A Year to Remember
Mi hermano y yo fuimos a pescar. Primero nosotros pusimos gusanos. Tiramos los gusanos en el agua profundo. Fue divertido.
My brother and I went to fish. First, we put worms. We threw the worms in the deep water. It was fun.
Mi abuelo, mi abuela, mi hermana, y yo estuvimos en la casa. Celebramos mi cumpleaños. Rompimos una piñata. Me hicieron pelo chino. Comimos pastel de fresa.
My grandpa, my grandma, my sister and I were in the house. We celebrated my birthday. We broke a piñata. They curled my hair. We ate strawberry cake.
Mi familia y yo estuvimos en la casa. Trajimos McDonalds. Comimos. Mi mamá y yo lavamos los platos.
My family and I were in the house. We brought McDonalds. We ate. My mom and I washed the dishes.
-Excerpts from my students’ family memory stories
There is no way around it—this year was very hard.
Not only did my kindergarteners learn through a worldwide pandemic, they did so with masks, in individual desks, or in front of a screen. Every bit of research indicates this is the exact opposite way 5-year-olds should learn and grow. I left every day feeling like I was failing as a teacher.
Therefore, a week before my literacy project, when I asked my students about a happy memory with their families this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But all my students began shouting out memories big and small, most real and a few imagined. They included swims at the lake, going to the chino (Panda Express) or the Dollar Store, birthdays with piñatas and carne asada, new siblings, and movie nights.
As a teacher, I did not create these memories. My students’ families built them. Therefore, during my family literacy night, I wanted to create an atmosphere that honored the incredible hard work, love and sacrifice that my parents, abuelas, tías and tíos, hermanos invested this year. All the time they spent setting up the tablets while half-asleep, recording Seesaw activities, encouraging their shy students to unmute the mic at my never-ending questions—all the while making sure their children were still children through play. Bluntly, I would have not been an effective teacher at all without their input, patience, and support this year.
Thus, prior to the virtual family night, I wanted to first give a gift to my families to thank them. I compiled a list of picture books that represented a plethora of family dynamics and structures. I sent out the Google form to families and encouraged them to rank their preferences with their children, in an attempt at a “virtual book-tasting.” One thing that was important to me was that the books were new. At a Title I school, my students often receive donations of used books or clothing. While they don’t notice and are always over-the-moon excited, I wanted to make sure their families could have a brand new book-shopping experience.
The day of the literacy night, I sent home students with bags packed with pencils, their new book, a family journal, and some palomitas and candies to go along with the “family night” theme. Finally, the students proudly placed the final draft of their memory writing in the bag.
Honestly, I was incredibly nervous for this night. I had coupled it with our kindergarten graduation in order to boost attendance on a night where I was competing with comfortably warm weather before the onslaught of an unbearable Texas summer. What if my students’ families were so over Zoom that they didn’t come? (I wouldn’t blame them). What if they came but then no one talked? After all, families were used to sitting beside their students as they talked. It’s one thing to help your students spell a word, it’s another to pour out your thoughts and be willing to share it with other adults through the computer.
I thought about this as I hurriedly put on mascara and rearranged the lamps in my room. As the families started to join, my nerves and smile grew. I wasn’t sure why I had such anxiety–after all, I had spoken in front of these families many times.
However, once we were all there in our little boxes, something just felt right. We had started the year by building this community on Zoom and it was only fitting closure that we would end it in through this medium as well.
Ms. Sevilla, our teacher who had instructed many of my virtual students, joined me in welcoming the families. Students first shared their stories with their families, and then came the moment that I had stressed over. I asked parents to write down or draw their own favorite memories from the year. I paused, played some music, and wrote down my own favorite memory–when I became an aunt when my nephew was born this year.
I saw mothers, fathers, abuelitas, and students fidgeting. I wasn’t sure what this 2-minute free write would yield. But as with everything this year, my parents contributed more than I could ever have hoped. One mom spoke of the joys of making her daughters mid-day lunches, another of the honor of having her son watch his little brother grow in her belly, another of the new words and phrases her son would recite at dinner. It was simple and perfect.
Of course, there were parents that logged off, perhaps confused that I hadn’t handed out the virtual certificates yet or were uncomfortable with the activity. This is to be expected and honestly, I don’t know if I would have had the same bravery to share as my families did.
Finally, we handed out the certificates virtually. I spotlighted videos and students cheered with their family from the park, the car, the dining room, the living room floor. We said goodbye with virtual hugs and kisses. While we technically had a week left of school, it felt like a wrap. A weirdly beautiful end to a weirdly beautiful and challenging year.