A School Day In This Covid Life – LAHS Science Teacher Stephanie Mitchell

LAHS science teacher Stephanie Mitchell with her new webcam/tripod/drawing tablet provided by LAPS Foundation. Photo Courtesy LAPS Foundation


Do you ever wonder what a school day is actually like in Los Alamos this year?  The following is the last of three articles describing the school experience from different perspectives, brought to you by Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation.

Meet Stephanie Mitchell, a science teacher at Los Alamos High School.  Ms. Mitchell has been at LAHS since 2005 and teaches a variety of science classes, including biology, honors biology, AP biology and AP physics.  She was recognized as Outstanding Biology Teacher for New Mexico by the National Association of Biology Teachers in 2019 and selected as a Teacher of Distinction by the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico in 2020.  We asked Stephanie some questions about teaching in the time of Covid.

LAPS Foundation:  What did you do to prepare for online teaching this fall?

Ms. Mitchell:  I spent the entire summer taking online classes including the Coursera Learning to Teach Online Course, the Stanford Teaching Online Course, the Google Level 1 and 2 certification courses, and the district professional development classes. I also did lots of lesson planning.

LAPS Foundation:  Describe a typical day for you.  How does it compare to a day during last fall?

Ms. Mitchell:  I arrive at school around 7am, go through my emails, grade student work, and check my lesson for the day. I meet with students for two or three hours depending on the day. I spend the rest of the day grading, lesson planning, and emailing students and/or parents.

This year is different because I am doing much more planning. I can’t just show up to class and start teaching. I have to put together a presentation. I have to find engaging online resources or create my own. I can’t rely on my old resources so I have to go through new resources as if I were a student. The volume of good and bad resources online is overwhelming.  So, it’s much more time consuming to plan activities.

LAPS Foundation:  What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Ms. Mitchell:  My biggest challenge is building community among my students. I’ve tried breakout rooms and discussion forums. I’ve encouraged students to share contact information so they help each other with asynchronous activities. I don’t feel like I’m successful.

LAPS Foundation:  What are some positives about the online learning experience?

Ms. Mitchell:  I have found some amazing online resources that I will continue to use. I have been utilizing online discussion forums for the first time and I really like the student engagement and the depth of understanding of complex concepts that students are displaying. I also really like the positivity that I see on the discussion forums. I have also transferred many of my paper worksheets to online versions and have pretty much eliminated my paper usage.

LAPS Foundation:  Are there some new practices you’re using currently that you will use in the future when school isn’t online?

Ms. Mitchell:  I will continue using online formative assessments because they grade themselves and provide quick feedback. I will continue to use Google Classroom as my learning management system. I like how all the assignments are organized and it’s obvious to students when work is due. 

LAPS Foundation:  What is your greatest hope for your students this school year?

Ms. Mitchell:  I hope that students realize how resilient they are and recognize all the important life skills they are gaining during this time. Their time management, organizational skills, and communication skills are improving. They are taking full ownership of their learning. They are self advocating more. I think this year will better prepare them for college courses and career pathways.

Ms. Mitchell’s reflections highlight the demands on teachers during the challenging times of the pandemic, and the hard work required on their part to keep students engaged and learning.  Our community is fortunate to have so many dedicated educators, like Stephanie Mitchell, who are helping students through these difficult times.

Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation provides mini grants for up to $100 to teachers so if they discover a need during the school year they can complete a five minute grant application and quickly receive the funding to purchase the item they need.  The idea is to provide resources educators would normally buy out of their own pockets so they don’t have to do that.  Stephanie applied for a mini grant for a webcam with a tripod and drawing tablet for online teaching.  This equipment makes doing science demonstrations easier and helps students understand how to set up experiments and see labs that cannot be done at home.  With so many changes resulting from the transition to online learning, LAPS Foundation helps fill in the gaps where new resources are needed for teachers to adapt.

Our generous donors make it possible for LAPS Foundation to fulfill our mission to serve as the connection between our community and school district, evaluating needs and investing resources to improve the quality of public education in our community.

About LAPS Foundation

The Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that helpsthe local community provide an extraordinary education for Los Alamos students. Los Alamos has given over $1.5 million to fund opportunities students and teachers would not have otherwise. To learn more about LAPS Foundation and how to get involved and/or make a donation, visit lapsfoundation.com or call 505.500.6501. Donations to LAPS Foundation, a 501(C)(3) organization, are tax-deductible.