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Taylorsville Journal

Taylorsville City council chair among the teachers working to maintain contact with students during challenging times

May 07, 2020 12:25PM ● By Carl Fauver

Third grade teacher and Taylorsville City Council Chairwoman Meredith Harker is maintaining safe contact with her Calvin Smith Elementary School students by exchanging books with them through her classroom window. (courtesy Meredith Harker)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

After winning her Taylorsville City Council seat 2 1/2 years ago, Meredith Harker had a few leftover campaign signs. But she, and the rest of the world, would never have guessed how they would be repurposed.

Soon after our regular way of life was swept away, seemingly in an instant, Harker was editing her signs to put on her car. She then joined her fellow Calvin Smith Elementary School (2150 West 6200 South) teachers in a 50-vehicle, socially distanced parade through the neighborhoods where their students live.

Instead of reading “Meredith Harker for City Council,” as they did in the fall of 2017, the signs now proclaimed “Meredith Harker (heart)’s her 3rd graders!”

“We saw teacher parades on the news from other states and thought it would be a good way to show our students how much we miss them,” Harker said. “I think we were one of the first schools in the (Salt Lake) valley to hold a parade. We posted information about it on our school Facebook page and ended up with a huge turnout. Kids and parents were out in their driveways with signs and banners. It was emotional. Our students mean so much to us.”

About a month after Utah school kids were first told not to go to school because of the coronavirus pandemic, the anticipated “second shoe’ dropped, when Gov. Gary Herbert announced they would not return to their classrooms for the rest of the school year. That official pronouncement puts even more pressure on teachers and parents alike to try to see their kids continue to be educated through these difficult times.

“Our teachers are doing a spectacular job staying engaged with their students,” Granite School District Communications Director Ben Horsley said. “I can’t say enough about the remarkable and innovative things they are doing. Teachers do much more than provide learning. They provide a sense of security to their students. They are doing so much to give the kids a reprieve from their anxiety over this pandemic.”

There have been reports from some Utah school districts about student participation in online learning being as low as 10%. In particular, high school age kids have shown limited participation, with many of them telling teachers they are now forced to work because the pandemic has cut their parents’ income.

But Harker said, she has been pleased with the online student participation rate of her third grade pupils.

“Granite School District is using Google Classroom, and my students seem to be doing well with it,” she said. “Teachers are in charge of the content. I make sure every day my assignments are on there, and I can also track how the students are doing with them.”

Like most teachers, Harker is a big proponent of students reading and is also going out of her way to facilitate that.

“Although our students are no longer coming to school, some staff are still working there, and I still have access to my classroom,” she said. “So, I decided to do a book exchange with my students through my classroom window for a couple of hours every other Friday. I wear gloves, and the books are disinfected. I had about 35 kids show up to the first one. They bring me the books they’ve read, and I pass them new ones through the window.”

Besides doing her best to serve her students, Harker is also caring for four sons at home, including three still in public school.

“These alternate education methods are not the same as being in a classroom,” she said. “We will need to do more refresher work with the students next fall. But teachers are experts at that. For now, we are making it work, doing the best we can to teach and reassure our students.”

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