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Mendo Lake Family Life

Head, Hands, and Zoom

Family Life talks to River Oak Charter School, a Steiner-based public school in Ukiah, about how it is meeting the challenges of educating students during COVID-19.

Family Life: Tell us about River Oak Charter School’s approach to education.

River Oak Registrar Talia Cechin: Educating through “Head, Heart, and Hands” has been the trademark of River Oak Charter School since 1999. The idea behind the phrase is that learning should involve the whole human being and be based on developmentally appropriate, multi-sensory experiences. We facilitate a more intuitive and natural way to learn rather than a lecture-and-note style of learning.

FL: How has River Oak met the challenges of distance-learning during the pandemic?

TC: Our teachers are rising to the challenge. They’re not only working creatively to deliver the curriculum, but also making sure our students are feeling supported, valued, and a part of the greater community. Kindergarten in Steiner-method schools like River Oak is full of rich, hands-on experiences. Because we believe children learn best through play, imitation, and imagination, any form of “distance learning” presents challenges. Conscious of the young child’s relationship to the world and peers, we have taken a careful approach to the use of screen time.

FL: What does a distance-learning kindergartener’s day look like?

TC: To greet the day, kindergarten students at River Oak meet their teacher and classmates on Zoom for 30 minutes. During this time, students participate in movement exercises, sing, listen to poems, or enjoy a puppet play. Students spend the remainder of the day doing activities—seasonal crafts, handwork, painting, and playing outside—at home. Students post completed assignments on SeeSaw, an online portfolio where students can further engage with their peers and receive feedback from their teachers.

FL: And what does a typical day look like for older students?

TC: In grades 1–4, students and teachers meet on Zoom every day for the main lesson. Depending on the grade level, some students meet the teacher again for math and reading. Following the main lesson, students continue to pursue asynchronous activities in their home surroundings. Students enjoy book clubs, play the recorder, and write in journals. In first grade, students listen to fairy tales and practice form-drawing. Fairy tales build a child’s vocabulary; they can help kids name and express their emotions. Meanwhile, form-drawing lays the building blocks for writing. These grades also work on long-term assignments. For example, students in third grade are working with grains and learning about their many uses. Students have made masa harina from corn to make tortillas at home.

In grades 5–8, students meet with their teacher on Zoom for the main lesson and also for Spanish and math. Students continue their asynchronous learning in Google Classroom, reading history books and working in small groups. Students in these grades also begin to work on independent projects, which limits the amount of time they spend using screens. These projects also create the opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning, a valuable skill to have as they mature. For their eighth grade project, students must learn a new skill and complete community service. Making a positive impact on the community is a strong value in our Steiner-method curriculum. Even during a pandemic, students are finding creative ways to fulfill their community service requirement. They’re writing thank-you letters to first responders, raising money for non-profits, and cleaning up trash in our parks.

FL: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

TC: River Oak Charter School innovatively adapts to students’ unique learning needs and strengths. It is no surprise that our dedicated teachers are taking distance-learning in stride as they continue to deliver creative and developmentally appropriate curriculum that is not only educational, but also builds community.

Find out more about River Oak Charter School at