When Jacob West leads his sixth-grade classes these days, it can get a little more hectic than he would like.
West, who teaches at Lompoc's Fillmore Elementary School, now primarily delivers his lessons online from a home office while his wife and fellow teacher, Kelly, does the same from across the house. Somewhere between them are their two young children.
“We kind of just do our best to keep them busy, or at least underneath the camera, when we’re teaching,” West said, while laughing, of his 2- and 5-year-old. “There are times that my son will crawl up on my lap when I’m teaching, but it’s all good. People kind of expect that now because of the circumstances.”
Managing those unexpected cameos from his children isn't the only skill the fourth-year teacher has had to acquire amid the coronavirus crisis that closed campuses in March.
West, like many of his colleagues, is adapting to a new reality of distance learning.
“Half of teaching is the connection you have with your students, and the other half is actually teaching lessons,” he said. “So I really miss being in the classroom, just because that’s where you get to have a really big impact on these kids' lives.”
West, who was honored with Santa Barbara County's Distinguished New Educator Award in 2018, is deeply rooted in project-based learning.
That approach often has his students working with various materials and is a lot more hands-on than could be possible through an online video chat.
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, West said he has tried to maintain that style.
“I love having the students ... building, creating, and making connections to what they're learning, and that's been a challenge for me because obviously I can't deliver supplies and material for students to do projects at home,” he said. “But we’re still finding ways to do so.”
West commended his students, noting that many have continued to work hard despite having to learn outside the classroom.
As an example, he said, many students still are creating science projects even though Lompoc Unified School District likely won’t host its traditional districtwide science fair this year.
For West, the transition to online-based classes has been workable.
“This would be really difficult if this was happening to a first-year teacher, so shout-out to them for staying with it and doing their best,” he said. “Hopefully this doesn’t scare them away from education.”
With the first full week of May recognized nationally as Teacher Appreciation Week, West said he is thankful to still be able to work with his students. He then issued a challenge.
“Your teachers really appreciate all the effort you put forth to do your schoolwork every day,” he said. “Let's finish this [school] year off strong and hopefully get excited to be back in the classroom in August.”
The series “Our neighbors: Living through a pandemic” is a collection of short vignettes highlighting the struggle and the hope of residents quarantined on the Central Coast. Through their stories it becomes clear that we really are facing the coronavirus together.
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