Michael Stinziani

From Canberra to Colorado

I don’t remember jigsaw puzzles being on the list of new skills and experiences an exchange year would bring me. I’m not complaining, mind you – jigsaw puzzles are a soothing and mindful exercise, requiring spatial awareness and dexterity. I had been hoping for a little more than this out of a year in Denver, Colorado. But there is still time. President Trump keeps reassuring us he has the coronavirus under control.

Here in Denver, we four Aussie exchange teachers (together with our families) have been sheltering at home since mid March, and teaching online since late March, with no face to face school to look forward to until after the summer holidays. This means we won’t be back in the classroom until at least September. It’s not quite what we signed up for, but it is what it is, and if ranting and raving would help, you would hear us from Australia. We are making the best of it with Friday afternoon drinks via Zoom, family walks around the neighbourhood lake, and those jigsaw puzzles.

In my school district, Adams12, the approach has been fairly low pressure, with the expectation that teachers will set work for students to do on a weekly basis. The technological learning curve has been steep, and not without crises, but we are all discovering things we didn’t know we didn’t know and working out how to work them out.

Although this is a fairly middle-class district, we don’t make assumptions about home routines or work patterns for parents or students, so all students are marked as “attending” as long as their work is done and handed in by Friday. Grades cannot fall during this online period – they can only stay the same or improve, as long as the students complete their work. I have hosted zoom catch-ups with my classes, just to see the students and say hi.

There are meals available for collection from the schools for whoever wants them, and Chromebooks are available for each student to take home. This has been a blessing in my family: with three school-aged children, plus me, the fighting over our one laptop may just have made us internet stars.

I had heard of a white Christmas but we enjoyed a white Easter: snow came down on Easter Sunday, with temperatures around minus-4 during the day (it was 22 degrees the day before – spring is the season of temperature volatility here). There were no hollow chocolate eggs – another way life in the US familiar but different in little ways.

We’re keeping our Aussie upper lips stiff, our heads high, and our senses of humour intact. And if anyone has found that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, please let me know.