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  • Writer's picturelilmyacofield

Principal Of Covid

By Sharon McIntireWelcome home!These have to be two of the most beautiful words in the English language, guaranteed to bring joy to the recipient.But COVID works to steal joy.Lynde Peterson graduated from Carlsbad High School in2000 and, with dreams of being a marine biologist, she sailed off to Clarendon Community College near Amarillo, Texas. When she returned in 2020, the lack of marine life never occurred to her because during college she found her love, teaching, and her other love, Jeremy.Suddenly, Lynde Longbine was a new principal, in a new state, working with new educational standards while fighting a virus that turned our entire educational system upside down. At the same time, she was setting up a new home for her husband and her two children who didn't know anyone and had few COVID opportunities to meet anyone. And, after enjoying 15 years of work and play in Texas, they left many friends as well as family behind, all of whom they couldn’t see because of the 14-day travel quarantine restrictions.But she has family here also, and seems to have been destined to return. “When the pandemic hit, we were actually here for spring break,” she recalls, “and my kids never went back to Texas because of COVID. My mom was watching them and my husband got a job here just coincidentally, so we just ended up coming here. It's kind of surreal how it all worked out.”The other thing she returned to was the school. The Early Childhood Education Center was already home because she was a student teacher there in2005. Machell Tackett was her coordinating teacher and is delighted that she's now at the helm. “I've known Lynde since before she was born,” she boasts, “and I was excited and humbled when she asked if I would be her coordinating teacher. She's so lovingand kind, and was such an innovative teacher; I learned a lot from her.”Tackett is equally excited about having her lead ECEC into the future. “She has such good ideas,” she states, “and she has a real knack for pinpointing things, so I think she'll be avery good leader. I think that she has high expectations and I think her employees are going to have to work extremely hard to meet those expectations. But she's also going to be understanding. I think she'll work just as hard with everybody else as she expects them to work with her, and I think they'll be glad to work just as hard as she does.”The dark cloud of COVID has forced Longbinel to admit that her job is a real test. “It seems like every day there's a new challenge that arises,” she notes. “Our teachers have had to really think outside the box and learn a whole new way of teaching that they haven't had to do before.”But they've accepted the challenge. While we hear of teachers in other states refusing to go back to the classroom, it hasn't been the case at ECEC. Some high-risk teachers have chosen to teach the totally online CAVE classes, but they are equally eager to help their students accomplish everything they can to reach their educational goals in a difficult year.“We did need to purchase anew assessment software,” she admits. “It's helped the teachers –it's given them the tools they need to use virtually, so they can collect the data they need to then meet with kids in small groups on the computer, or now face-to-face. It was one more thing for the teachers to learn, but they jumped right in; they were so willing and ready.

“They were scared,” she admits. “I think we all were. We didn't want to not do a good job for our kids. The stress and the worry that these kids aren't learning is hard for everyone, but then we look at the assessments and look at the data and we see –okay –they are learning, they are growing; it just looks different.“Watching the teachers and supporting them in a new way of teaching with just being online –it's just amazing to see what they've done with it. They've learned on the fly where they're told, “Okay, we're going to get started and you've got a day to figure this out and we're going to jump in there and we're going to do it.”“When we first tried to open with the 5 to 1, kindergarteners were jumping out of their cars and running to us. They were so excited to be here. Not one child cried about coming into the school, which is not typical with kindergarten –usually you have some tears when they leave mom anddad. But no, they were ready to be here!” Unfortunately, it was short-lived. After about a week, students were sent home again.Finally on Feb. 8, they were again given the green light with approximately 250 children in the building at one time on a rotating schedule. Orders to resume didn't leave much prep time, but ECEC was ready. “From the start we've been working on plans,” Longbine notes, “so as PED pushed out new guidelines we'd adjust our plans to make sure that we're following all the protocols. Itdid come rather quickly, but we've been planning to start all year with a “maybe tomorrow” mindset. That's exhausting, but it was nice that we already had these plans in place.”And the teachers? “I think right now they are so happy to have children –just to see them from beyond a screen so they feel that wholeness that you feel when you have children in your life, and it's not technology or a computer –a face on a screen.“But I also think they feel overwhelmed. At first, on the 8th, I think it was scary. We knew we needed to be in this building and we needed to be with kids, but that didn't mean that some of them weren't fearful. You know, "What if I get COVID?", but more so, “What if I give it to these children?” That's been the hard part, and to worrythat you're not being responsible and doing all the things you can do... You carry a lot of guilt –of wanting to serve our kids but also, we don't want to get anybody sick.”Meals are no longer communal but are served by the cafeteria staff in the classrooms. The popular tricycle schedule is on hold –for the moment. But there is a playground schedule so that individual classes can each have a turn to let kids do what they do best.She admits that social distancing and wearing a mask is a bizarre environment for kindergarten. “Emotionally it's very hard teaching them new strategies of “Hey, it's good to see you!” and you put your elbow up. Do we ever push a kid away? No, never, never. We just try really hard to teach them these protocols to be safe with COVID and learn ourselves new ways to connect with them to build those relationships.“It's not just the hugging and the physical contact,” she adds. “When you're wearing a mask they can't see you smile and so you have to make sure that you're using your eyes and your gestures and your voice and your tone to let them know how happy and excited you are. When they can't see your face, you just have to find different ways to show them, “Hey, we love you, and we want you here, and we care for you.”Even COVID hasa silver lining, and this new principal is quick to shine a light on it. While she would much rather see all of her students together at one time in the classroom, the hybrid system of rotating them between home and school has required a limit of 10 students per day in a classroom. “So I have a teacher and an Instructional Assistant and no more than 10 kids in a classroom, and that is huge -it's huge. The amount of one-on-one time... that is a definite positive.”

She also sees a tighter bond in the parent/teacher relationship. “It's been great watching them working together closer than I've ever seen. Just on parent conferences the parents say, “Well, here's what we're doing at the house and it seems to be working, and the teacher says, “Well, let me try that –and let me show you this...” It's just a different form of cooperation that I haven't seen before.”“This has been so hard on parents,” she adds. “I see it in my own household. I've been blessed to have my mom who is a retired principal with my own children. Not every family has that. We all have these different levels of support, and trying to help families with what they need... It's been very challenging, but as a community I feel like we've worked very well together and supported each other. Anytime I've called a parent, they're like, “We know you're trying your best; we're trying our best. What can we do: what support can we give you, or you give us?” It's more of a collaborative feel than I've ever felt before.”Carlsbad has opened its generous heart as well. Since students need the same supplies at home that they need at school, their supply list has grown appreciably and our community has stepped up to the plate. CMS provides every student with a Chromebook, andAlbertsons delivers Packs for Hunger. Our students have also benefited from United Way as well as from the Faith, Hope, and Love Foundation, among others. “Our community is so supportive,” she says gratefully. “Everyone's reaching out to help us with supplies and extra needs.”The school has returned the favor and their principal is quick to brag. “Our cafeteria ladies -oh, my goodness: they're amazing!” In addition to trotting food carts to every classroom twice a day, they provide daily grab and go lunches to any CMS student who comes to the school. “There have been times we've served 400 meals with the grab and go plus the 200 in the building. With smiles on their faces -they just get it done!”“Even though we've had all these challenges, we have had such a good time, and it's because of this staff in this building. They are amazing, they really are.“This is a special place. I knew it was when I did my student teaching here; I just didn't have enough experience to really understand how truly special itis. And now that I've come back it's like –wow! -this really is a very special place. And getting to be with those teachers that I was with when I was student teaching is fun. It really is.”Welcome home, Principal Longbine.

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