Parents across the country are in a very unique situation — many juggling the stresses of keeping their families healthy in the current environment while also navigating how to homeschool their children because of school closures.
School districts continue to transition from on-ground education to distant learning as some districts have announced school closures for the remainder of the school year, and others, such as Clovis Unified, will be closed at least through May 1.
Meanwhile, Valley teachers are at home missing their students and working to find ways to connect.
There are many barriers for school districts and teachers trying to ensure a stable learning environment. Do students have access to technology? Is there an adult available to facilitate the learning? Are children motivated and able to maintain a daily schedule?
Fresno Unified School District, serving over 74,000 students across almost 100 square miles, has created a digital hub of resources for parents to access. Ranging from educational websites, daily learning schedules per grade level, special education learning resources and resources translated in Spanish and Hmong.
One Fresno Unified teacher decided to take distant learning a step further.
David Hunter, a transitional kindergarten (TK) teacher at Ericson Elementary School near Chestnut and Clinton avenues, wanted to increase the connectivity between teachers and students. He knew some parents were overwhelmed with the stay-at-home order and school closures, and he wanted to create a resource his 5-year-old students could navigate themselves.
With the help of his fellow TK teachers, he collected a variety of educational videos created by the teachers that aligned with the learning curricula for his students. Students can see their own teachers guiding them in a learning activity.
Hunter wanted to create a website where his students could access these videos and navigate their way through the site. As a father himself, he recruited his 13-year-old daughter, Amelie, to build the site. Together, they created the Fresno TK website.
Hunter, who earned his teaching credential in early childhood education from Fresno State, has been teaching in the Central Valley for over a decade.
“My Fresno State education certainly helped me be a creative thinker,” Hunter said. “The thing I appreciate the most from my early childhood program is the focus on the early learning and what children need. That is what has helped me the most in thinking about, when I’m providing this resource to the children, how do I make it in a way that is still engaging and interactive and meeting their needs?”
Hunter states that most TK children aren’t reading yet and are still learning how to identify letters and numbers, so the website doesn’t have a lot of text. It is built with shapes and colors, similar to how the children learn in the classroom.
“In TK we do a lot of visual schedules, so we have pictures of what we do at each time of the day,” Hunter said. “So I wanted the front page of the website designed in a way so the kids can see the visual pictures and think, ‘Oh yeah, I go to the triangle to get the read alouds,’ or, ‘I go to the oval to do this.’ It is visually based for them to navigate easily and it isn’t needing a lot of parent help.”
Amelie is an eighth-grader at Computech Middle School and last year learned how to build a website using Google Sites. With this skill, she built the entire Fresno TK website, including over 10 pages and embedded videos.
“My daughter has been a huge part of this, and she will continue the role of doing the site maintenance, uploads and design.”
With over 10 teachers providing video content, including read alouds with superintendent Bob Nelson, Hunter plans to update content each week. He is encouraging parents to have their young children do one activity and one read aloud a day. There is even a link to a Spanish version of the website created by Scott Merrill, a dual-immersion TK teacher at Ewing Elementary School in Fresno.
“The website is a good resource for parents to supplement any instructional materials they are receiving from their own schools,” Merrill said. “But I am also trying to provide content for Spanish learners, because our goal is for students to be bilingual and biliterate. So, they need to have resources where they can continue to develop both languages. I made the Spanish website separate so I can help our culturally and linguistically diverse students continue to become biliterate.”
Merrill is also a Fresno State alumnus, having earned his multiple subject teaching credential and bilingual authorization.
The websites have been live for less than three weeks and are already seeing great success, both domestically and globally. Hunter is currently in the works of partnering with TK teachers from Twin Rivers School District and Central Unified School District to clone the site for their students. He also received video content from teachers in Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District in northern California.