Podcast: How Punahou Faculty Have Coped with Distance Learning and COVID-19

For this podcast, alumni producers Isabelle Rhee ’18 and Geralynne Amasol ’19 interviewed Punahou teachers and administrators about their shift to online learning; their efforts to make innovative modifications in the classroom; how they dealt with contingencies; and their thoughts about the future

Along with Academy Principal Emily McCarren, Junior School Principal Paris Priore-Kim ’76 and Academy Dean Christine David, faculty members Ted Demura-Devore, Lorelei Saito, Belle Murashige, Mike Lippert, Jerusha Tabori and Paraluman Stice-Durkin provide a behind-the-scenes look at how they shifted gears during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can find Punahou’s Team Up podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast and Google Play.

Podcast Transcript

Allen Murabayashi: Thanks for joining our Team Up! Podcast, produced by Punahou School. I’m Allen Murabayashi, an alumnus from the class of 1990. When we started podcasting about the COVID-19 pandemic a few months ago, I reached out to a small group of alumnu who expressed an interest in learning about podcasting. We dubbed ourselves the Quarantine Podcasters, and we’ve been meeting online every week to learn the software used to edit podcasts, as well as how to tell a story through audio. A few weeks ago, senior Noelle Nakaoka and Kim-Hee Wong from the Class of 2014 helped produce an episode about the student experience during the pandemic. And this week, we hear from the faculty, courtesy of my co-host and co-producers, Isabelle Rhee from the Class of 2018 and Geralynne Amasol from the Class of 2019. Take it away, gang.

Isabelle Rhee: Hey Geralynne, did you get a chance to listen to the recent Punahou podcast about student response to COVID-19?

Geralynne Amasol: I did. It actually took me by surprise, because I didn’t realize how big of an impact the pandemic had. The decision to move online was to be expected, don’t you think?

Rhee: Definitely. Before spring break, school was proceeding as usual, but within a few days into break, the administration announced that students and teachers would not be returning to campus per usual.

Amasol: The principals must have had their work cut out for them.

Emily McCarren: My name is Emily McCarren, and I’m the Academy principal at the Punahou School.

Paris Priore-Kim: My name is Paris Priore-Kim, and I’m the Junior School principal at Punahou School.

McCarren: A number of us from Punahou were at the National Association of Independent School annual conference on the mainland, and this was a big topic of concern. This was the end of February.

Priore-Kim: At that point, what was going through my mind primarily was the safety of our students and our community, and the need to make the best decision to attend to that.

McCarren: You know, schools around the country were kind of trying to see if we had plans in place.

Priore-Kim: I think secondarily, what was going through my mind was what the design of school was going to be particularly for our youngest learners.

McCarren: The day we got back from that conference, I gathered all Academy leadership and deans and actually folks across the School and just said, ‘Okay, how do we want to think about this?’

Priore-Kim: Under normal circumstances, families drop their children off and know that their children throughout the day are going to receive high levels of care and attention, not only to their learning, but to their safety and their wellbeing. And our teachers provide that all throughout the day. So imagining what learning was going to be like without that kind of sustained attention to children’s – not only their activity, but to their moods and their needs – trying to imagine what that was going to be like being separate from them.

McCarren: And of course we were thinking about sort of having conversations with faculty at that point that we want to float the possibility of this with faculty, sort of around a framework of support, flexibility and care that like, this is scary. If this happens, we’re all going to be in sort of uncharted waters, and that we’re going to support each other and take care of each other and have each other’s backs.

Priore-Kim: It happened during our spring break, and we made the decision not to return from spring break.

Rhee: As the pandemic escalated, Punahou faculty and staff experienced many thoughts and emotions as they prepared for online instruction.

Ted Demura-Devore: Hi, I’m Ted Demura-Devore, and I teach social studies in the Academy at Punahou.

Belle Murashige: My name is Belle Murashige. I’m just completing my 13th year at Punahou School. I teach kindergarten.

Lorelei Saito: My name is Lorelei Saito. I teach seventh grade social studies.

Demura-Devore: I was walking with another teacher. I can’t remember who the teacher was, but it was the first time that we had heard the term social distancing.

Murashige: It was probably a couple of weeks before spring break. My daughter is in the band, and so there was a balance of, are we even going on the band trip? The band was scheduled to go to New York City. And so I had friends on the East Coast saying, ‘Are you sure you’re coming?’

Demura-Devore: I remember kind of joking with my students and stuff. And my students were saying, ‘Oh, we’re definitely going to shut down. We’re definitely going to shut down.’ And I didn’t think that that was going to happen.

Saito: We knew that it was a possibility. We were talking about it prior to spring break and receiving training and professional development on the tools that we might need if the School did decide to go that route of distance and online learning.

Murashige: So we’re really lucky from K to third, they have one-to-one iPads, fourth grade on, they have one-to-one iPads and or computers. So we had to make decisions about what was going to go home for every student. We prepared packets in Ziploc bags. We had to prepare their iPads, and that was done on the Friday before we left.

Saito: And so we were prepared, in terms of technology that we needed to use, the training that we received, but the official announcement came out a couple of days into spring break.

Amasol: Converting an in-person class to an online one is a challenge. And in the first few weeks of virtual instruction, teachers were trying to figure out how to best support their students while also sticking to their lesson plans.

Demura-Devore: I have tried to minimize as much as possible. So if we, if we typically would meet four times a cycle, then we’d like have those four hours in class. And then there would be homework on top of that. But now we’re kind of supposed to be thinking really about classwork and homework being the same thing.

Saito: We had to as a department ask ourself, What do we really need to teach our students? What do they need to know what parts of our curriculum were important that we needed to teach them before end of the school year?

Demura-Devore: For example, for U.S. history, I was planning on spending April on a group project, and May on an individual research project. So I threw the individual research project out the window, and we’re just doing the group one. And so easily cut in half. But even that with the group project, that’s totally scaled back.

Saito: We found ourselves really cutting back on some of the things that, for lack of a better term, not as important,. We wanted to focus on the non-negotiables is what I’m going to say, in terms of curriculum, so that when they moved on to the next grade, eighth grade, they were prepared.

Amasol: Changes in curriculum posed many challenges, especially for classes than depended on in-person attendance.

Mike Lippert: My name is Mike Lippert and I teach a high school choir at Punahou School, and I am also the K-12 co-department head for music. For me as a music teacher, one of those challenging aspects, and it continues to be, is that it’s a core of what I do has to do with being in-person, being in the same place, breathing the same air, making sound together and creating a community in that space in place together. Almost none of that is possible in a way that we normally conceive it now.

Murabayashi: Paraluman Stice-Durkin is an Academy science teacher.

Paraluman Stice-Durkin: Once the May 1st through the end of May hit, then we were sort of like, okay, so that means a full quarter of chemistry would then be in this mode. So we’re trying to make it where they’re not sitting that long, getting out of their chairs, still doing experimentation as much as possible. And they don’t have chemicals or anything that I would normally even say, ‘Try this at home here, take this and try it.’ So it’s, difficult at best.

Murabayashi: My classmate Jerusha Tabori teaches third grade in the Kosasa Community.

Jerusha Tabori: It was all pre-made videos so that they could really see us, but also, to kind of check in with them. And that was good to start, but it was very intense as a teacher. You kind of feel, and I’ve talked about it, I felt like a YouTuber where I was constantly pressured to create content for my 25 subscribers, so that they felt at ease and calm and they were still learning and they could see me, but there still was that disconnect for them to see each other.

Rhee: Unlike many Hawai‘i students, Punahou students are very fortunate to have access to take-home technology in the form of laptops and iPads.

Amasol: However, this doesn’t mean that every household has good access to internet, which is a necessity for distance learning,

Murabayashi: Here are Principals McCarren and Paris Priore-Kim, once again.

McCarren: For years, Punahou has had a priority to nurture and support a diverse community in lots of ways, including socioeconomically. So, as we were thinking about this, we were really thinking sort of from a hierarchy of needs standpoint about what are kids going to need if we go into this mode.

Priore-Kim: One of the principles of our distance learning plan is flexibility, largely because we know that there’s a diversity of family experiences and household situations.

McCarren: I spent a few days over spring break just sort of driving around the Island, dropping off hotspots at people’s houses and calling families whose children had reported that they didn’t have great WiFi.

Priore-Kim: And that being said, that’s just one access point towards equity.

McCarren: It’s really hard. I mean, some of the tools that as a principal you use to sort of understand the temperature of the School and how people are doing. You walk around, you talk to kids, you pop in on classes, there’s sort of a real interpersonal peace that’s sort of natural and feels very unstructured and is super powerful. In this context, I’ve relied on, different strategies.

Priore-Kim: So our student care meetings are really important. Those have continued. The team meetings in the Middle School, and the student care meetings in the elementary school, where we really try to identify how to support those children that might be struggling.

McCarren: And then for faculty, instead of having sort of synchronous faculty meetings, but we’ve instead been hosting asynchronous faculty meetings, which includes like a little module online discussion board. And actually that’s allowed me to check in more one-on-one with faculty than I do even on campus.

Priore-Kim: I like to think that we’re hanging on to one another and our faculty are hanging on to their students. I know that’s what they talk about and what they yearn for and what they’re working so hard to do and and spending many, many more hours in this context than they would in the on-campus context to do so.

Amasol: Despite the barriers to staying connected to one another over online platforms, Mr Lippert and the Academy choirs found a way to share their music with the Punahou community.

Rhee: While the spring concerts may have gotten canceled, the choirs were still able to pursue a special collaboration.

Lippert: But we were able to do, is we did do a virtual choir. We premiered the video of it the day after what would have been the choir concert. And it also so synced up nicely with May Day festivities here at Punahou. And so the May Day queen or the Holoku queen is in Chorale. And we asked her if we could use the song she was going to dance to, and we did that project with all our choirs.


Lippert: We’re all working towards something. And we’re able to share the product of that work together with actually probably a much larger group of people than you would if been able to do a concert itself.

Murabayashi: COVID-19 is for schools like Punahou to make drastic and hopefully temporary changes to the way teachers teach and support their students.

Christine David: Teachers at Punahou also, and I imagine teachers around the world are the same.

Murabayashi: Christine David is a dean for the class of 2022.

David: We know these are unprecedented times. We know this is a situation that we could have never planned for nor anticipated. So teachers are being more flexible, more understanding, more willing to meet a student where that student is.

Rhee: In addition to becoming a dean in 2014, Ms. David has taught math in the Academy for the past 29 years. Her daughter graduated from Punahou in 2016, and she is a beloved dean, college counselor, math teacher and mentor to generations of Punahou students. When asked if her goals as an educator have changed, this is what she had to say.

David: Okay, that’s the million dollar question. You know? Oh, this makes me teary-eyed. Okay. What I feel in this time is we need all the people, I guess I would say, with hands on deck. Okay, I think about the artists and the musicians and the theater people. Then I think of the, the scientists, the mathematicians, the statisticians. I’m super grateful for all of those people and all of the teachers who have taught them to be able to do this hard work at this time. I’m super grateful for historians.

You know, you hear a lot about the Spanish flu pandemic and what we can learn from that time. I’m super grateful for the writers. Again, I think we’ll have great stories coming out of this time that we can’t even anticipate right now. I’m super grateful for, of course, the medical professional. And then I’m also grateful for people who are willing to work in the supermarkets, and okay, I’m grateful for people who work in supermarkets, deliver food and take care of their neighbors. So when you ask how this has changed me as an educator, it just makes me think that we need all of it, and we need everyone to, we need all those pieces to come together. And I think it helps all of those will help all of us at a time like this. And I think it’s never more apparent.

Rhee: One of the incredible aspects of Punahou is the longevity of our faculty. It’s not uncommon for teachers to stay for 20, 30, even 40 years.

Amasol: So in that sense, teachers have seen it all, but COVID-19 is unique.

Demura-Devore: I think a lot of people go through different kind of things that get in the way of their being able to do things. Everybody’s got different challenges, but where everybody is challenged like this, I’ve never had anything like this.

Saito: I was teaching on 9/11, and I was in the Bay area at the time. And I was teaching in third grade on that morning. That could be the only time where I felt like, a massive shift and a sadness and a grief.

Stice-Durkin: For me, 27 years of teaching, and this is my hardest month that I’ve ever had. It presents as a teacher. You care so much about the face-to-face means so much, and we put so much emphasis and so much caring into that.

McCarren: I serve on a couple of boards nationally. So I’ve spent time talking with my colleagues and other schools over the last few weeks. And no, none of us have experienced anything like this in our careers. This is a moment. Disruption is always a really great moment to take advantage of things and redefine and push things that were hard to push before. There’s a certain unfreezing. And we definitely see that in our faculty. I mean, we have faculty trying things that they never would have tried and succeeding had we not been in this context and serving students really well.

Amasol: The shift to remote learning has disrupted many of our routines at home.

Rhee: For teachers, especially distance learning has transformed their roles as parents and family members as well.

Demura-Devore: It’s really interesting in the sense that my son’s a sophomore and I teach mostly sophomores. So I watched kind of what he’s doing and try to gauge my own homework load kind of on what they’re doing. And I asked them for advice to us like, this is what I’m thinking, right. Is this okay? Right. And just in terms of balancing things.

Stice-Durkin: It’s so different. It’s so, my college freshman coming home, I think the biggest challenge for him and for us, because he’s used to having his own schedule, being on his own. Yes, he’s part of our family, but he wasn’t answering to that for a long time. And he’s just had, I mean, he misses his social interaction at school. So parenting that and trying to still have my office be his dorm room has been a really big challenge.

Amasol: The faculty pivoted incredibly fast to redesign teaching for an online setting.

Rhee: And although Hawai‘i’s low prevalence of COVID-19 suggests a return to in person class in August, there’s still uncertainty about the future.

Demura-Devore: Thinking about next fall. If I have to like start with my classes online and not know them in person first, that’s going to be really different.

Priore-Kim: The things that I’m thinking about are how to construct schools so that children stay safe, so that people in the community remain safe. I think we have to look at our schedule. We have to look at how we share classrooms. We have to look at how we keep things clean. We have to look at numbers of children that gather. We have to look at shared spaces. So those are all the considerations.

David: It’s not our first choice. Of course, I’m sure students would agree with that. They would much rather go back to campus. But if we cannot for health and safety reasons, I know we will do what we need to do to make learning engaging, exciting, interesting, just like we would do on campus.

Amasol: Isabelle, I think the stereotype of a Hawai‘i high school student is someone always wanting to cut class and head to Sandy’s.

Rhee: While it may seem unusual that students are almost clamoring to get back on campus in August, I think the uncertainty of being stuck at home, losing social interactions and missing out on classroom discussions have really become apparent to a lot of students.

Murashige: One child said, ‘I have been spending time with my family. I also miss school, but what I miss most are my friends and my teachers too.’ So I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to be together in the fall. But if we aren’t, we will cross that bridge when we get there.

Rhee: In this episode, we’ve explored how our faculty members have processed the shift to online learning, for making innovative modifications in the classroom, dealing with contingencies and looking towards the future. This pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges, but ultimately it is reinforced within the community old lessons and goals that have existed at Punahou all along.

David: I always think of why do we get educated? Why do we go to school? Or why did we go to college? Why did we get advanced degrees? And I think about this during this time more than ever. My answer would be so we can help someone else, so we can help other people, and we can help make the world a better place.

Murabayashi: This episode was produced by Isabelle Rhee from the Class of 2018, Geralynne Amasol from the Class of 2019, and me, Allen Murabayashi, from the Class of 1990.

You can subscribe to this podcast by searching for Punahou Team Up on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite provider. And don’t forget to leave us a rating, and for more information or links to resources, or this podcast, visit bulletin.punahou.edu

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