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January 08, 2021 Friday Letter Volume 2, No. 29
Posted 1/8/21

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JANUARY 8, 2021 FRIDAY LETTER VOLUME 2, NO. 29


MDUSD's Friday Letter—updates and stories prepared weekly for the school district community.



The Courageous Captains Leading our Next Generation

     Current events seem to be ever-changing waters, and educators are the captains who sail and navigate them with students each new day. Sometimes, a classroom ship skips smoothly through calm undercurrents of relatively uneventful days, and at other times, there are crashing waves and storms of bold headlines and imagery witnessed in the media. Current events certainly grab attention. Yet, this sea-faring analogy is limited if it frames current events as simply static and external. The same events are also dynamic opportunities—as one teacher shared with me—to contextualize events for students, process emotions and concerns, and model positive discourse. Because the eventfulness of the year 2020 is finding its match at the start of 2021, I caught up with three MDUSD teachers to learn more about how current events influence their teaching. Their responses were intriguing. 

     "Right now, I feel it is an exciting, challenging time to be a teacher," said Annemarie Baldauf, who is in her fifteenth year teaching at Riverview Middle School. Annemarie is optimistic. She teaches art, and this year, her virtual classes have had an ongoing theme—"What is happening in our world"—to which the student response has been enthusiastic. Students' art projects have covered subjects like COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, California wildfires, and civic duties. "If it is meaningful for students, they are hooked, and if they are given choices, they can make the assignment their own. 'Choice' means that all students have to think creatively, make decisions, anticipate problems, and find answers on their own so that they enjoy what they produce and it is meaningful for them." Most recently, she asked her students to create individualized 2-D designs for what would eventually become 3-D face masks that they could wear. This was naturally symbolic of how Annemarie has been adding dimension to her lessons by regularly incorporating current events in a fun, even therapeutic, way. 

Masks 2D 3D

174 student face masks were funded with Donors Choose grants

     But, talking about current events into the classroom is not always easy to do. As MDUSD Teacher of the Year Dylan Bland told me, "We often need to help facilitate our students’ thoughts and emotions while they process the events unfolding around them on the fly (or while we’re processing things ourselves)." Of course, when major current events are political, educators are also careful not to endorse or condemn any political party, but instead model civility and equity, encourage investigative thinking, and promote healing.

     Dylan told me about the start of the new semester: "My class is learning about the science of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll be creating artifacts that capture their point of view, with the flexibility for students to add a personal touch. Student perspective, engagement, and input is paramount here. The human element is often overlooked during emergencies- each of us have a unique story to tell about how COVID-19 has impacted our lives. I hope to give my students a space to learn the facts about the pandemic, ask whatever is on their mind (most want to know about the vaccines), and to engage them with an opportunity to express themselves honestly and creatively to capture this moment in time. I encourage teachers across MDUSD to do the same with their students."

     Sensational and traumatic events continue to happen. This week, the world saw a violent mob storm the U.S. Capitol with incited acts of insurrection. Headlines, images, and the values they projected were cold stormy waves, and for many it felt, justifiably, like hitting an iceberg.

     In the early hours of Thursday morning, Beth Bremer, MDUSD Teacher of the Year, shared with me how the events in Washington D.C. would affect her classroom that day:

     "The images that have been flooding the media over the last 24 hours are extremely disturbing and certainly seen by many of my students. I lay awake all night trying to process these images and events myself, as well as reflect upon how I will address them with my students. We will review class norms and I will make space for students to talk about what they have seen, ask questions, and process their concerns through discussion and art. That said, I do not know exactly how the day will go because I will be responding to the needs of the students. I do know that it is incumbent upon teachers to engage in these difficult conversations with their classes. Today cannot just be another day. It is important that will help our students understand the context of the images they have seen and how they fit into the bigger picture. It is essential that we teach and model civility, starting with our own classroom conversations and behavior. I feel a tremendous responsibility to plant seeds of respectful discourse and responsible citizenship in my fourth grade students. My hope was restored in seeing that ultimately the constitutional process of certifying the next President of the United States went forward. My hope for the future lies in the children, and it is my fervent desire that I help them understand the principles of democracy and how they might participate in the process as they move toward adulthood."

     Beth communicated again on Friday morning to share her students' topical artwork, a voluntary jamboard discussion, and how today's session would incorporate a PBS summary viewing along with an open writing prompt. 

     Annemarie offered encouragement to fellow teachers: "I would encourage teachers to trust they know how to teach and use that to make their digital classroom predictable and reliable for students that need that security right now." Predictability and reliability, she said, were the foundational elements of promoting a sense of security and growth.

     Principals of all schools met on Thursday twice to check in with one another as a team and to discuss how to encourage and lead students, staff, and families through current events like these. All seemed to agree that encouraging student-centered, equity-minded, respectful, open discussion would contribute to making exactly the kind of culture we want to see as a district. Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark concurred, saying, "Our students need a space in a classroom environment to talk about their experiences, so that when trauma happens, and things do happen, it's not like the rarity of waking up on Christmas, no, instead that safe space in classrooms needs to be who we are—our culture."

      Indeed, when we give our best, students can peer out with curiosity to the waters of current events from our safe zones, and educators are the courageous captains on deck leading the way.


New in District Operations

     The MDUSD Governing Board is holding its first meeting of the new year on January 13. The agenda will be published on the Board Meeting Information Page this afternoon. Reminders: A main item of business at the January 13 meeting will be to discuss reopening considerations and progress, and to arrive at a clear articulation of the district's next steps. The Board will not introduce a hybrid model while Contra Costa remains in the Purple Tier. The board's actions will be reported on the day after the meeting. 

     Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark is continuing to publish transparent, detailed operations reports on a weekly basis. You can read department updates directly from our district leaders in our weekly Organizational Update to the Board, which is continuously archived for reference. Here is this week’s Organizational Update to the Board:

Organizational Update


Family Support Workshops and STEM Webinar to Enrich and Inspire

Adult Education Logo     Adult Education Workshops 
     Mt. Diablo Adult Education is hosting valuable one-day workshops free of charge to support families in distance learning. Workshops are in English and Spanish, and topics include Healthy Communication, Keeping Your Kids Physically Active, Influence of Social Media on Teenagers, Healthy Eating Habits, and Mental/Emotional Awareness. Workshops are through Zoom at convenient times. See the flyer for more information. 

Girls4STEM Logo     STEM Webinar for MDUSD Students
     Girls4STEM is back with its first free webinar of the year on Sunday, January 10. Learn how Rosalie McGurk, PhD Astronomer at Carnegie Observatories is building a new spectroscope instrument to display larger view to let us see an entire galaxy in one observation, and, you can learn how to build one at home to demonstrate how one works. Rosalie shares her personal journey about how she got interested in astronomy and her educational path to become a PhD researcher in astrophysics and designer of spectroscopes. Encourage all high schoolers you know to register for this free event to gain confidence in following one’s own path to a STEM career. 

Register in advance for this webinar. 


Newsletters from CCCOE and MDUSD Education Foundation

     Contra Costa County Office of Education Newsletter

     Our County Office of Education Communications Department published an English newsletter, "Connection," for the Fall of 2020 with interesting headlines:

  • A Note from County Superintendent of Schools, Lynn Mackey
  • CCCOE Releases 2019-2020 Annual Report to the Community
  • CocoKids Earns November Education Champion Award
  • County High School Mock Trials Looking for Volunteers
  • Contra Costa Teachers of the Year Gala: A Virtual Success!
  • ROP Courses Meeting the Challenges During COVID-19
  • 30th Annual Contra Costa County Model United Nations Conference
  • Contra Costa Semifinalists in the 2021 National Merit® Scholarship Program
  • Two County Schools Honored as National Blue Ribbon Schools
  • Kennedy Art Teacher's Work Featured at de Young Fine Arts Museum

     MDUSD Education Foundation Newsletter

     The most recent Mt. Diablo Unified School District Education Foundation Newsletter features the good news of a new Student Advisory Committee and highlights from recent donations and purchases. 


Phase 1A Arrives, Contra Costa Aims for 1,200 Daily Vaccinations

Bandaid Heart

     Right now, healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities are being vaccinated, as Contra Costa rolls out Phase 1A in its Vaccine Distribution Plan. As of January 6, over 18,000 vaccine doses have been administered, and their goal is to administer up to 1,200 shots a day. They describe that, "because a limited amount of [the] COVID-19 vaccine is available right now, the vaccine is being made available in phases to different populations based on risk factors."

     Each phase in the Vaccine Distribution Plan describes who will be eligible by category, but it is not clear when the County will arrive at each phase. "We don't yet have a precise timeline for when the vaccine will be available to groups in different phases/tiers. We can say that it will take several months before the vaccines are widely available to the general public."

     While we wait for our turn, public health authorities say that hand washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing remain our best protection. Contra Costa County is following criteria developed by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the California Department of Public Health. Find Out Your Vaccination Eligibility Phase



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Each week, the MDUSD Friday Letter is written and compiled by the district's Communications Specialist and sent to a staff and community audience totaling around 32,000. To sign up for the distribution list, send an email to superintendentsoffice@mdusd.org. To view an archive of district communications, visit the Superintendent's Office page. Do you have a story or event to share with our community? Contact me (breidenthala@mdusd.org) with your ideas or suggestions.

Austin

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