Stacey Montoya had just started her new job as a teacher at Wayfinder’s Special Education School when COVID-19 forced the school to transition rapidly to online education. “A lot of us were in such denial,” Stacey remembers. “We thought that the pandemic wasn’t going to be very long.”
“All teachers were flying by the seat of their pants,” Stacey says. “The only reason I’ve been successful is because I’ve had a great team to work with at Wayfinder.”
“THE ONLY REASON I’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL IS BECAUSE I’VE HAD A GREAT TEAM TO WORK WITH AT WAYFINDER.”
– Stacey Montoya, Teacher, Special Education School
Students in the school, ages 5 to 22, have moderate-to-severe disabilities and need assistance with nearly all activities. Many do not use words to communicate. Without seeing her students in person, Stacey wondered how she could support their learning.
“I surveyed the parents and asked them what they needed,” says Stacey. She created curriculum and purchased materials. “I put together a huge care package every month with lesson plans and hands-on materials for functional skills, art and music therapy.” She became a familiar face to cashiers at the dollar store. For a cooking activity, “I looked a little nuts checking out with 12 colanders,” she laughs. Her team delivered the packages to students’ homes, following safety protocols.
Through trial and error, Stacey and her colleagues figured out the activities that
work best in virtual teaching. They were so successful that in a triennial certification review of the school, representatives from the California Department of Education said the school “set the gold standard” in the quality and variety of distance learning. The school’s accomplishment is due to the partnership between educators and parents or caregivers, who juggled work and teaching to ensure students continued to learn.
When parents asked for a monthly Zoom support group to relieve isolation, Stacey organized one. “It’s been an amazing experience to hear their struggles and joys and how they support each other,” Stacey says.
Though the year was challenging, Stacey found many benefits too. “I have built strong connections with my team members and students and families,” she says. “They are seeing my cat come in the room. I’m seeing their little brother run across the screen. We’re experiencing these together, and this creates closeness.”
Through this experience, Stacey says, “I have learned a lot. A lot. It’s okay that we don’t know all the answers. We keep trying. If I can handle distance learning, I think I can handle anything.”
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December 8, 2021