By Joseph Langley, student journalist for Minarets Press
O’NEALS — After a year of hard work, dedication, and growth, everything stopped. One week, everyone was still going to school. The next week, they weren’t.
This, of course, came as a shocking change to the lives of everyone at Minarets, including the teachers. They had to make the transition to teaching online, figure out a way to keep connecting to their students and change entirely the way they went about doing their job.
And they have risen to the challenge.
Through Zoom conferences, emails, Reminds, and Flip Grids, those connections that Minarets so prides itself on have been held together. The teachers have made a point of making sure the students feel seen, heard and understood. They have communicated with seniors about the struggles at the end of their senior year. They have been conscious of difficulties with the internet, family life and being at home in general.
But it is important to remember that, on top of all that, the teachers are dealing with many of the same problems the students are.
World History teacher, Ben Regonini, remarked on his difficulties: “I can’t have a desk job. I’ll sit down for 45 minutes, and then be like ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ The hardest part is doing what we do without what we’re doing it for — because we don’t get to see you guys.”
Special education teacher, Jennifer Garner, talked about the technology aspect. “The whole year of being at a tech school has been a learning curve, and this has accelerated that. It’s hard but it’s also fun.”
Principal Daniel Ching addressed the schedule. “It’s hard to work as I normally would, as far as the consistency, so I’ll work at night, a little bit in the morning, a little bit here and there — it’s taken some adjusting to.”
Those are the negative sides of this situation though. It must be noted, however, that it took direct asking for the teachers to mention negatives. Minarets is a high school with a clear vision of identity and community, and every single teacher and staff member, across the board, is embracing this.
Regonini talked about his connection to the student body. “We miss you guys. I’ve been with you seniors since year one. Honestly, this makes me realize why I do what I do — I really care about you guys, and I’ve found myself worrying about each and every one of you. Believe it or not, but us teachers really do appreciate getting messages from students, like, ‘how are you doing’ — we miss you guys.”
Garner explained, with much excitement, the ways that her students and their families had been working with her to overcome this crisis. “My students are doing really well! It’s great to see their parents stepping in. For example, I had a math cooking assignment, and one of my math students worked with his parents to complete the recipe, and it was so great to see them coming together and having fun. My kids and I have also been doing some virtual field trips, and mapping things out with online programs.”
Spanish teacher Karen Up, on a similar note, explained her exploration of teaching. “It’s always important to mix it up, and change things. I’m trying to work on ways that we can do things together, but still give students an individualized approach to the learning. I think that learning about learning in this way is positive, and I hope there are ways that I can pull that into everyday teaching when we go back to the classroom. I’m planning on getting feedback from students. Also, pets in the classroom are a new fun aspect of the learning.”
Social studies teacher, Katie Morgan, discussed the way she has been connecting with students. “Today, I had my office hours, and it was probably like 6 or 7 kids — and there were a couple questions but most of it was just sharing stories and interaction. It’s a reminder of the importance of connections.”
Director of Charter, Patrick Wilson, spoke of the quick transition to online learning. “Our school was kind of in the position to flip the switch fairly quickly, without a lot of manpower- I mean we didn’t have to distribute computers, or teach everyone how to use Google, and Zoom. You guys, and the teachers, were all able to figure that out on your own. It’s been fun to watch that happen.”
Every single staff member interviewed had advice, encouragement and offers of support to the students as well. Minarets Counselor Claudia vanDenBergh talked about Senior Legacy Experience Projects, putting a hopeful spin on them. “It might be a good moral pusher, I think for all of our kids, to have these different virtual activities happening. It gives students something to do, and organize the student body around- it could be really positive.”
Morgan simply said: “Persevere — it’s hard, but it’s worth it. We as a staff are dedicated to giving you guys a special schooling experience, in whatever way possible.”
English teacher Michael Land spoke about how important time management is in this situation. “Life is precious, and your time on earth is precious. Even if you’re young, that time is precious, and if you don’t spend it preparing, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
Dr. Ching summed all of this up beautifully. “Minarets is a community where we support students and staff, and we want everyone to feel that they have someone to reach out to. We want to make sure that nobody is alone. We’re here for you. The second thing is, stay healthy, take everything seriously. Get outside as much as possible, it’s good for your brain and your body. Last but not least, embrace this change. It’s not a fun or exciting thing, but it is a part of history where you guys can become leaders as students. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn, grow, and step up.”
All this being said, I have to take a moment to break my journalistic voice. This requires a more personal conclusion. Throughout the interviewing process of writing this article, I was struck by the amount of care, love and effort being pumped out by every single member of the Minarets staff. This community is beautiful. Every effort the staff makes — from the dance work out video, to the Zoom conferences, to the emails — gives the students a light of clarity in an otherwise dark time. The staff meet every morning to talk about the situation, help teach each other the things they’ve learned about transitioning online, address problems and try to make sure that everything is covered. Every day the staff works to make this as manageable as possible.
As Ag Mechanics teacher Richard Chapman said, “The leadership has been awesome. Especially Dr. Ching and Mr. Wilson. I’m extremely grateful for everyone’s efforts throughout all of this.”
In this situation, that couldn’t be more true.
So thank you, Minarets teachers and staff. You are truly amazing.
Links to some of the videos made by staff: