Dear Families,

Wow! Last week was busy! We did distance learning and asynchronous learning, and the scholars were busy with reading, writing, math lessons, and assignments.

This week begins our school reopening and the entire Will Rogers Learning Community team has been working hard to put campus safety mitigations in place. Rain or shine, in-school learning will take place. We have designated indoor and outdoor classrooms for the scholars!

As I think about the pandemic, I’m consumed with anxiety, loneliness, and sadness. A year ago, I learned how to teach remotely. Zoom was the platform and I had to figure things out quickly.. Our focus in 2019-2020 was on social-emotional learning and supporting the scholars with the transition to learning from home. I created lessons and they were asked to learn. The scholars struggled, and parents became my co-teachers. Remember that?

I had a feeling that we’d begin the 2021 school year with Distance Learning because of the COVID-19 numbers in Los Angeles County. I wanted to be the best teacher for your children, so I attended virtual trainings and read lots of books on online learning.

Throughout 2020-2021, I witnessed the effects of the pandemic in our virtual classroom. Some scholars were struggling. They were quiet, and disengaged. It broke my heart. Despite challenges, the scholars persevered and came to school. They were resilient and showed strength! They were present, and helped nurture a safe, fun learning environment! I did my best to support everyone but paid close attention to those who needed extra love and kindness. I let them know that it was ok to feel crummy, but they needed to channel their energy to feel the positive, powerful vibes of our community; we all have the means to turn things around because we have each other’s backs. Although some days were harder than others, we made each day our best day. I’m proud to say that everyone came out on top! I know it was difficult for you too. I know the pain and stress of seeing a child in distress. I want to thank you for being strong, for loving and nurturing your children, and for being advocates.

As the school year continued, hopes of reopening schools in fall and winter were dashed as daily case rates in Los Angeles county were way too high, though families and teachers continued to advocate for schools to reopen. I also saw our District working feverishly to ensure that schools were safe. Some may not agree, but reopening was always a priority for SMMUSD.

The CDC guidelines on reopening of schools were referenced by the community and we often heard, “You need to listen to the science,” and “We need to open our schools.” There were moments that made me angry and upset when I saw posts on social media stating, “Teachers don’t want to go back to school,” or “The union is against reopening schools.” Another comment that I heard too often was, “Distance learning isn’t working and the students aren’t learning.” Wow…. that hurt.

At times, I felt a divide in our community as there were differences in opinions, circulation of misinformation, and misunderstandings. We were tackling a gigantic problem. I knew that we could do this if we stuck together. It was hard work. As we move forward, we need to continue to find a way to stay united.

There is a lot of post-pandemic healing that needs to happen. For those of you who experienced the loss of family members or friends due to complications from COVID-19, I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences. There is, however, a glimmer of hope. The COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County are declining and vaccines are being given.

For the families who are opting out of in-school experiences, I respect your decisions; our school is committed to developing a plan that will continue to support your child’s learning. Children have learned, and will continue to learn through distance learning. I know because I see our students developing socially and academically.

We are ready and excited for our school to reopen. We have a solid reopening plan that incorporates a hybrid model, distance learning, and asynchronous learning opportunities.

I’d like to end with a shout out to my colleagues at WRLC for their love, strength, and courage and for putting the scholars in the forefront. It is an honor to be in the presence of great teachers and staff. We are all about to embark on another chapter in our story; good luck to all!

Kazuki Uema is a 4th grade teacher at Will Rogers Learning Community.