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Wed, Sep 16, 2020

Oscar Paz

Oscar Paz - Education & Outreach Manager

Learning through Pandemics & Racial Reform: Teacher Spotlight

Looking back to a year ago today, there's no shortage of changes students, teachers, administrators, and parents have had to address as the school year begins anew. Similarly, at this time last year as the MAH's Educational Coordinator I would be booking field trips, restocking art supplies, and prepping to welcome in over 2,000 students, 200 chaperones, and nearly 70 teachers. This year, however, just like everyone else the MAH had needed to pivot and adapt.

During this "sheltered-in-place summer", the MAH team brainstormed ways we could better support local families despite our doors being closed. Since then we've hosted virtual craft nights, DIY craft projects, online exhibitions, and so much more. However, knowing in-person school tours likely would be postponed we spent months working on free, downloadable local history lesson plans to better meet the needs of our community! They are now available online to any educator or parent with options for 3rd-12th grade students.

Before scrolling down to browse the new educational resources, first read an interview with Middle School English Language Arts Teacher, Kenia Goicochea. Learn more about her experience as a first-year teacher and her transition to distance learning during times of pandemics, online learning, and calls for social justice reform.

You finished your first year as a teacher and I am sure the end was not how you imagined it. How was the transition to distance learning?

Kenia: This was most certainly not what I imagined my first year teaching to be, yet it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Although I will probably forever be mourning my unfulfilled end-of-year plans and celebrations with my first group of students, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take a step back and embrace a more purposeful and meaningful approach to my teaching. Feeling depleted after completing UCSC’s intensive 12-month MA in Education and Teaching Credential Program and not having the time to prepare curriculum prior to the start of the school year, I labored away and fell on my colleagues for support.

I felt as though I was on training wheels the entire time. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that the training wheels were instantly and unexpectedly knocked off. All of a sudden, everyone, even the colleagues who I looked to for curriculum support, were back to square one with me. What was I to do now?! I came to the realization that any attempt at the business as usual approach would further be soul-crushing for my students during this time. How would I make this time meaningful? I took it a day at a time and moved even more deeply into culturally responsive teaching with a focus on the heart.

In engaging with your students digitally, what new teaching styles did you try?

Kenia: This pandemic striking so early on in my career allowed me to take a much-needed step back and to reflect on my teaching - to move in a more purposeful, imaginative, and creative direction. Upon doing some inner work and research, I decided to focus on the 5 critical qualities of digital citizens, which teach students to be 1. inclusive, 2. informed, 3. engaged, 4. balanced, and 5. alert. I first and foremost focused on my students’ social-emotional needs during such a traumatic time. Then, I focused on creating an assignment that would promote student agency, reflection, and healing. Although COVID was being treated like this big elephant in the room in the world of teaching, I decided to trust my students with this important and relevant event.

Writers write about what they know and what matters, and what was important and relevant to them all was COVID, as we were all propelled into the middle of this historic event together. By engaging my students in the importance of capturing their own stories and histories through this historic pandemic (we wrote COVID-19 Memoirs), students naturally had the opportunity to reflect on and heal from the overwhelming impact this event had on their lives. Additionally, my students had the opportunity to explore their identities through such reflective writing. I saw a beautiful fervor arise in them, an excitement to capture this historic event through their lives’ lenses. You can also check out my Youtube Channel to see firsthand how I am engaging with my students during this time.

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Infographic by The Children's Community School. View the clickable PDF here.

The country is undergoing a radical racial transformation. What do you say to people who think kids are too young to talk about these big questions and ideas?

Kenia: Too often, we don’t trust kids’ abilities to tackle important questions. We have this flawed understanding that they aren’t mature or old enough to talk about such topics, that they are too sensitive, don’t care, or that they tune it out when adults around them are talking about it… but kids pick up on all of it and they are yearning for those around them to trust them with discussing such “taboo” information. Students understand the difference between what is fair and what is not, they understand how people are similar and are different, and what it means to have power when others don’t.

Contrary to this misconception of kids being apathetic to these issues, students perk up when such discussions arise in the classroom. When trusted with these big questions and ideas, students step up to the plate, their curiosity is aroused, and they develop a sense of empowerment to make a difference. If we do not talk about race, we are missing out on a great opportunity to equip our students with the tools they need to have important conversations in the future. Our students have the right to have these conversations because they are about them and their futures. How are they going to be prepared for what’s to come if we don’t allow them to explore what’s currently going on?

What distance learning advice do you have for parents?

Kenia: Learning is a lifelong, everyday process. We must teach our students to once again be fascinated with the opportunities for growth and learning that are constantly occurring around them. Our homes are rich repositories of knowledge! Cooking a meal together, working on a home improvement project, researching plants and animals that we come across while we’re out in nature, discussing current events as we come across them in the media - these are all great examples of learning opportunities.

Additionally, during this distance learning time, parents have a wonderful opportunity to discuss the power of technology with their kids. These screens are not just for texting and messaging our friends, not just for video games, but they are tools to help us get a better sense of the world around us. The perspective of learning for too many students has been limited to what occurs in the classroom, but we must all acknowledge that every single person is responsible for the education of our youth.

Get to Know Kenia


Middle School Teacher

Kenia Goicochea

Read Bio

As we begin this new school year, the MAH is eager to continue to adapt and meet the needs of our future community builders, leaders, and social justice activists. For now, head over to our Educational Resources page to browse our current selection of free lesson plans. Then, be sure to stay tuned and sign up for email updates as we announce upcoming lesson plans on art and creativity, Dìa de Muertos, and more. And as always we are happy to collaborate with teachers and welcome feedback so please feel free to email me at so we can connect.

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