By Jennifer Mistrot and Elizabeth Cook
HALF MOON BAY (KPIX 5) — Brenda De Jesus Acosta runs her kindergarten class at Half Moon Bay’s Hatch Elementary School through the “three Rs” – reading, writing and arithmetic. But for De Jesus Acosta, the letter R also stands for the respect she has for her young students and everything they’ve been through since the COVID pandemic.
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“I tell the kids all the time, this is your space! You can tell me if you feel sad, if you feel happy, if you’re worried. Like I tell them that I think it’s most important that your emotional wellbeing is good,” said De Jesus Acosta. “I think of it as a reset for me, for the way of my teaching.”
Part of that reset has been De Jesus Acosta’s renewed focus on her student’s emotional wellbeing. It’s a big responsibility for the 25-year-old teacher’s first full year back in the classroom at the same school where she once attended.
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After a student teaching stint and completion of her master’s degree, De Jesus Acosta landed her current position in August 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. Online instruction and prep work kept her days long.
“It was a lot. I don’t know. Like more than 10 hours,” recalled De Jesus Acosta. “I was coming in here in the morning, and setting up for Zoom. After Zoom, setting up for the small sessions. And then staying to prep for the next week because we were sending home homework packets for every week.”
When she and her entire family contracted COVID, work became a needed distraction.
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“Three weeks into teaching my whole family was hit with COVID, myself included,” said De Jesus Acosta. “So we did deal with navigating COVID in such an unknown time because it was right at the beginning.”
De Jesus Acosta’s case was mild, but her father got really sick.
“My dad actually was the most [critical]. He was in the ICU for a couple of weeks,” said a teary De Jesus Acosta. “We were told he might not make it. But I kind of took that as just keep working.”
Teaching her first kindergarten class online lifted De Jesus Acosta’s spirits, as her dad slowly recovered. And in the spring of 2021, her students came back to a beautiful classroom ready to learn.
“It was amazing just to see them coming in, see them looking around like ‘This is so cool!”” she beamed.
But it’s her current class that reminds De Jesus Acosta why teaching is her calling, with an ‘R’ for resilient. She’s grateful to be teaching at Hatch Elementary and seeing herself in her student’s shoes.
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“That was my attitude,” said De Jesus Acosta. “Like, this is what you have wanted all your life. I was as resilient as I could and I was so proud of my little five- and six-year-olds who were extremely resilient, extremely open-minded and just proud of how far they came.”