Grief, Sadness, Ingenuity as Schools Suddenly Shut

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(Mimi Bommarito, Photographer)
Miramonte Senior Eli Goldsmith stands next to a yard sign celebrating the 2020 Miramonte High School graduates. All 320 Matador grads received a sign in their front yard, thanks to the coordinated efforts of parent volunteers.

    Amidst a continually changing timetable dictated by the coronavirus pandemic, Orinda students and their parents watched in shock and disbelief as the remainder of the 2020 school year morphed from a well-oiled, productive routine into a dedicated scramble by school officials to forge workable plans for continuing education at home, known as “distance learning.”
    Educators were nimble and well-trained to adjust to the sudden shift to virtual classroom. 
    Trish Cetrone, a fifth-grade teacher at Glorietta Elementary said, “The technology we’ve all been using on a regular basis felt like a leg-up when we were hit unexpectedly by online teaching. Orinda students were already trained to use Google Classroom and some of the extension apps for math and science. Orinda was definitely as prepared as we could be.” 
    Elaina Jones, a fourth-grade teacher at Sleepy Hollow, concurred. “Every teacher has shifted to online learning without hesitation, and there is a collective goal to do whatever it takes to support our students and their families,” she said.
    On March 12, students unwittingly departed their campuses, never realizing a key chapter had abruptly ended. 
    “I lived my last day of high school without ever knowing it was my last day,” Miramonte senior Anika Shandalov said. “I never knowingly bought my last drink from the vending machine. I never knowingly walked to class for the last time, and I never knowingly appreciated what school brought to my life.”
    “I want nothing more than to sit at those ugly, light brown desks and to be taught,” she said.
    But by April 7, following directives based on the predicted course of the pandemic, AUHSD School Superintendent John Nickerson solemnly announced online distance learning would remain in effect until the end of the school year.  
    “For me, this has felt like a grieving process,” Miramonte Principal Julie Parks shared with parents in a poignant, heartfelt email. “As we negotiated the closure of school, I felt the early stages of denial, wondering how all this could possibly be true. Later, I felt anger and frustration at losing access to my colleagues, friends and loved ones.”
    “I then poured myself into bargaining by recreating a community for distance learning, meeting up with friends for virtual dates, and telling myself that this would give me an opportunity to spend cherished time with my children, which it has,” Parks wrote.
    Because the world has been glued to the news reports, educator Alison Stout took the opportunity to cultivate journalism skills in her third graders at Glorietta who put together a bi-weekly newspaper titled Third Grade Lockdown News.
    The students contribute articles on various topics, and every few days, they get on a video conference call to discuss their articles, just like in a newsroom.
    “What the students really seem to miss are the connections,” said Jenny Dodd, who teaches a blended kindergarten and first-grade class at Del Rey Elementary. She said keeping those connections intact is a primary objective.
    Miramonte senior class parents, led by Orinda resident Michelle Goldsmith, attempted to cheer the soon-to-be-graduates with commemorative yard signs celebrating the Class of 2020. Parent volunteers planted a green-and-white sign in front of each home of all 320 seniors.
    Nickerson and Parks both expressed a desire to create some way for the seniors to celebrate commencement as they cancelled traditions, such as Senior Ball, Baccalaureate and the emotionally charged Goodbye Rally, where faculty and staff form two lines. The seniors joyfully and often tearfully walk down the middle, hugging and thanking their teachers. After the seniors exit the gym, freshmen officially become sophomores, sophomores become juniors, juniors become seniors.

(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Miramonte High School became a ghost town after campuses were suddenly shut down in March.

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