May/June 2020 Issue
April 30, 2020

Amid crisis, educators are anything but remote

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
student visit
Caption: Rochester kindergarten teacher Marie Rice makes a special house call to talk with one of her students. Rice and educators across the state are finding unique ways to help their students get through this unprecedented time. Photo provided.

Rochester teacher Marie Rice spent more than an hour on a student’s front porch Easter Sunday, talking through a window to a kindergartner who needed some extra TLC.

“Her mom just lost her own mother before this all happened and they’re both really struggling,” Rice said. “Mom texted me to say that Maya missed me and really needed to see me in person. So I went. That’s what we do.”

As it turned out, the mom needed someone to talk to, as well.

The three-way porch chat was just another example of how Rice — like so many other educators around the state — has been there to help her students and families get through this unprecedented time.


NYSUT has prepared two fact sheets on “Trauma Informed Instructional Practices” and “Teaching Amid the COVID-19 Crisis.” Both are available at

When schools suddenly shut down statewide, Rice said, fewer than half of her Pinnacle School #35 students had access to an internet-enabled device. With donations of old laptops and help from her husband, an IT support technician at Brockport schools, she provided retrofitted chromebooks so all of her students could participate in remote learning. She’s now collecting more laptop donations to provide much-needed devices for other students at her school.

Remote learning continues to be a work in progress. To supplement district-provided learning packets, Rice started with just one online ELA session in the morning, but that’s expanded to include an afternoon math lesson and an open office hour block for parents.

Riverhead’s Aquebogue Elementary School staff sent reassuring messages to students in this “We Miss You” video.

Rice is amazed how many of her students log in early, just to socialize with their peers. “They miss school so much,” she said. “They desperately want to see their friends’ faces and interact with each other.”

Rice said every lesson begins and ends with social-emotional learning, whether it’s talking about getting outside to play or reassuring them that we can get through this together. “If I notice any concerns, I follow up,” she said. “Our families are worried about everything from unemployment to illness. They’re really counting on us.”

Rice is just one of many educators around the state serving as a lifeline for their students and families during this difficult time. While drive-by parades and “We Miss You” videos have been most visible, educators are also dedicating long hours to making phone calls to those lacking internet, writing upbeat personalized letters, postcards and texts to students and stopping by homes to deliver food, books and other care packages.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said the tremendous outreach work by so many of our members has been heartening, but it has also highlighted a wide variety of social-emotional needs, along with access and equity issues.

“I’m so proud of the many ways our members have rallied to provide not only instructional opportunities for students, but also the non-instructional support,” said DiBrango, who hosts Sunday evening #NYSUTchat on Twitter where educators share ideas and concerns.

“Being that constant for so many kids is crucial to them surviving this without being severely traumatized,” DiBrango said. “And our focus on social-emotional needs will be just as important when school reopens.”