Utica Community Schools staff shares stories of challenges during pandemic

By: Kara Szymanski | C&G Newspapers | Published June 9, 2021

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA/STERLING HEIGHTS — After a year of many changes and restrictions, Utica Community Schools is celebrating the stories of people who showed resiliency, leadership and service during the global pandemic. In order to tell the stories, the district is seeking the help of the community to find groups or individuals to profile as “champions.”

The effort, #UCSChampions, is a monthlong series of stories about those who made a difference during COVID-19. Some UCS staff members have already been selected as champions to tell their own stories.

These stories of UCS champions include teachers and administrators who innovated their teaching methods to connect with students; food service workers who provided more than 2.2 million meals at remote and in-person locations since March 2020; a technology team that prepared more than 27,000 teacher and student electronic devices at the start of the school year; and more.

A couple of third grade teachers at Wiley Elementary School in Shelby Township who have already been chosen as #UCSChampions are Katelyn Ronse and Danielle Guglielmetti.

Ronse said that teaching during the pandemic showed the importance of a collaborative team effort and having a positive attitude.

“I will never forget the powerful feeling I felt on the first day of school when 29 faces appeared on (Microsoft) Teams. Their smiles and eagerness to learn truly set the tone for the year. I knew in that moment, we would overcome any obstacle that came our way — as long as we were in it together,” she said via email.

One experience she will always remember is that her students were so resilient and they adapted so quickly to the changes that were thrown their way.

“Through it all, we still laughed, learned and strived to achieve our goals. I will always remember the incredible bond we were able to make, no matter where we were learning from,” she said.

Due to the pandemic, she said, she had to change the way she delivered instruction to students.

“Most importantly, I had to change the way I would check in on my student’s wellbeing. Their world was changing as they knew it, and I had to find new strategies that would support their social and emotional wellbeing,” she said.

Now that things are slowly going back to normal, she said she is happy for her students because they deserve the memorable experience that elementary school brings.

“With the positive attitudes of my students, my amazing third grade team and my incredibly supportive parents, learning and engagement were possible,” she said.

Guglielmetti said one experience that she will always remember is how sad she felt when she learned that they wouldn’t be going back to school in the spring of 2020.

“Everything with our students felt unfinished, and trying to suddenly change gears and attempt to teach online felt overwhelming. We all just wanted our students back in our classrooms,” she said in an email.

Due to the pandemic, she had to change the way a lot of things were done.

“This year felt like my first year of teaching all over again. My teaching partners and I worked very hard trying to create everything electronically that would be engaging and appropriate for our students,” she said.

She said that when she first learned that she was going to be the third grade Virtual Academy teacher in their building, she was really nervous.

“My teaching partners, Ann-Marie Transki and Katelyn Ronse, are amazing in every way, and the way we helped and supported each other was key to making this year as successful as it could be,” she said.

She hopes that students take some positives from this past year into the years ahead.

“Our students have become amazing at keyboarding and working with technology. They have also done a great job with supporting each other and being kind to one another. I hope that everyone is more aware of the gifts we used to take for granted — sitting next to a friend to read a book, class meetings on the carpet, etc. These are the moments that are to be treasured,” she said.

Todd Daniels, the director of technology for Utica Community Schools, said the Technology Department experienced many big changes that staff members will always remember.

“The pandemic resulted in a very fast change in technology usage at the district. While we were looking at a phased approach to 1:1 computers for students, we accelerated our plans and obtained, imaged and distributed around 27,000 devices to students and teachers in a matter of a few months. Services that were normally provided in schools, like internet content filtering, had to be extended to students learning remotely. We had to expand our help desk services to be better able to support students who worked remotely. And we had to roll out online services that allowed students and teachers to learn and teach in an online environment,” he said via email.

He said he was surprised at how smoothly many of the technology initiatives that they had been working on for years allowed the district to transition all of its staff and students to remote work very quickly.

“I particularly felt that administrative and support staff did a great job in using the technology to communicate and share information in those first months of lockdown. All of the technology changes we made over the summer really allowed our teaching staff to adapt to online learning in time for a strong start to the 2020-2021 school year,” he said.

He said his youngest daughter was a UCS Virtual Academy student this year, and he was very impressed with how well her teachers were able to conduct her classes.

“Big challenges can be met when everyone works together,” he said.

To suggest a champion, visit www.uticak12.org/ucschampions.