Coming into a brand-new position is always difficult. However, doing so during a global pandemic is even more difficult.
This was the situation Lacy Gries found herself in. She started as a student support specialist at Cascade Locks Elementary, which was already a completely new position for the school. Additionally, Gries was going from working with middle schoolers at Wy’east Middle School as a learning specialist to working with much younger kids at Cascade Locks.
As student support specialist, Gries plays a different role than the traditional elementary teacher, she said.
“I don’t have like a homeroom class, I’m just the extra support if students aren’t getting what they need from their core classes,” Gries said. “Like if a student needs maybe a structured plan, where they have goals that they’re meeting, and they’re checking in with a support person each day to help them get through it.”
Gries also hosts little “interventions,” she said, where she helps students develop skills their homeroom teachers may notice they’re struggling with.
“If they really need instruction on friendships, I can teach them how to build and keep friendships,” she said. “Then I have a little friendship intervention group where I’m working with the kids who kind of need that explicit instruction on how to be a good friend.”
When Gries started in her position, the school was doing comprehensive distance learning (CDL) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of her role was the same, she said, but she also had some additional responsibilities.
“I was able to connect with kids on Google Meets, and we would meet up in either a group or one on one, we could play games, or they could talk to me about something tough that was going on, and we could problem solve,” she said. “I was also able, like if a student was having difficulty technology-wise … I could Google Meet with them and problem solve while the teacher could still continue teaching.”
After it was deemed safe for students to come back to school for half-days, Gries said she was able to have more time with them, which was really nice. Because the students went home at noon, some of them could stay after school to meet with her.
Nowadays, if Gries wants to meet with students, it’s harder to find a window because they’re in class doing other work. Though she could Google Meet with them at another time, she said many students are burnt out on online meetings, so she tries to avoid that.
However, Gries said she’s able to get a lot of that interaction with students by just being around, doing things like monitoring recess or being in the lunchroom, things that weren’t possible during CDL.
“I get to be at recess where I didn’t get to before. I get to be in the lunchroom when they’re eating lunch, and I didn’t get to do that before,” Gries said. “I can go and walk around and pop into different classrooms during morning meetings and say like, ‘How are you feeling? Did you sleep okay last night?’”
Gries said during CDL, if she wanted to check in with a student, she had to plan everything in advance and schedule Google Meets, then notify the parents to make sure their student gets on. Now, she’s able to pop in and out as needed.
Though switching positions and schools during the pandemic was difficult, Gries said she loves her new position. She loved working with middle schoolers before, but also finds a lot of purpose working with younger kids too.
Plus, with a smaller school like Cascade Locks, she gets to have more meaningful connections with more students, since there are fewer of them.
Gries also likes her new position a lot. She enjoyed being a learning specialist before, but it was a different type of engagement, she said.
“The learning specialist side is such a tough position with all the paperwork and meetings and all the different interventions you’re planning,” she said. ‘Although I did enjoy working with the kids so much. They were great.”
Gries said her new position has been a learning curve, but she’s been lucky to have the support of all the other staff at Cascade Locks.
“This is my first time in elementary and my first time in this position,” she said, “So it’s been a lot of fun, and also a lot of figuring things out, and that’s why my team is so great. They really are helping me. They’re telling me about their day and what they’re doing and how much time they’re focusing on each area, and that’s been really helpful … I am loving it here, I really am.”