It was a Friday when teachers found out all schools in Washington were being moved to distance learning, meaning the following Monday would be the last day with their students.
This sent teachers into a frenzy trying to get the materials they needed together to send home with students so they could continue their schoolwork.
“My teaching partner and I spent the weekend trying to get our head around what [distance learning] might look like. We had one day that we could have some things ready,” said Carol Nolan, a fifth grade teacher at Grant Elementary School.
The upheaval of school didn’t just effect teachers and students, but student teachers as well. They were informed that they would not be able to finish their programs. But, many of them still wanted to help their cooperating teacher (CT) as much as they could.
Kaiya Collins, a senior at Gonzaga, is one of these student teachers. She found out she wouldn’t be returning to her placement at Grant Elementary with Nolan, her CT, and immediately began working to help her students. She posted on Facebook looking for book donations from people in the GU community and got a much larger response than she expected.
“A friend of mine whose family lives in Seattle said that their library was shutting down and I wondered if they would shut down the library in Spokane,” Collins said. “I looked online and saw that libraries would be shutting down and I got really worried for my students. Grant Elementary is about 90% free and reduced lunch, so really low-income students. That library is their main source to books and the internet outside of school. So I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to be able to read.”
Collins received message after message asking how they could help. She had many people donate money and a few books over the weekend and by the time she went to get books she had raised $500.
“I was able to get a ton of books,” Collins said. “I was able to get enough books for each of my kids to get two books and I had 25 students. I gave two books to every kid in the other student teacher’s classroom and still had books leftover. So, I opened it up to other Gonzaga student teachers and one of my friends took a book for each of her kids.”
Nolan said the work Collins did was incredibly helpful because before she found out about these books, she was preparing to send her students home with books from her classroom library.
Nolan was worried about giving out her own books because she had had most of her students for the past two years in her classroom so they had already read a lot of the books, but she knew it was better than nothing.
“I was thinking I was alone and I was in a mad dash because what I got done in that weekend was all I could do and then I found out that there was a whole other person thinking about what she could do to support the children at home and it gives me chills when I talk about it," Nolan said. "To realize that and to have that feeling of knowing she was there too, thinking of something I hadn’t even thought of. She and her colleagues did that work and put everything into that and it’s just amazing. To have that partner in that was amazing.”
On the last day of school Collins gave out the books she had bought to her students and even picked out specific books for students based off their interests.
“She thoughtfully chose and knowing our kids and their interests and what they loved and which books they would draw to,” Nolan said.
The students received their books with the rest of their other learning materials and took them home. The goal of the books was not only to help the students maintain and develop their literacy but also provide a necessary escape from day to day life.
“Since this time is so stressful reading is a good escape and a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety and stress,” Collins said. “These are children where a lot of them have homes that are already stressful and taking away school is taking away their safety net for some of them. I think literacy is so important because we have to read just to function in daily life and I think it also exposes us to greater ideas and helps create deeper thought processes, a greater understanding of the world.”
Collins and Nolan wanted their students to be prepared to learn at home but also have the tools necessary to not have to focus on academics all the time.
“I knew I could prepare all [the academic materials] but books were something that I was concerned about," Nolan said. "It was such a relief, it was heartwarming.”