Second of a two-part series
Prince George’s County Public Schools count as one of several school districts in Maryland that began the new school year on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
But for thousands of educators to achieve success, they must prepare their schedules, classrooms and minds for students who must wear masks. And with the county leading the state in confirmed COVID-19 cases, substitute teachers must now be vaccinated.
Three teachers at Capitol Heights Elementary, a Talented and Gifted (TAG) school located inside the Beltway near the D.C. border, shared their backgrounds, goals and strategies which they hope will lead to a smoother transition for in-class instruction.
Besides pencils and books being on their checklists, Kori Edwards, Natasha Rubin and Tyrone Frierson must now include masks, Lysol spray, wipes and other personal protective equipment for themselves and their students.
While the three educators have different backgrounds, their similarities extend beyond the classroom as Black residents of Prince George’s County, each of them vaccinated, who appreciate the “resiliency” of elementary school-age children.
Teacher Brings Two Decades to the Classroom
When Frierson attended Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., he wanted to study law “to sue people.”
But after someone in the education department suggested he mentor students in an after-school program in mathematics and social studies, the teaching bug soon kicked in.
He moved to Virginia and almost quit his first-year teaching gig in Woodbridge but stuck it out.
“Something told me not to give up,” he said. “Some students would show up in my class only talking about football and other things in life. I realized that I needed to find a way to connect with them.”
After three years in northern Virginia, he moved to Capitol Heights Elementary in 2004 where he bears the distinction as the school’s longest-serving teacher. As a math and science teacher, the 47-year-old educator of Upper Marlboro integrates hip hop with old-school artists into some of his lessons.
He said each song, such as “Children’s Story” by Slick Rick, can be used to help multiply the number of verses and chorus lines, or hooks, that repeat throughout the song.
“Math is all about patterns,” he said. “They listen to the flow of the song, what it’s about and how certain things repeat. It’s about solving a problem to get the answer.”
The pandemic has increased the student’s ability to utilize various technologies. Fortunately for Frierson, he’s competent in Zoom and other remote forms of communication.
“I always wondered what it would feel like to be an online teacher at a college,” he said. “I realized I don’t want to do that. I’d rather be in a classroom with some paperwork, still using some technology and being with the kids. Plus, sitting at home all day is kind of boring.”
‘Fits Right In’
Teaching youth inside a classroom didn’t touch Rubin until she and her family moved from New Jersey to Bowie, Md., more than six years ago. Her husband works with the county’s Social Innovation Fund.
Before Rubin entered her fifth year of teaching, all of them at Capitol Heights, she served as a parent liaison who later became a substitute teacher and then a long-term substitute. Some of the long-term requirements at www.marylandpublicschools.com include a bachelor’s degree and work experience.
Rubin, 46, received her bachelor’s degree in business economics at Fordham University in New York before beginning a career at a health care company and as a youth program coordinator in New York and New Jersey.
She’s also an author of two books entitled “When Waiting Hurts: A Personal Journey From Pain to Promise” and “21 Words to a Better You.” She received copies of her second book last month. She keeps connected to others through her website, www.natasharubin.com, but her first love remains teaching fourth-grade reading, language arts and social studies.
“I don’t have a traditional teaching background but I bring a different skill set and I’m a parent with a child in the school system,” she said. “I am confident with the teachers here to know my son will be safe. For me, this school fits in my dual role as a teacher and a parent.”
Babysitting Led to a Teaching Career
Babysitting her younger cousins led Kori Edwards into the teaching profession. After graduating from DuVal High School in Prince George’s, she earned an early childhood degree at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. In December, she’ll receive a master’s degree from Trinity Washington University in Northeast.
The 27-year-old educator of District Heights said the county encourages teachers to achieve additional education including master’s degrees, fellowships and other certifications.
But COVID-19 has “completely” impacted the teaching profession.
“With the coronavirus, technology has been implemented in every classroom and you won’t find any classroom in the county without it,” said Edwards, who enters her third year at Capitol Heights teaching second-grade TAG math and science. “That’s been the biggest change in education.”
Through virtual learning last school year, she witnessed children help their parents use various technology tools and devices.
She remembers being a second-grade student in D.C. when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shocked the nation 20 years ago.
“Everything changed after that point with safety drills,” she said.
As part of her science instruction, COVID-19 will be integrated to highlight the importance of washing hands, covering mouths when sneezing or coughing and maintaining social distances to avoid spreading germs. Each student will have their own math blocks, cards and other materials.
She believes in-person instruction remains an additional need, especially for elementary students. She’s scheduled to have an average of 21 students in her two classes.
“Going through virtual learning, I could tell they need that social and emotional piece of being around their friends and other people,” she said. “It’s an important factor . . . to know how to share, talk, sit and eat lunch and play. These things you can’t learn behind a screen.”