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May 7, 2020

When Distance Isn’t the Only Obstacle to Learning

BRIDGING THE DISTANCE: Quarantine and school shutdowns have created a whole set of new challenges for educators like SES alumna Crystal Williams. “I’m staying open to participating in every way I can," she says.

Distance learning, though perhaps not all the rage among parents, has become a crucial way for teachers to interact with their students when the classroom is no longer an option—a situation that became quickly apparent with the spread of the global pandemic in March.

Unfortunately, not every student has immediate access to such resources.

“Ours was one of the hardest hit districts in Southern California,” said Crystal Williams (MA, Teacher Education, ’14) of the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE).

For special education teacher Crystal Williams, quarantine has created a number of challenges for educators.

Williams, a special education teacher who earned her California Teaching Credential in Special Education at CGU in both mild/moderate (M/M) and moderate/severe (M/S) specializations, experienced initial difficulties in implementing distance learning for her students after the pandemic forced widespread school shutdowns.

About 400,000 students reside in the county, and RCOE partners with local districts to provide Special Education programming.

“It’s been really difficult,” said Williams, “especially considering that half of my kids don’t have homes to go to.”

In fact, almost 50 percent of the children are within the foster care system and reside in group homes. As a result, many students can develop behavioral disorders that require specialized teaching of appropriate behaviors. Despite the challenges, Williams has persisted. She has set up regular calls with parents to assess and meet their needs as much as possible.

“I call to make sure everyone is OK,” she said, “even though some parents don’t have access to consistent phone service.”

Yoga, Mindfulness, and More

After facing the earlier delay of access, the district has since been able to implement distance learning via Google Classroom in addition to scheduling meetings and professional development opportunities through Zoom.

“Although it hasn’t been an ideal ending to the school year,” Williams said, “I am really proud of how our district has worked to give students access to education during this difficult time.”

In her own classroom, Williams incorporated techniques typically used in meditation, such as breathing and recognition of mindfulness. These techniques are being shared with parents, as well as with counselors within group homes, to aid children in the formative developmental stages in their lives.

“A great source to learn some of these techniques is the Cosmic Kids Yoga YouTube channel,” Williams said. The channel features certified yoga instructor Jaime Amor, who shares her tips on yoga specifically for children that include breathing exercises and ways to calm the brain.

Williams also has provided additional resources to her fellow teachers within the district, such as those in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. She also does regular check-ins with assistants, the school principal, and others working with schoolchildren between first and fifth grade.

“In my efforts to support the students in our district, I even reached out to provide resources to the superintendent as well,” she said. “I’m staying open to participating in every way I can.”

Award nominee

Williams’ alma mater is another that appreciates her efforts.

“The work she’s done is really inspirational,” says Eddie Partida, director of CGU’s Teacher Education program.

Teacher Education alumna Crystal Williams

Partida recently notified Williams of her nomination for a 2020 Teacher Education Alumni of the Year Award—an annual recognition to an individual who is living out the program’s mission.

“It is truly an honor and I am so grateful to have been considered,” Williams says.