As The Pandemic Continues, A New Teacher Goes Back To School In Her Hometown
This story is part of an update to the 2020 newsroom collaboration series highlighting school reopenings in western Kentucky.
When Angela Orozco graduated from Murray State University in December after being a student teacher, she knew where she wanted to land following her college career: in her hometown in Barren County, Kentucky. She knew she wanted to at least be a substitute teacher at one of the local school districts in the county, but a full-time job opened up.
“I got information about the job because my old high school counselor actually reached out to me about the job position,” Orozco said in a recent interview.
Many schools across Kentucky have reopened for in-person learning this spring, following Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's coronavirus guidelines last year for school districts.
The guidelines ask for districts in “red zone” counties with “critical” COVID-19 spread -- an average of 25 daily cases per 100,000 people -- to offer a virtual learning option for every class, while also offering virus protections for faculty and staff. Currently, more than 50 counties in the state including Barren County are considered to have “critical” spread.
Many school districts have opted for hybrid and remote lessons, leaving teachers to change instructional methods in order to adapt to both online and in-person lesson plans.
Orozco works as a sophomore English teacher at Barren County High School, teaching both a hybrid model class—which rotates in-person learning between “burgundy” and “gold” days— and a fully online class. She’s managed switching between in-person and virtual lessons by staying organized and “making the most of the situation.” However, technological hiccups still made an appearance from time to time.
“There were a couple moments where on Zoom, it would kick off students or there was a ton of glitches sometimes. It teaches you to be flexible and how to work with students with that, because it's definitely out of their control and out of your own control,” Orozco said.
She said the high school has made changes to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Students now have scheduled bathroom breaks, and at the end of the school day there are staggered dismissals to limit the number of people in the hall. She said the thought of one of her students carrying the virus hadn’t crossed her mind.
“I know we're taking all the precautions we can in order to stay safe, not only just for ourselves, but for the students as well,” she said.
Orozco said reminding her sophomore students to communicate with her has been even more important, since many traditional high school experiences have been cancelled due to the pandemic. When she was student-teaching in Murray in hybrid elementary classes, she realized how important relationship-building was to a student’s success.
“It's a little harder with high school age, because they're a little more quiet, kind of more independent than elementary. I still feel like it's super important for them to know that you're there for them, not just academically but also as a person because no one has been through this before,” Orozco said.
Orozco still remembers what school was like before the pandemic, and she knows her students do as well. Orozco said both her freshman and sophomore years at Murray State were wildly different than her senior year, and she remembers her high school experiences fondly. That’s why she does her best to remind her students that school will eventually go back to normal.
“My hope is more for things to go back to normal for the kids. I want them to have a normal elementary, middle, high school experience, because those are all their foundations that are important moments in your life,” she said. “I know [high school students are] definitely trying to hold on to that hope and look forward to things eventually going back to what they remember as normal.”
Orozco plans to move to Louisville next summer, where she hopes to pursue a career in elementary education and help bilingual students.