The media has seemed to slow down on highlighting the current situation of classrooms and its effects on children, but teachers like Maggie Schacht are reminded every day that education looks a lot different than last year.

Some teachers are teaching virtually, some are teaching in a socially distant classroom, and then there’s Schacht, who has her Massachusetts classroom set up in a renovated shed in the backyard of one of her students.

Maggie and I graduated from the University of Rhode Island together back in 2015, and she went on to get her master's at Western Connecticut State University. The 2019 school year was her first year in the classroom, and nothing could have prepared her for March of 2020.

“It was a shock to me,” she said. “We closed for the two weeks (in March) and our return continued to get pushed back. I just felt defeated.”

She explained that working virtually as a kindergarten teacher was extremely difficult, and by the end of the year, she was laid off due to budget cuts. In her young career, she has already dealt with a pandemic and job loss, but she didn’t give up.

She spent the summer of 2020 tutoring her previous students and was preparing to be a substitute teacher for the next school year when she got the break of a lifetime from a group of parents.

One of the parents approached Schacht with a proposition.

“She said to me, ‘I know I can’t teach my kids virtually, they just want me to be Mom’, so one of the family members came up with the idea of the backyard pod," Schacht explained.

An unfinished shed in the backyard of one of the students was transformed into a fully-functioning classroom with heat and WiFi by one of the parents, who is a contractor. With the help of Facebook Marketplace and yard sales, the parents were able to furnish the classroom for their children, creating a safe space for a handful of students.

The mother that started the pod reached out to her close friends, and with the help of Schacht, they were able to create a safe environment for the children where the pains of virtual and remote learning could be lessened, and the families would be able to control their environment more thoroughly.

The administration of their school is aware of the backyard classroom and a teacher from the school teaches the students virtual lessons while Schacht assists the children in person.

“My job is implementing those lessons and activities and supplement them when possible," she said. "I ask myself, ‘How can I help them in the best way?’”

This extremely unique experience has taught Schacht that anything can happen and it’s important to be flexible in life.

“I definitely feel like I chose the right path,” she said, "And it’s encouraging to see these kids every day."

She offered some advice to parents that are concerned with teaching their children at home.

"It sounds silly, but don’t stress about it," she said. "(The kids) are doing the best they can, and you are doing the best you can. Learning doesn’t have to be with pen and paper. It can be driving in the car, looking at your surroundings...making it fun.”

It’s situations like this one that clearly showcase the strain that this pandemic has put on education. I am blown away by the great lengths that these families have gone to provide a safe environment for their children to learn in a successful way and Maggie’s dedication to her students is nothing short of admirable.

Since I don’t have kids, I’m blind to the struggles of teachers, parents, and kids during this time. This was a shocking reminder that COVID-19 has a strong grip on so many people, but the strength and perseverance of the community prove to be a serious force in the face of adversity.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of our educators and the impact they have on children.

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