The Easter Bunny greeted Soboba Tribal Preschool students as they took a socially distanced walk outside the building on April 2. With an enrollment of 76 students from ages two through six, the staff prepared treats for all the students and siblings who attended between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Each teacher made special goodie bags for their own students but offered toys and sweets for all that visited on the Friday before the start of Spring Break. There were coloring books, bubble sticks, wristbands, cookies and Peeps marshmallow candies which served as the theme for the entire event.
Students also received homework packets for the week of April 12 since they get next week off and their parents were given their child’s progress report.
Antonia Briones-Venegas is an aide for the kindergarten class and said the school’s closure due to COVID-19 has presented challenges for the students as well as the staff. Some children have parents who work and were spending their weekdays at different homes of relatives and babysitters so the consistency of the same environment while they attended online class was disrupted.
“It was hard because it wasn’t just about them learning their ABCs and numbers – we were not able to be there to guide them on how to hold a pencil properly or how to cut with scissors,” she said. “When they are here with us, they learn by watching and copying us and their classmates.”
She said all students reacted differently to the change because so many factors determine success such as being the youngest with siblings who had been through the program before, having a strong support system at home and/or having a parent who was willing to basically take on the role of a teacher each day.
Kindergarten Teacher Cindy Lee said distance learning success also depends on the type of learner a child is: visual, audio or kinesthetic/tactile. Some children also do better when they can feed off the social aspect of being in a classroom setting.
Preschool Director Donovan Post has announced the decision to keep the school closed to in-person learning for the remainder of this school year.
“Soboba’s Preschool administration as well as Soboba’s Tribal administration met and weighed the safety risks as well as the benefits to reopening the preschool at this time,” Post said in a letter to parents and guardians. “This decision will bring a greater measure of certainty to our families while continuing to keep the health and safety of our students and staff as the highest priority.”
Post said the plan is to have in-person learning resume in August with all the proper protocols in place to make sure the return of students is as seamless as possible. Summer school and one-on-one tutoring will be offered virtually throughout the summer session.
Briones-Venegas has four sons, ranging in age from 8 to 17 and she has been helping them with their schooling since last March. She has seen it affect her boys in different ways and has seen a variety of reactions by parents and teachers.
“Telling kids they are behind because of these circumstances will only bring them down,” she said. “No one knew exactly what to do – we all had to find our way during this pandemic, even teachers. Expectations should be adjusted.”
During the week leading up to Spring Break, the students got to do fun Easter related activities with their teachers online such as using jellybeans to tally up numbers and a science experiment to see if a Peeps candy bunny would melt in water.
“We went out of our way to make sure each child got exactly what they needed to participate in these activities,” Briones-Venegas said. “We didn’t just send home a list and expect parents to go out and buy these things. We also wanted our kids to have a chance to do things hands-on and not just watch the teacher do it.”
Lee said a recent visit by the Noli Indian School bookmobile allowed teachers to talk to the students about the book they chose and listen to them read from it. Siblings and parents were also offered a book and that showed the youngest children how important reading is to everyone, turning it into a family event.
Lee said they are so proud when parents of former students share with them awards their children get for reading or other academic achievement once they have moved on to public schools.
“We are grateful that our Tribal Council allows us to do outdoor parties like this Easter one today because it helps us keep in contact with the parents and interact with our students and some of our former students,” Briones-Venegas said.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians