Resume: She’s a kindergarten teacher at what is now known as Letitia Carson Elementary (the former Wildcat Elementary). Before that, she taught kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary.
From the nomination: “Maria has had nothing but a positive and encouraging attitude about teaching under these new and unusual circumstances, as she does about teaching at all times.”
Family: Husband, Jeremy, a teacher at Cheldelin Middle School. Three children, Emily, 26, Nicholas, 23, and Ella, 20.
Hobbies: “I love to go running. I’m trying to learn ukulele. I practice Spanish. I listen to Spanish all the time. But the main thing I do for fun – that I haven’t been able to do because of COVID – is, I love salsa dancing and I actually help teach classes in the community on salsa dancing.”
By MIKE McINALLY
Maria Adams loves to run – and that’s a good thing, because she needed to be in shape for the time when she and a teaching partner put on wings and tutus and dashed to the doorstep of every kindergarten student in the class.
That was just the start of the outreach effort to students at the start of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020. Adams, who teaches kindergarten at what is now Letitia Carson Elementary in Corvallis, and Kara Olsen, the school’s other kindergarten teacher, teamed up with other colleagues to connect, in person (but at an appropriate social distance) with students.
“We wanted children who were seeing kindergarten through a computer screen to feel engaged and to love school,” said Adams, a winner of a 2021 Golden Apple Award from the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation. “We actually jogged to every kindergartner’s home during the pandemic to put a heart on their doors. We stayed six feet away, but we did get to wave to them. …. We went 19 miles over three days.”
By the time the next school year started, in the fall of 2020, it was clear that additional outreach would be necessary.
Enter the kindergarten fairy, who goes by the name of Fern. Over the course of the school year, Fern delivered picture books and other supplies to the kindergarten students.
Those are just two of the ways that Adams, who’s taught kindergarten in Corvallis schools for more than 15 years, adapted to the challenges posed by virtual learning. And her efforts went beyond just working with students: A person who nominated her for the Golden Apple noted that in meetings with other staff members and parents, Adams would be “finding and pointing out silver linings to many of the challenges that arise as a result of online learning.”
In fact, Adams and her teaching partner spent time not just offering online lessons to students, but also working with their parents in evening Zoom sessions. “I could tell that parents were just really trying hard to make this work,” Adams said. “What I enjoyed was talking to parents and just being a fellow human being for them. Parents were so gracious and so kind.”
In addition to all that, Adams somehow found the time during the pandemic to earn her English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement.
“It was busy,” she said about the hectic and unprecedented year. But the ESOL endorsement is something she’s wanted for years, dating back to the years when she taught at Lincoln Elementary, a dual-language immersion school. “I just fell in love with that environment and that teaching style.”
The ESOL work came in handy as Adams crafted lesson plans for an online environment.
“Something I’ve learned from years of experience is that students need real things they can touch and view and be a part of,” she said. “The challenge is, how will you make Zoom come alive for students?”
The ESOL endorsement gave her additional tools “so I could be really creative about having lots of photos with the vocabulary that we’re learning (and) having different strategies for engagement.”
That engagement was one of Adams’ main goals for her online classroom.
The other main goal: “To let students feel that they mattered, to connect with them. So I always was trying to engage students in that way, in a caring way.”
That’s been a hallmark of Adams’ years teaching kindergarten.
“I want every child in my classroom to feel that they have a place in my classroom,” she said. “Whatever they bring from their culture or their home, the knowledge they bring with them to school and their experiences, I want them to feel accepted and validated in the classroom.”
“I love kindergarteners. I think it’s such a neat age group. I love how they see the world. And I love their spontaneity and the way they do things. I love the energy they have and the excitement for learning. And I love how they are trying to understand the world – and sometimes the way they put details together is very unique or hilarious.”
Like the student who was confronted for the first time with a natural wood pencil – not a pencil that had been painted yellow or some other color. The child was horrified: ‘They’re naked, Ms. Adams,” he said as he inspected the pencils.
That’s the sort of moment that keeps Adams energized.
“Teaching can be very, very challenging and you just become worn out sometimes,” she said. “So the thing I always tell myself is at the very basic level, I am fortunate – I’m super-lucky. I get to spend my day with students who are 5 and 6 years old who are wonderful.”
And she thinks about how her students perceive her: “What kind of person do they want to see when they come to school?”
“When a child comes to school, they want to feel cared for, they want to feel valued, they want to feel loved and liked. They want to feel that learning is fun, and they want to feel that the experiences they have at home are something they can bring and share with school. They want to feel that they can learn.”