By school days, Laura Nunn is an elementary reading interventionist with Chicago Public Schools. By weekends & pandemics, she teaches yoga. Laura is offering a free virtual class this Friday at 12:30CST. Register with this link to usher in your weekend in peace.
Laura designed her fellowship to retrace the steps of Odysseys through Sicily, Malta and Greece to give birth to a cross-curricular unit on The Hero’s Journey, modern-day perceptions of Greek myths and the meaning of “home” as it relates to travelers and immigrants.
Hearing about Friday’s event hosted by the Chicago Foundation for Education prompted us to check in with Laura and see how she and her students are managing the pivot to distance learning.Q What does “virtual” literacy look like with your students at Patrick Henry Elementary? A Virtual literacy is such a change from the norm, especially with English learners! Books are magic and we need to continue to treat them as such, even at a distance, so children can grow up believing in that magic.
I’m currently seeing students in grades PK-8 for intervention with the majority of my work focusing on first grade ESL and schoolwide computer literacy. I’m trying to stick to routines that mirror what we did in the classroom; we all need a bit of consistency in this upside-down world, and our children need it even more not only to get back into a positive learning environment, but also to feel safe and secure in an unknown time. My literacy block is made up of interactive lessons made through Powerpoint or SMART Notebook with short games to keep their attention (guess the rhyme, match the middle sound, what’s the missing letter?), daily read alouds with puppets and, my number one, creating anticipation and familiarity with themed units and exciting incentives.
My best incentive is the A-Z Countdown for the last 26 days of school. We just finished Day A, Animal Day, where students could come dressed as an animal, bring a pet or bring a stuffed animal to our virtual class to read a non-fiction animal book. They were so excited… even though the beak of my owl costume muffled a bit of the sound! We’re sharing our favorite books on B Day (I’ll be dressed as Ms. Frizzle!), reading under pillow forts on F’s Fort Day and we’ll act as outdoor phonics detectives on W Day’s Walking Scavenger Hunt. To me, true success is when my students are excited to read, so I do my best to bring reading to life and make life adventurous.Q How is your school community pivoting? A Virtual learning will look different in every school and every classroom and, among other things, I think this pandemic has shed light on the economic inequalities within our schools and the very real digital divide that is often overlooked. We’re located within Albany Park, Chicago’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood and one of its most dense. Based on household incomes, 100% of our school qualifies for free-lunch and 90% are English learners. Once the quarantine started, our biggest concern was getting technology into homes. Often, only 1 or 2 students in class had a computer or tablet which had to then be shared between multiple people. Once we passed out every bit of portable technology to students, our next challenge was teaching the students themselves how to join virtual meetings and check their email: many members of our school community are unable to work from home and don’t have access to child care. I’ve dedicated my Fridays to safe-distance home visits, often demoing computer skills from the driveway, and calling and texting families to do troubleshooting. I’ve recorded video tutorials and created step-by-step pages. Sometimes all we can do is drop off school supplies and paper-based packets to families without wifi (it helps to do so in an inflatable unicorn costume). Q What is your main takeaway from this time? A Love. In my first year of teaching, my then mentor and now dear friend Edith said to me, “Just love them like they’re your own and it’ll all be perfect.” It’s stuck with me and has been formative in developing who I am as an educator. So, for teachers out there, just love them like they’re your own, it’ll all be perfect. We all feel overwhelmed and even the most distinguished of educators are questioning their effectiveness. Trust in yourself that you’re doing enough and let tomorrow’s lesson be guided by great waves of love and understanding– no matter if you’re dividing equivalent fractions on your refrigerator’s whiteboard or singing songs about rainbows.
The love in my school and professional community has made me feel that, despite the distance, we’re somehow closer than ever. Our lunch staff, security officers and administrators are at school daily passing out free breakfasts and lunches, managing safe-pick up of technology and checking in with families. Our Assistant Principal records her daily announcements and the pledge of allegiance and wishes kids a happy birthday. My colleagues check-in with self-care reminders and have gone above and beyond to creatively celebrate our 8th graders’ graduation. My after-school knitting club still meets once a week. Sometimes all you hear is our needles clicking and then sometimes they’re talking over each other about pom-pom sizes. What’s important is to hold that space for their voices and be present so they know they’re loved.
This year, Laura entered a give away contest sponsored by actor Busy Phillips and she was one of ten teachers chosen from across the country to get have her list cleared on Amazon. Her letter to Phillips read as follows:
“Hi Busy! I’m an academic interventionist in my tenth year working for Chicago Public Schools in a low-income, high-need community where 100% of our students are far enough below the poverty-line to qualify for free lunch. Very few students come with school supplies and, due to issues at home, often their most structured, loving, and happy moments (as well as their meals) come from school. Typically, I work out of a classroom but this year, since we’re short on rooms and I believe in the wonder of reading, I’ll be taking over the library.
Here’s the thing, Busy, and it breaks my heart: due to budget cuts, we haven’t had a librarian since 2010. The room became a dumping ground for old furniture and broken materials. I’ve spent ten months working before and after school and on weekends to restore it. Come September, I’ll not only house my interventions there, but also lead PK-2nd grade library classes. The only chairs I could find are adult sized, the tables are enormous and old, and the rugs are stained. The walls are all ancient blackboard. I want my little ones to not only feel safe and successful, but also to capture the love of books that brought me to where I am. My Amazon list mostly has items to create a library space for small bodies– rugs they can take with them, chairs their size, stuffed animals to hug while they read. You’ll also see markers and hand sanitizer!
I thought I wanted to join the Peace Corps but, after working abroad in my undergraduate degree to study human rights issues, I found that the great equalizer that saved women and children alike was education. I moved to Chicago, changed my field of study, got a masters, and here I am!”
Enjoy these photos of Laura receiving donations from Phillips’ fans. You can also follow Laura on Instagram @nunn.chucks, where she’ll be posting lessons, videos and free materials.