Coping with coronavirus, week 3

04/01/2020

With the coronavirus spreading and the public ordered to stay home, these are unusual times in West Marin. Three weeks into a shutdown of all nonessential activities, the reality is setting in that these changes aren’t going away anytime soon. Yet people are finding the silver linings. Alongside our news coverage of the pandemic, the Light is offering windows into the lives of our readers. This week, we talked to a teacher, a server and a gardener. 

Distance learning

Larissa Morelj, a math teacher at Tomales High, is worried about the handful of students who haven’t responded to her calls, emails and texts since school closed three weeks ago. She teaches 88 kids, and six of those don’t have internet access. “It’s hard to figure out how I make sure that they’re getting the same access to the curriculum,” she said. Normally, class is collaborative. Kids work through problems while she walks around the room, giving hints and asking questions. Now, she posts video lectures online and asks students to practice afterwards. Her sophomore class usually tackles a polyhedron project, in which each student is assigned a three-dimensional shape to calculate and build. Students can construct their shape in any size and with any material, whether it’s a hexagonal pyramid or an octagonal prism. Larissa has seen kids mold clay, piece together cardboard and bake a cake. One student made his polyhedron so large it couldn’t fit inside her classroom. If school doesn’t return this year, that project will be canceled. Larissa observes that the students who are engaged in the classroom are the same ones who are reaching out to her now. To bring in less enthusiastic students, she is hoping social pressure will be enough: After next week’s spring break, she will roll out a new virtual meeting schedule, with groups of six videoconferencing for 15 minutes twice a week. With smaller groups, she’s hopeful students will be motivated to sign in and interact with peers. She’s trying to keep a positive mindset. “Kids were pretty scared, and I spent a lot of the time on that [last day of school] talking kids down, acknowledging that this is scary,” she said.

Financial setback

Being stuck at home without a job wasn’t how Diego Gallegos, a server at Saltwater Oyster Depot, envisioned his honeymoon, but that’s how it played out. He was married in February and moved with his wife from his parents’ home on the McClure Ranch to Woodacre. “I just got my own official place, just got married, and like a month in—no work,” he said. Diego filed for unemployment and qualified for $438 a week in state assistance. But with a new $2,000 rent to pay and a household to support, that won’t be nearly enough. “Financially, it is quite a setback,” he said. Purchasing furniture for the house and a car for his wife will have to wait for now. On the bright side, he spent the last year responsibly saving money. He also had just stocked up on groceries and cleaning supplies, without knowing he was preparing for the imminent shelter order. With his time at home, he is organizing, cleaning and exploring his new neighborhood. Applying for unemployment was confusing, he said, because he didn’t have specific information about his wages from an old job. But when his unemployment benefits go up by $600 a week because of the federal stimulus bill, he will be making almost as much as what he normally does at the restaurant. He’s still waiting for the debit card to arrive in the mail, and every two weeks he’s expected to complete a questionnaire about his work status. Saltwater opened last weekend for takeout oysters and wine, and Diego was the first staffer called because he does a little bit of everything for the restaurant. That pay helped a bit, but without consistent tips, Diego will have to keep his purchases small. 

A project a day

Julie Monson is directing her extra time at home into garden projects that she hasn’t been able to get around to. Last weekend, it was planting grass in the meadow. Yesterday, it was clearing weeds from around the stepping stones. And today, she’s pruning shrubs in a section of her Point Reyes Station garden. “I’m trying to do the projects one by one,” she said. “If I can do one a day, that gets me outside.” Julie and her husband, Jim, used to park at the seashore headquarters for morning hikes, but the parking lots and trails are now closed, after the influx of visitors prompted a tightening of the lockdown. She is missing those walks as well as her hiking and book groups (though if the weather is nice, the book group will meet from a distance on a patio.) She and her husband are in their 80s, but she isn’t too concerned about catching the coronavirus, partly because she recovered without trouble from the flu in January. Their three children diligently send them the latest guidance; Julie is limiting her shopping trips to once a week. The kids have also been organizing virtual family meetings, filled with singing and merry conversation. When their son in San Francisco comes up with his family on weekends, he helps change a hard-to-reach lightbulb or works on larger projects in the garden. Julie, the author of “Gardening on California's Coast,” has been receiving pictures from many fellow gardeners of the spring flowers now leafing and blooming.