In this story from the frontlines of remote learning, Juan Gabriel Reynoso, a TV and film production teacher at Compton High School, shares his story about moving to distance learning at a time when students are normally collaborating.

Listen: A distance learning experience from Juan Reynoso, a high school media arts teacher

On March 13, 2020, the school day started off like any other school day. The only difference was, of course, the news that the COVID-19 Virus or Coronavirus was beginning to worsen throughout the day. 

As the day progressed, students and teachers alike began getting news on our cell phones about neighboring school districts closing down due to this virus. First, we heard Los Angeles Unified School District shut down. Next was Long Beach, then came Paramount, Lynwood, and Downey districts. Some of my students kept asking me if we were next; some were excited to have time off, but most were asking out of concern. 

At approximately 1:30 p.m., I was called into an emergency Department Chair Meeting. In this meeting, our principal informed us that the district had not yet made the decision to cancel classes throughout the district. The plan was to be prepared to practice what most of us had heard about, but not officially implemented: Distance Learning, a process in which students work from home getting their lessons through Google Classroom. It’s a great concept, and it works. 

In the perfect world, a student would wake up in the morning and log in to Google Classroom to get his/her assignments and work on them throughout the day, observing certain deadlines. However, these are different and trying times. I teach at Compton High School where our student population lives at or below the poverty level, and we are now in a pandemic. Many of our parents still have to go to work, and our students are now left with the task of babysitting and taking care of the house during the day. This doesn’t leave much time and quiet space to do one assignment, let alone six different teachers’ assignments. Some teachers have gone as far as to assign so much work that they forgot that these young people have five or six other teachers. Make no mistake, this is not a vacation for anyone—student or teacher. Our administrative team has been at work every day issuing Google Chromebooks to students to take home so they can work on their assignments. 

After the department chair meeting, I went back to my classroom and spoke to my students. I told them that nothing like this has ever happened, but we are champions, and champions win no matter the circumstances. I also told them to take this matter seriously but not to panic. “Just wash your hands as often as possible, and don’t touch your face.” Of course, they also wanted to know if classes were cancelled. I told them that at this time, they were not, but that the Board would have an emergency meeting on Saturday morning to decide. The kids left, and I locked up my classroom and went home. By noon of Saturday, March 14, we got the news that the schools in our district were closing down, and we were off and running with distance learning. 

With only a 24-hour notice, we had to implement a program that would take some teachers the entire summer to train on. As a man named Ken Buck said on Facebook, “Teachers Apollo 13’ed the problem and fixed it.” 

Everything was off and running, but I teach Television and Film Productions. At this time of the year, my kids are in production. This is when they take all the creating and writing of screenplays and synthesize them into a film production. No more lessons on the board with work to be turned in. Now is the time for the fun part of the program. Now is when kids get to prove to themselves how badly they want to be in this industry. This is the time for more student-to-student collaboration. This is when I get to push them and guide them through the stress of running a production. This is when I get to see the look in their eyes when they edit a scene, when they laugh while searching through the sound effects library and find the fart sounds. This is when they finish their projects and have something in their lives they can be proud of. Or when they don’t fully finish, but want to come back in the summer to continue working on it and staying to join the crew. This is when they work so hard throughout the day that it inspires me. This is when we have wrap parties for their productions. This is when I start looking to see who gets The Director’s Chair Award. 

A few years back, my program, The Compton High School Film Institute, received an NAACP Image Award, which was accompanied by a $10,000 grant. With it, I’ve been able to take the crew to Six Flags, and I bought director’s chairs to give to the crew as trophies. Each chair is embroidered with the student’s name above the title “Compton High School Film Institute.” Isn’t that cool? 

But all that must be put on hold for now. In the meantime, students still have to do their personal 60-page screenplay that’s due May 31. In the meantime, I have to keep teaching. Through Google Classroom. I have posted study guides and sample screenplays from my personal work and made myself available to my kids throughout the day. In the meantime, we still have staff meetings using Zoom.com as the conference room. In the meantime, I help my wife with recording her lessons, editing them, and uploading to her school’s Google Classroom. Good thing she’s married to a film producer! In the meantime, I record self-tape auditions to send to my agent. In the meantime, we wait to see what’s going to happen. And in the meantime, I miss my kids. 

Juan Gabriel Reynoso
Teacher @ Compton High School, Television and Film Production
Founder, Compton High School Film Institute


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