JEFFERSON — “Hi Luis. Hi Maya. Hi Vivian. How’s everybody doing? It’s a little chilly outside today.
“Vivian what do you have? Jelly Bean. Is that your goat? Vivian, it’s too cute.
“Maya, did you lose a tooth? I want you to say the word ‘Thursday.’” (Laughter)
She’s losing her teeth … aaaarrrrgh!
The twins arrive.
“I can tell who you are without the hood. It’s hard for me to tell you apart when you have your hoods up.
My new car … look at it.
“Very nice. Boys and girls, I want you to listen for a minute. Everybody ready? We’re going to sing our morning song.”
The more we get together, together, together, the more we get together, the happier I am. For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends. The more, we get together, the happier I am.
So begins a typical day in Sandy Streich’s kindergarten class at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Jefferson.
At least it’s as typical as it has been since March, when the schools were closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
For an hour every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Streich and her young pupils meet online via Zoom.
The kindergartners can become a tad distracted at times, but Streich patiently, and lovingly, steers them back on topic to teach the lesson. It’s a skill she’s honed during her 18 years at St. John the Baptist School and many more before that teaching at area preschools.
“It’s good to keep in touch with the children, so they know you care, you’re there,” Streich said of the online classes.
“And it’s good to keep the curriculum going so when they get into first grade, maybe they won’t know how to do what we were talking about, but at least they might have some kind of recognition of what we did.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Wisconsin in March, St. John the Baptist School was entering spring break. Little did Streich know that she had held her final in-person class for the rest of the school year.
She and her fellow teachers had to switch gears to teach online. Like many people, Streich never had used Zoom before, but she quickly mastered it.
She also had to come up with lessons for parents to share with their children, as well as those she and the pupils could do together while still apart.
The Zoom lessons usually focus on language arts, although Streich recently taught some math and plans to do a religion class.
“I do stay with our curriculum,” Streich said. “Every week, I’ll send out something for science and language arts and if the parents want to work with their children, they can.
“But nowadays, the parents don’t always have time to sit with them a lot and I don’t want them to feel like, ‘it’s all on me.’”
Streich said she is amazed at how helpful and wonderful the parents are, yet even they can get worn down by their kindergartners.
“Mr. (Bill) Bare, our principal, made the comment that parents have called wanting subs,” Streich added, laughing.
On a recent Thursday, Streich, the children and their parents took their laptops outside for their Zoom lesson.
“We start learning sight or memory words almost at the beginning of the year,” Streich explained. “But as our reading and writing program progresses, we start doing another one and another one, so they build.”
Sight words are words that the children can recognize automatically without having to sound them out: of, and, to, put, no, too, the, I, a, for, etc.
Preparation for today’s lesson actually began the second week of the school closure. Streich wrote the sight words in white chalk on white paper and sent them home to the families.
“They already had their watercolors, and I said, ‘don’t tell the boys and girls what’s on it; just have them paint it.’ The parents said the children were really surprised. They had no idea.”
When the class next met via Zoom, she had the pupils cut around the words they’d painted and place them in a baggie with chalk she had sent them.
“I said ‘keep this.’”
Fast-forward to today’s class, for which the children are outdoors.
“We’re going to have each one of them take a word from the bag, and they will hold it up to the screen and tell us what they picked and spell it. Then we’ll all write it on the sidewalk,” Streich explained, noting that each student will do that until the words are all gone.
“We go for an hour, and sometimes they get a little restless,” Streich said. “But if we have time, I will say one of the words and they will walk over to it.
“If we were still here at school, we’d be doing it outside, all walking around in the parking lot.”
An airplane buzzes overhead. Birds are chirping. The church clock chimes 10 a.m. Class begins.
“We need to listen so we know how to do this, alright? I can see your picture on the screen. You’re going to put your hand in the bag and take out a sight word and tell us what the sight word is and we’re going to write it down on the sidewalk.”
I don’t even have my sight words. Now I got them. I’ve got my chalk.
“Jake, is that you? What is your word? Take your chalk and write the word. How do we spell it? T-H-E. Did you get it?
“Give it to mom and dad or put it under a rock or something. Don’t put it back in your bag.
“Christina, pick a word from the bag. L-I-K-E.
Mrs. Streich, I’ve got chickens behind me.
I still have chickens behind me, though.
“You never know what they’re going to say,” she whispers to a visiting reporter.
“Maya, you pick a word, sweetheart. ‘A.’ This is going to be one of those challenging words. Way to go, friend.”
That’s not challenging.
“Remember, friends. After we say the words, don’t put them back in the bag.”
You can see I’m wearing kitty ears.
“Do we have any words left in our bag? Everyone take out that one word, friends. I want to see everyone’s word on the screen. Can you show me? Let’s all write ‘of.’ How do you spell ‘of,’ everybody?”
Now what we gonna do?
“Good job, guys. (Applause) When I call out the word, I want you to go and stand on it. Is everybody ready to move around? I’m going to talk loud so you can hear me. ‘Was.’ Stand on ‘was.’”
Next comes for, followed by no, put, said, too, and, the.
“That’s the ‘no.’ There you go.”
Like. For. See. A. I. Of.
(Applause) “Good job, guys. Very good. Do you remember our firecracker cheer we did the other day? Lets do it. (Applause, hissssssssssss, ooooooooooooh.) Good job guys.”
My cat is out here doing whatever he wants.
The reporter asks the children a couple of questions.
“Do you miss seeing your teacher in person?”
We are seeing her in person right now.
“Good point. I would like to take a picture of all of you. Can you wave at me before leaving?”
The pupils, shown on the screen in “Brady Bunch” squares, all wave goodbye.
The screen goes dark.