance learning, I finally have time to unwind and think about the months ahead and how different they will be. Last summer, I spent most of my time relaxing on the beach of my beautiful city, Cartagena. This summer, as I will not be able to go home, I plan to spend a fair amount of time reading and researching as much as I can about online teaching and the latest family engagement strategies.
This past school year transformed my life from being an ECE teacher focused mostly on academics, to a loving and caring woman who wants nothing but to establish better relationships not only with the children in my care, but also with their families and caregivers. My goal for next school year is to reach all my new students’ families before the first week of school, and I am certain that I will be able to accomplish that. I have plenty of time on my hands to work on creating a welcoming and nurturing environment for my new preschool class. Furthermore, I am looking forward to hearing from families about how they would like me to better support their children.
As a parent and as a teacher, I have no idea what next school year will be like for my students or for my own child. All I know is that I will be prepared.
Oneiz Mercado is a Pre K-3 Spanish Emergent Teacher at Tyler Elementary School, a DC Public School. During SY19-20, Oneiz was also a fellow of the DCPS Family Engagement Collaborative (FEC), a year-long professional learning community where participants learn and share family engagement strategies including relationship building, ongoing communication, and partnering with families on academics.