PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — A local school district is encouraging students to stay connected with their friends and teachers through virtual spirit days while campuses are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pflugerville ISD started its distance learning initiative this week to provide digital assignments to students, as well as paper copies for families without stable internet or devices to do the work. Parents can pick up the packets from newspaper boxes at the district’s food distribution sites.
But academics aren’t the only resource the district wants students to have access to during the closure, which Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week would last until at least May 4.
“We wanted to figure out how to connect with our students,” said Wieland Elementary School principal Jared Stevenson. “It’s really a lot simpler when we’re on campus when kids come in in the mornings and you can greet them with a high five or a fist bump and say ‘hi’ and check in with them.”
Instead, school leaders are turning to social media. Each morning for the last two weeks, Stevenson has posted a prompt to the school’s Facebook page for a different spirit day. Parents take photos of their students participating and add them to the thread.
Last week saw hat day, sports day, pajama day and other traditional spirit days. This week, Wieland transitioned to more activity-based prompts, like learn something new day and kindness day. Thursday is science day, and Friday is creative arts day.
“I haven’t heard anything but positives at this point,” Stevenson said.
‘It’s the people that they miss the most’
Like parents across central Texas, Alissa Molina is adjusting to a new normal. She has five school-age kids, three of them at Wieland, and all are now home-schooled for at least the next four weeks.
She and her husband both have backgrounds in education, and they’re both fortunate to be able to work from home, so the shift has been fairly smooth. But while Molina can replace the classroom, there are some things she can’t compensate for.
“They miss their friends, and they miss their teachers,” she said. “It’s the people that they miss the most, so that’s really hard to replace.”
Wieland administrators’ efforts to promote the virtual spirit week have provided her kids an outlet Ito continue interacting in something of a normal way. “It does bring a sense of that intangible togetherness,” Molina said.
Stevenson and some of the teachers at the school are participating, too, posting their own photos in the Facebook threads. It’s helped kids like Molina’s stay connected to the school family, and it’s helped them to feel more normal about the strange situation they’re all in.
The photos acknowledge that this is hard for everyone, adults, too, and seeing their teachers figuring it out gives families a sense of support.
“It’s just been exciting for our kids to be able to see their teachers in their own environments,” Molina said.
It’s good for the educators, too, Stevenson said, to “get to see what was going on, get to interact a little bit” with their students who are now scattered across neighborhoods.
Parents and school districts will still be figuring out this new normal over the coming weeks. “I’ll look forward to August next year if we don’t get to go back,” Molina said. “I think it’ll be like, we will all have a renewed sense of teachers are amazing.”