A Day in the Life: Stephen Gunvalson

Stephen Gunvalson is a 5th-Grade Spanish Immersion Teacher, runner, and avid cyclist. He also enjoys baking bread for friends and gardening a small plot in NE Portland. In the latest of our “A Day in the Life” interview series, Stephen shares how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has affected the students and families he works with, how he’s taken action by organizing a food drop and getting supplies to families in need, as well as how things are going with his home life and running.

How has the last month been for you?

Two months ago, my 5th-grade class hosted Dr. Wu, an epidemiologist from the Center for Disease Control dispatched to the Northwest region. At the time, the coronavirus spread was sparsely located around the world and Dr. Wu taught all my students how to take proper precautions. COVID-19 seemed like a distant concern to us then and even after his visit, I couldn’t imagine something like Ebola or SARS running rampant in the US. At school, we started to clean all surfaces, wiped down doorknobs, and greeted students with imaginary handshakes. We checked the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map every day in class. We journaled our thinking and engaged in conversations as a community about how a pandemic could impact us. We asked students to make a list of things they absolutely need to survive and had them identify safe adults in their lives that they could reach out to in case of an emergency. About a month later, the governor of Oregon announced school closures for the entire state and we were given little time to adjust as teachers in an unknown teaching/learning environment. In short, the last month has been a storm of chaos, stress, and emotions.

What’s changed for you at your place of work?

While the school closure created an abundance of problems, I noticed an even greater need for food and resources in my community. Last month, I created a mutual aid Google survey for 95 families to gather information and connect people together. I’ve also been building a coalition of community partners that help secure food and learning opportunities for students and families in Cully. Since Rigler Elementary serves a diverse community of families, we already have many nonprofits and organizations that assist with programming at the school. A regular Friday program was transformed into a weekly food drop operation with added donations from families, farmers, and other organizations. Food that isn’t claimed is taken to mobile home parks and drop spots where community members have already established safety protocols and food delivery and distribution systems. We’re in the fifth week of food distribution and are looking to recruit shoppers, delivery drivers, and folks with gardens to donate food to our program! As for actual teaching, over the past few weeks, I worked to create, produce, and recruit community members to send out educational videos on our school Youtube channel. This week, we hand-delivered computers and supplies to all of our students. Every morning I meet with my kids online. We have a ‘community circle’, listen to each other, and learn in a little virtual community. My coworker and I each teach a 30-minute lesson, record it live, then share it with students who don’t/can’t show up to class. I usually spend another 4-5 hours connecting with families and individuals within the school community about food/resources and creating digital learning material.

Stephen meeting with his students online

What’s something others might not realize about the work you’re doing right now?

Rigler Elementary is a Title I school which means many people in our community struggle with access to food and basic necessities even when there’s not a global pandemic. Our students are multilingual (Spanish, English, and some Maya) and are sometimes the only English speakers in their household. Things like computers, WiFi connections, or even a private space to sit at home are privileges that many students do not have. I am working hard within my community to make sure people have the care and resources they need.

What differences have you noticed in the ways that your communities are operating? (Whether that’s your place of work, neighborhood, clubs, inner friend circle..)

I think we’re learning that we can only do the work that matters most to us. The rest is noise. I’m grateful to be able to connect with neighbors, friends, and kids in authentic ways. I’m also realizing that social connection is still essential and have been trying to reach out more now than before. KT and I start our friend-flyby bike tour this week!

Have you had to make any adjustments to your schedule or routine for yourself or other members of your family?

We have really learned to let ourselves go through the roller coaster of events, emotions, and whatever routines we find ourselves in. We try to be flexible and celebrate the little things. Honoring independent time, creating a schedule, and checking in with each other throughout the day has been extremely beneficial. I am very fortunate to have a partner who shares in some of my projects and activities.

How has running/fitness fit into your life with everything that’s going on?

I wanted 2020 to be a year of “fun running” and thankfully this can still be true. I’m participating in the Run Free Grand Prix (go Bros!) and signed up for a couple virtual races. Earlier this month, KT and I ran the Wildwood trail end to end for her birthday, too! Being at home has allowed for more focus on recovery and yoga. Running feels like such a gift during this time!

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