Here's how Bay Area teachers celebrate holidays during distance learning

PITTSBURG, Calif. (KGO) -- From grade school to high school, Bay Area schools are getting creative when it comes to celebrating the holidays amid the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers in Pittsburg, in Contra Costa County, are keeping the culture alive in their virtual classrooms this holiday season both in class and after school.

"This is my 'crankenstein' and his name is Mr. Mallari. Don't tell him I told you that!"

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From classroom to computer screen, the distance between Mrs. Mallari and her students has actually brought them closer in unexpected ways.

"It's time to start," said Mrs. Mallari to one of her Los Medanos Elementary students on Zoom. "There we go, out of bed buddy!"

"I look at them on the screen and my heart breaks and I'm like, gosh, I've never met these kids in person and I'm so connected to them."

Even though she's working from home, Mrs. Mallari, of Lizzo viral video fame, is the queen bee of her classroom. Her first name is DorothyHoney, and she's keeping her hive of second-grade students busy this holiday season.

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"I just have certain traditions I do in my classroom that I look forward to. It excites me as a teacher."

But now that virtual is the new reality, Mrs. Mallari has learned to use the holidays, like Halloween, to keep short-lived Zoom attention spans focused.

"Say pencil please! And we're going to write in a complete sentence because we are in second grade now," said Mrs. Mallari to her students on Zoom. "What makes you guys cranky?"

"I'm cranky when I'm hungry," exclaimed a student in response.

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Connecting the holidays to culture is part of the lesson plan in the Pittsburg Unified School District, where 65% of the students are Latino.

"This is my Dad's dad," said 7-year-old Alanna Lawry, pointing to an altar at her home via Zoom.

Learning from home has allowed Lawry to show and tell her family's "ofrenda," or home altar. "We put up pictures of all of our family and we put up stuff they like," she explained.

"Every day is a good day because we have so much fun in our class, we do so many cool things," she said.

At Pittsburg Unified, learning and holiday celebrations don't end with the school day.

During the day, Eugenia Rodriguez teaches Spanish at Pittsburg High School. But once the school day ends, she teaches a different kind of lesson.

"Everybody get in position," shouted Mrs. Rodriguez over the computer to her students.

Moments later, traditional Mexican folk dancing music began and the students started dancing in unison on the computer screen.

Mrs. Rodriguez advises the school's Latinos Unidos and Folklorico clubs. "I cut out a lot of activities due to the pandemic, but the students were actually reaching out to me and they said we need to have it, we need to have something fun."

So instead of performing on stage together, the students dance from their backyards and bedrooms via Zoom.

The PHS Ballet Folklorico was chosen to perform at Disneyland this Thanksgiving break, but the pandemic shut down the theme park and that dream.

So, the dance group re-focused on Day of the Dead and has a celebration planned for October 30 in front of the school.

"We are gonna have three altars... and then we're gonna have Folklorico groups dancing," said Rodriguez, who explained that, "it is a drive-thru event due to the pandemic."

Citlali Gallo is a senior at Pittsburg High School and has danced all four years. "It's something that brings people's spirits up, especially during this time of COVID."

Gallo has high hopes for this year's performance. "To be able to have these celebrations, still celebrate Dia de los Muertos, it's something to look forward to and something you can at least enjoy that one day"

Folklorico is still working on a way to re-invent their annual Christmas fundraising Posadas. But if the students in Pittsburg have learned anything this year, it's that the holidays are not canceled... they're just a lot closer to home and the computer screen.

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