Teachers create virtual classrooms to keep students engaged

FRESNO, Calif. -- Teachers are facing new challenges as many teach remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, so some have decided to bring their classrooms to their kids.

"I believe that when things change, we have to change too," said Ana Bustos, who teaches kindergarten at Burroughs Elementary in Fresno. Bustos is beginning her 25th year in education, and it's her first where she won't welcome students into her classroom in person.

"I'm excited, I'm just as excited to teach this year in this format because it's new," Bustos said. To help her students transition into an online learning environment, she created a virtual classroom that mirrors her real one. "I wanted students to have a virtual view of what the room will look like as soon as, hopefully, the pandemic is over and we'll come back."

"Students will still have rigor and the expectation to learn at home," Bustos said. "And we can make learning fun for them."

Bustos isn't alone; as the majority of schools in Central California begin learning remotely, teachers are trying to make their students feel comfortable in an online setting. Carlanda Williams went viral in 2019 for her Disney-themed classroom, and now she's trying to bring that magic online as she prepares to teach third grade students in 2020.

"I always want my students to get an experience," Williams said. "So what I did was I created a bitmoji classroom, and it literally is my classroom. So I took a picture of the wallpaper from the room, and I have the border, everything," she explained.

"I have the red curtains, the castle that I usually have, the light, and then they see me standing there with my ears and my dress," Williams said. The virtual classrooms feature icons that can be clicked on to take students to different parts of the site. For example, in Williams' class, a laptop on the desk can be clicked to take students to a video meeting with her. In Bustos' class, an icon can be clicked that takes students to math problems for the day.

"Hopefully when the whole (Coronavirus) goes away, they will see that classroom, because I'm going to use the same decorations and everything," Williams said.

"This is the thing: if you believe that kids can do something, they will," Williams added. "And so the first day I told them I don't know who you were before you met me, but let me tell you who you are. You are amazing. You can do this you are smart, you're going to be this amazing person."