As the summer draws to a close, we would typically be seeing our kids heading off to school, some bemoaning the end of summer, with others fully excited to see friends and teachers again.

While we all hoped this year would mark a return to in-person teaching, we learned last week that both Los Lunas and Belen high schools began  the school year with remote teaching, thanks to complications brought to us by the highly-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

In the face of these uncertainties, I hope as the pandemic continues to evolve that we continue to evolve and adapt as well. COVID-19 has presented big challenges in educating our young folk.

Andrew Hautzinger

The primary charge of teachers is to teach, but throughout the pandemic, teachers have served as supportive leaders in our children’s lives, helping students focus not only on academics but also on their personal well-being and social development. We all know those special teachers who played a life-changing role in our lives, or in the lives of loved ones — in these uncertain times, our amazing teachers are beyond golden.

Our district educator, Allison Martin, in 2020-21 developed online science modules for teachers and students in our local school districts, as the pandemic closed down in-person visits.  Local schoolteachers, including Arlene Clevenger, were thankful.

“Last year, there was a huge adjustment going from in-school teaching to remote teaching. But I have to say that, overall, I enjoyed the experience. Teaching remotely challenged me to find new ways to do things, which in turn forced me to move out of my comfort zone. Therefore, I grew not only as a teacher but as a person. I learned to be more flexible, kind and patient.”

While the road ahead for our schools is hardly crystal clear, our team at VSWCD continues to prepare with excitement for the coming school year. The Whitfield Education Program will be in all local schools in Valencia County.

Our main goal at VSWCD is to support environmental education and stewardship both in the classroom and throughout our daily lives. Our programs provide a framework for daily access by all students to the outdoors and environmental learning throughout Valencia County. Connecting students to the natural world directly aligns with experiential learning that cultivates curiosity in a multidisciplinary framework, supporting students with tools to become environmentally informed and to face the world with confidence and optimism.

We offer education programs for every grade level. Currently, each program includes at least one classroom visit and one Whitfield site visit. The program fits the needs of each teacher’s students, and can adapt as needed. On the registration form, found at forms.office.com/r/tmr719u3Um, all teachers will find an in-person option as well as a virtual option.

All lesson plans and information about each program, including the New Mexico state science standards they address, are available on our website, valenciaswcd.org/education-programs/

The district’s outdoor learning programs are offered throughout the school year at no charge to schools or students.  VSWCD funds these opportunities through a 1/4 mill levy and with grants from the Friends of Whitfield and Facebook’s Los Lunas Data Center.

Finally, for me, the challenges and anxieties of educating our kids amid the ongoing pandemic strikes especially close. My daughter, Ariel, had just last week started a new career as a school nurse at a school district north of us. Sadly, last week on day one of school, there was a young student who tested positive for COVID-19.

Teachers were still arranging the seating charts needed for the school district’s new contact tracing program, designed to allow isolation of infected and exposed students on a table-by-table basis, without necessitating sending the entire classroom home to quarantine. COVID-19, however, seems to care little for our best laid plans.

Nevertheless, we persevere, as educating our kids is not optional. Our local schools, and truly schools around the world, are challenged to find the right approach to continue the vital education of our youth, as the health crisis continues to change and evolve. The goods news is we are resilient, blessed with the creativity and intelligence to collectively forge a path forward.

Further good news comes in the form of infectious precautions and through widely available and effective vaccines, which can give us a real chance at restoring normalcy.

(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)

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Andrew Hautzinger, guest columnist