Hunter Rand works as a video production and broadcast journalism instructor at Spanish Springs High School in Washoe County. He’s only been a teacher for one school year, so the pandemic has already impacted a significant portion of his teaching career.
KUNR reporter Natalie Van Hoozer spoke with Rand to explore how he’s been preparing for school starting back up.
Natalie Van Hoozer: Hunter, what are some of the questions you have as you get ready to start this semester?
Hunter Rand: Right now, we're going into it hybrid, where we have half the kids every day, and some other kids are at home. We only see kids once a week, but we have to teach the same amount of stuff in that time period, so how do we do that?
I'll be honest, the way that things are going and the things that we've been experiencing these first few weeks without students, I definitely believe that the schools will close again. We're planning for that, but we don't know when that's going to happen. So how do we create effective instruction for a whole semester or a whole year, where we can switch back and forth between being in-person and hybrid, or being distant?
Van Hoozer: You’re a video instructor, which is a hand-on subject. How are you preparing for this school year?
Rand: This is something that I've actually spent a lot of my own money on, buying baskets and things to transfer gear around, so only one person is touching it. We have cameras and things, [but] how do we sanitize that? Camera equipment is sensitive. We've got to be careful what we're using on it. These are all questions that I'm going to have answers to, but no one is helping me get those answers. They're just kind of like, "Try your best."
Van Hoozer: What will the learning environment be like for your students?
Rand: We have a full TV studio, and I do have a plan where we can do a daily broadcast. At the same time, it really takes away from collaboration that is important in education, I believe. If you go to a news station, there is an expectation that you're going to communicate with your coworkers on a regular basis and get the job done. A lot of these students have never worked in an environment like that before, and it takes a lot.
Typically, the way we get that started is socialization, and they really become friends. I don't know if that's going to happen this year, they can't sit at the same computer and read over each other's work.
Van Hoozer: Do you feel you have the information you need from the school district to start teaching your high school students in a hybrid model?
Rand: I honestly believe I do not have the information I need. That might change tomorrow, a lot can be emailed, but as it stands, I don't know what I'm allowed to do yet.
I have a family member who's a teacher, and they thought they had coronavirus. They got tested, and being safe, I went to urgent care, and they gave me a COVID test. I got the results back, and thankfully they were negative, and I went back to work. They haven't really explained how leave works if you get it and you're out for a few weeks or if you're being quarantined. So there are all these unknowns. I think everyone is doing their job, and everyone is working overtime. We're still figuring stuff out, everyone is.
Van Hoozer: You’re relatively young, but are you concerned about your own health? What about that of your fellow teachers?
Rand: I have lung problems, following a scuba accident, and I'm concerned. That being said, I'm a little bit religious, and I believe when it's my time, it's my time. I've lived through some pretty awful things. I've almost died more than once, and I guess it wasn't my time. There are some teachers and some other people in my life who are having these same questions and these same dilemmas. It's really gotten to them, and it's really bad for their mental health. I can tell you teachers are quitting or going on leave or retiring early ... because it's a lot to ask of a teacher.
Van Hoozer: Are you receiving questions from your students? What are they concerned about right now?
Rand: I have gotten a lot of emails from parents that are concerned because their students are really invested in our career and technical education programs. They can only get those programs by being hybrid, in-person students. They can't do [the career and technical education program] if they're distance learning, they can't do [it] if they're enrolled in an online high school, they only get [career and technical education credit] if they're doing the hybrid [model].
Some of my emails have been about some of my special needs students and how we're going to be going about that. I'm probably one of the few people in this community that actually watched every board meeting all the way through. Since the shutdown, I've been reading every single public comment that's been emailed. All the public comment I read from students is very much saying that we're going too fast, or they're uncomfortable with what's happening. It's kind of sad that our students don't feel safe at school. It's very discouraging.
Washoe County schools were scheduled to reopen Monday, Aug. 17, but classes were canceled due to air quality issues related to smoke from the Loyalton Fire.
After talking to KUNR, Rand has learned that he can have a limited number of students in his news production studio, but he’s still waiting on specifics.
This interview was produced in partnership with Noticiero Móvil.