Ms. Petrella is a high school special-education teacher. She moved to Phoenix after joining Teach for America, and from that moment on, her school has been her community. With the school building closed due to coronavirus, holding onto that community is more important than ever.
For this amazing teacher and her students, getting through this challenging spring means holding on even tighter to the belief that change can be good. Ms. Petrella’s “we’re going to get through this together” attitude and candid account below exemplify what many of the country’s best teachers are going through right now. Thousands of school buildings are closed, but school communities persist. Teachers continue to show up for their students in a multitude of ways every single day.
Ms. Petrella is currently working on getting resources directly into the hands of her students with funding from the Keep Kids Learning program, but found the time to share her experience with us.
What’s been the biggest challenge since school closed?
At first, It didn’t seem real, that coronavirus could actually affect me and my kids. We always find a way to make things work for them. But when my school closed, it felt so unclear what the best path was. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing for my families, or do something that wasn’t informed, but I also didn’t want to act too slowly.
When we closed, kids were already home because of Spring Break. The one piece of grace I could find is that my kids got to go home for a good reason, and they could stay in that positive place. I used that as a positive tool because I didn’t get to see them right before we had to say goodbye.
How are your students reacting?
I had a little boy last year who had some challenges and did not enjoy learning. Because of the access to books, technology and fun things we had in my classroom, not only was he very concerned that we wouldn’t able to come to school, he was actually at the end of his driveway waiting for the bus everyday up until a few days ago because he wasn’t ready to accept that learning wasn’t going on.
What’s the key to ensuring your students continue to learn from home?
It’s the people working together in our community to make sure students have lunches, laptops, what they need. Learning is teamwork.”
Right now, learning for my kids is very exploratory. Everyone, from the administration to parents, are trying new things. Like when I talk to parents and they say “I can’t log on” and I say, “Me neither. Let’s do it together!”
What should people know about being a teacher right now?
Right now, the families are the teachers. I want families to know that they are the experts, and you know your child. So, feel really safe teaching. The biggest hurdle right now is that families don’t have the tools to have students home all day, the tangible things that help a child. I now realize the expertise that I need to share with my families, but I want parents to have access to the materials they need.
What’s inspiring you in this unprecedented time?
One thing that makes me hopeful is that change is not bad, just different. I’m helping my students mitigate the disappointment of not going to prom or graduation, but also helping them acknowledge the different things they’re going to get to experience now.
Ms. Petrella shared this message to donors, teachers, and students.