“I can’t wait to get back on Zoom!” — is a sentence few parents ever expected their child to say, but through hours of extra work, outside-of-the-box lesson planning, and personal sacrifice, teachers at SMMUSD have magically conjured this impossible utterance.

From teaching about animal life cycles while living on a farm, to live cooking demos, and bedtime story read alouds, teachers across the District have gone above and beyond to engage students through distance learning.

“I was brainstorming all summer, how am I going to make it so when they leave they’re going to go ‘I love second grade, I love my friends, this was the most fun, I can’t wait to wake up in the morning!’,” said Laura Meshel, a 2nd grade teacher at Grant Elementary School.

Meshel looked closely at the second grade standards which included many lessons about animals and came up with a plan. Leveraging her ability to work remotely, Meshel spent a month with her family in Idaho teaching from a farm.

“They got to see their teacher ride a horse, visit cows, feed chickens, and pet the two most adorable goats. They were asking very deep questions because it was almost like being there because they were watching their very own teacher. It was really amazing,” said Meshel.

Erin Haendel, a 5th and 6th grade teacher at Santa Monica Alternative School House, found ways to take advantage of the distance learning from the comfort of her home. She started cooking lessons that incorporate math and geography concepts and hosts optional bedtime story read alouds once a week.

“I like to think of what we can make use of now that we are at home that is a positive. I thought well we’re all at home with our kitchens, so that’s how I thought of doing cooking,” said Haendel. “It was the same with the read aloud and I think it’s a special way to connect out of school hours. Kids come in their PJs with their stuffed animals and we get to read together.”

Haendel has found that students love the interactive element of cooking demos and has been delighted by how many students look forward to her optional sessions, including a current affairs discussion bright and early on Friday mornings.

“It’s fun because you get the kids who are really into politics or Black Lives Matter and we have great debates at those times, because it’s kids who really care to come at 7:30 a.m. with their breakfast,” said Haendel.

While most teachers were apprehensive about teaching an entirely remote semester, many have discovered that with enough creative thought the majority of classroom activities can still be accomplished.

“We’re adapting, we’re trying different strategies, so nothing has been a lost cause. For example, I normally do a pilgrim simulation and it’s all teamwork for a month. I was thinking how on earth are we going to do that, but we managed to make it work with breakout rooms,” said Stacy Harris, a 2nd grade teacher at Webster Elementary School.

By using Zoom breakout rooms for students to collaborate and pre-filming pilgrim pantomimes with her teaching assistant, Harris has been able to recreate an interactive simulation where students learn about history of the pilgrims, practice writing journal entries, and develop social emotional skills.

These successes don’t come without their challenges. Teachers across the board are putting in extensive work on their own time without any additional compensation.

“I definitely spend at least one full day if not one and a half days on the weekend in front of my computer planning lessons, designing them and uploading them all,” said Harris.

“I swear, I think I’m working three times as much. I am so tired, but I love my class so much,” said Meshel. “But everybody’s doing it, I’m not just talking about me, everybody is doing really cool unique stuff. We all work together on ideas and it’s really inspiring.”

As the semester winds to a close, teachers are looking forward to a well deserved break after months of overtime efforts to engage their students.