Riverside County Teacher Sets Leading Example
By Dianne Anderson
The last school year proved to be a hard lesson learned on short notice, but Keisa Brown is sure that her district is ready for the inevitable, working around the clock to get ready for any challenges they may face in the fall.
The award-winning teacher said recent months presented a huge learning experience for everyone, students and staff included.
“But the blessing is that we are a one to one campus and all of our students had a device,” said Brown, who teaches 7th and 8th grade introduction to Spanish as well as AVID at University Heights Middle School in the Riverside Unified School District.
The district worked to make sure that the students without internet access were able to get hotspots. Those who did not have internet, or in stable situations, were given enrichment assignments..
For her site, she feels they were well prepared to meet the distance learning needs of all students. They kept office hours, the technology was open access, and she offered Google voice for her AVID students and parents.
Besides continuing her own assignments and activities, she also extended help beyond her regular classes. Ms. Brown is the recent winner of the 2021 Riverside County Teachers of the Year.
“Some students would say can you help me with my work with another class so I went beyond being a teacher to being a learning partner in helping students navigate all assignments,” she said.
Teachers and AVID members at her site called all student households, and have had a strong Facebook and social media presence through the pandemic. Online, some kids didn’t want to show their faces in the classes, and others didn’t want to talk, but instead used chat.
She said the instructors worked with the students wherever they were.
Mostly, her mission has been guidance and support for students, to keep them moving along through what is one of the toughest times in recent history.
“It’s a totally different vibe from being on campus every single day,” she said. “Teachers are just working. What do we have to do to make sure your students have an opportunity? We don’t want our babies to fall behind.”
In the coming school year, she is confident and in line with following County Health Offices and the CDC rules to make sure that everything is in the best interest of the students when schools open again.
Nothing is worth jeopardizing their future, or their families, she said.
“If you stick with the facts, our African American and Latino students, they are the communities most impacted by this virus. We have to be very cautious when we open up because that’s the demographic we deal with,” she said.
Her love of teaching came early and unexpectedly. Brown’s mother passed away while she was working on her master’s degree, and she also raised her younger sister. She had been ready to get into probation as a career, and had tutored on the side for several years.
But her college mentors noticed her natural skills with the students, and suggested she’d be a great fit as an educator. Brown said she answered the call to “the still, small voice” that was edging her on to teach. Today, her greatest concern is that kids reach success, that they graduate high school, and go on to university or community college, or get their certification.
She wants them to have the opportunities to open doors.
It was something she didn’t always have growing up in Los Angeles. She attended a school that became a magnet school, and in retrospect, recognized the unequal treatment of Black and Brown students. They were marginalized from other students that were bused in from other areas.
As she got older, she began to understand the social dynamics.
Today, Brown is pro-public schools, bringing energy and motivation so all students can achieve a sense of accomplishment. She said it’s important that they not only realize they need to study hard to get good grades, and press on with their education.
She said so many students are system-dependent.
“For those of us who don’t come from households where people have college degrees, we don’t know,” she said. “We rely on the system to show us the way we should go.”
Through the crisis, she feels that teachers should be able to build on some of the challenges and successes of the distance learning process.
“We had a chance to get our feet wet in terms of preparation because March 13th hit, and it was like sink or swim. We said we’re going to swim. We’re going to do this,” she said.
For other teachers and also parents adjusting to the new normal, she recommends the best model for adaptation for the kids is to show, don’t just tell.
Everyone had to turn around quickly in March, but she believes students need to see what flexibility looks like in real-time.
“We want them to be flexible so we can stretch them to reach their academic potential. In turn, we have to be flexible as adults when things change. That flexibility we ask for, we have to be able to give,” she said.