Kings Mills Elementary teacher Robyn Bersani moves her classroom to a ‘trailer down by the river’ in Loveland
By: Chuck Gibson
LOVELAND, OH (April 6, 2020) – Usually when school is out for the summer, Robyn Bersani assists in the operation of the family business with her husband Mark Bersani down by the Scenic Little Miami River in Loveland, Ohio.
Robyn Bersani assists with the family Loveland Canoe & Kayak business when not teaching during the summer months (Photo Chuck Gibson)
When not teaching third-grade at Kings Mills Elementary school, Loveland Canoe & Kayak is the family business for Robyn Bersani. The thing is, it is also the family home. Most of the time, barring heavy rains and rushing, rising waters, the location is a wonderful setting for the family to enjoy the adventure of outdoor living. Sure, when those relentless rains come, the river rages out of its banks and sometimes spills into the lower level of their Loveland Canoe & Kayak business operations. When it happens, it brings a chaotic rush to move family and gear to safer higher ground. Then, when the swollen river drops back within her banks, they’re left to clean up the muddy remnants left behind. But, truth is, the Bersani’s knew the risks when they renovated and moved in. They’ve weathered those storms too frequently already.
They could not have anticipated the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutting down schools and forcing orders to ‘Stay at Home’ in Ohio. With several weeks remaining in the normal school year, Robyn Bersani joined teachers throughout the state of Ohio, and all around the country, implementing distance learning plans from home. During a virtual business conference call one evening in their cozy home, trouble revealed itself quickly.
“Our five dogs started barking and the train went by,” said Bersani. “With it being spring the windows were open. I said this is never going to work for distance learning.”
Robyn Bersani is teaching her Kings Mills Elementary third-graders from this ‘trailer down by the river” during COVID-19 distance learning (Photo Chuck Gibson)
Robyn asked Mark to go get the Airstream travel trailer out of storage. It was time to de-winterize and get it ready for spring and summer anyway.
“I think that’ll make my perfect office, my perfect distance learning classroom,” Bersani said. “Mark grabbed it and set up space inside it for me. It’s super quiet. It’s very well insulated. It’s very, very quiet inside.”
So it is the Airstream “Trailer down by the river” is now the classroom for the Kings Mills Elementary third-grade students of Robyn Bersani. The first week the trailer was in place, she used it almost exclusively as her office.
“We are on spring break,” she explained during the interview with Loveland Beacon Tuesday, March 31 (from six feet away). “We scrambled as soon as we heard to get some things together to send home with the kids that first Friday.”
Kings Mills Elementary teachers were asked just to send home two weeks of schoolwork the kids could work on. Bersani and the teachers assembled the work, sent the kids home, and began sending emails. It served well for the numerous conference calls and virtual meetings with school officials planning for distance learning while Kings School District students were on spring break during the week of March 30-April 3. She’ll actually begin using it as a distance learning classroom to connect when the kids return to learning Monday, April 6.
“So far, we’re waiting to hear from some of our kids,” said Bersani. “I have quite a few I haven’t heard from.”
She had ‘Zoom meetings’ with the Kings team, ‘Google Hangouts” with the school administration to organize for this week of April 6th. Bersani spent most of the last week working on what kinds of lessons she could prepare. It was also time she spent making a lot of contact with her kids.
“Mostly just sending pictures and e-mailing parents,” she said. “We’ve really tried to reach out. I think this is across the board no matter where you’re teaching.”
Airstreem ‘trailer down by the river’ makeshift classroom (Photo Chuck Gibson)
Bersani recognizes a majority of students with “fabulous families”, with engaged parents trying to set up schedules. The teachers are trying to help them do that. They are also trying to help them not to do too much.
“We don’t want them to try to recreate the school day at home,” Bersani explained. “That is too much. You have kids at different ages, you have parents trying to work, trying to maintain a household and all the other things going on.”
Her third-grade kids are nine year-olds. Bersani doesn’t want them sitting in front of a computer screen all day either. The teachers have done a lot to encourage activities for the kids.
“We’ve sent a lot of ideas for activities, crafts, and outdoor activities and science experiments; things the kids can do and have fun that’s not just sitting on a computer screen or doing some worksheets,” Bersani said. “The big concern is the kids whose family is not engaged; maybe don’t have the technology and devices at home or internet even if they had a device.”
Bersani knows all the school districts are scrambling to make sure meals are going home to kids who need them. Those kinds of needs just add a whole new level of trying to reach the families; trying to make sure kids are still getting something out of being home. The situation is far different from a normal school day when teachers like Bersani get up, get to their classroom, and know what to expect when the kids get there. They know the kids, they see the kids, and they care about the kids. Now, they don’t see them, and can’t know for sure what is happening.
“It keeps me up at night,” said Bersani. “I worry for those kids. I know every teacher out there, that’s their biggest concern; that the gap is going to widen.”
That is the question. At what point does missing the normal classroom teaching environment cause a gap in learning? Bersani sees it as a “golden opportunity” for public education in America to evaluate what is most important in educating the children. She posed questions about whether too much is being asked at ages where expectations may not be developmentally appropriate. With the lost time this year, there may be a need to scale back at the start of next school year. Bersani suggests there may be an opportunity to reset and actually even things out.
“Our job is to try to bring everybody up to a higher level,’ Bersani explained. “Okay, let’s take a breather here. Let’s help kids get back to doing the things we really should be doing in kindergarten instead of pressuring them to memorize sight words and reading when they are developmentally not ready for it. Maybe this can work out in the long run.”
Bersani does not know if May 1st will actually lead to a return to the brick-n-mortar classrooms in physical school buildings in Ohio. The uncertainty of COVID-19 and the response to keep students, teachers, staff and all Ohioans safe and well leaves room for doubt kids will return to normal classrooms this school year.
The one thing for certain is distance learning is indeed spawning creative solutions to reaching and teaching the kids. For Robyn Bersani and her Kings Mills Elementary school third-graders, that means lessons and face-timing as much as possible from a “trailer down by the river.” She’ll create video lessons to make it fun for the kids too.
“It’s really hard to be out and away from them, to not really know how they are progressing and even if they are safe,” said Bersani. “I would be thrilled to have a few weeks in May to see them again, hug them again, play the games I love playing with them; just have an opportunity for that closure.”
There’s not a lot of room on the other side of that door, but it is the new classroom for Robyn Bersani and her third-grade kids ‘down by the river’ (Photo Chuck Gibson)
The peace and quiet of the distance learning classroom Airstream “trailer down by the river” is the wish come true for Bersani on some of those noisiest days with the kids in a normal classroom. Now, with the reality of teaching in virtual isolation, she has a different outlook about wishing for that cubicle job.
“That wish kind of came true and it’s awful and I hate it,” Bersani concluded. “Teachers like things to go their way, but they are also awesome at adapting at the drop of a hat. It’s amazing to me to see what teachers have done to reach out and get engaged with their students.”
You know, like teaching from a ‘trailer down by the river.”