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Michelle Pizzini, a second-grade teacher in Orlando, is using her 30-year experience to adapt to a pandemic. She is determined to keep her students focused.

As a teacher, Michelle Pizzini has seen many social and academic changes in the past 30 years. She has worked in Boston, Puerto Rico, and Florida, and gained insights on a broad spectrum of issues in her profession.

She could have never imagined that a pandemic was the next challenge, she would have to face as a teacher. Four weeks ago, her living room became her classroom.

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Michelle works with schools that offer Exceptional Student Education (ESE), a service for children with disabilities, such as ADHD, Autism, or sensory impairments. “Although I am not teaching ESE classes this year, there are always children with special needs in all classrooms. I have the knowledge and I can help them in any circumstance, delay or condition,” she said.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Michelle got her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Moderate Special Needs at Lesley University in Boston. She lived and worked there for 17 years.

Then she went back to Puerto Rico, to be with her sick mother. When her mother passed away — four years ago — she moved to Florida. She is the mother of three boys, and she has raised them alone, after her husband died, three years ago.

“In the 30 years I have been doing this, I have seen disabilities have multiplied. Most children have Attention Deficit Disorder, either passive or hyperactive. There are also many children with anxiety, and unfortunately, with everything that is happening, now those cases are going to skyrocket.”

Education Beyond Borders

Michelle is a second-grade teacher now at Sadler Elementary School in Orlando. She has 19 students, English Language Learners (ELL) — some with special needs — and most of them are immigrants.

“Their parents are really hard workers. The students have a great desire to learn, even if they go upstream all the time, because it’s a different language. Dad and mom have several jobs. They have to work twice as hard and they do it with desire and pleasure to learn. I have had students from Guatemala and Peru, who speak in dialect, they don’t speak Spanish or English.”

During these weeks of quarantine, Michelle has done everything possible to cover the needs of all her students. She relies on technology to do her job, but many of her students don’t have access to it.

 “The challenge has been finding a platform where I can serve both, students who have advanced technology such as computers and iPads, and those who have Flip Phones. I have two girls who have just arrived from Guatemala and don’t have many luxuries. I chose ClassDojo, because I can make videos and send them to them,” she explained.

Michelle is supposed to work three hours a day, but in reality, she works longer to be able to prepare all the lessons in a way that everybody understands.

“I am teaching children and parents. I have to do twice as much work than in a regular classroom, because I have to look for more resources and more anchor charts, so the children can understand the material in English and the parents can help them in Spanish.”

Recently, the school principal, Kahlil Ortiz, along with Miss Pizzini and the rest of the teachers recorded a video. They wanted to express solidarity, love, hope, and empathy to all their students. The students were thrilled and sent back lovely messages. 

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