Whether it’s distance learning or classrooms now outfitted with distanced desks and PPE (personal protection equipment), the school year looks a lot different during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s especially true for elementary school teacher and expectant mother Janet Udomratsak, who has transformed her hospital room into a makeshift classroom from which she remotely instructs first-graders via a laptop perched on her meal tray.
Now in her 11th year of teaching, the pregnant Lancaster, Calif. educator has been a patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills since July 4. Concerned that Udomratsak, then just 24 weeks into her pregnancy, might go into pre-term labor, doctors have decided to keep her admitted until she gives birth. Nearly two months later, she’s now 33 weeks along and hopes to make it to 37.
“With it being so high-risk at that point, going home is not a possibility because I need to be constantly monitored just in case I do go into pre-term labor,” explains Udomratsak, who is expecting a rainbow baby after losing a son born prematurely last year. She and her husband are also parents to 5-year-old son Henry.
Given her condition, and being considered high-risk for COVID-19, Udomratsak would have taken leave had her school, Enterprise Elementary School, opted to return to in-person instruction for the fall. But with classes being conducted online, she has instead turned down the chance to take time off and is now teaching from her hospital bed.
“I chose to start the school year with the students because the beginning of the year is a crucial time to make connections and build strong relationships with your students,” she tells Yahoo Life. “When you have that connection, the students feel safe and comfortable with you and that helps with their motivation to do well in class. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity with my class because I was only going to be with them for a short while before I did have to take my maternity leave.”
Thanks to fellow teachers, Udomratsak’s students were able to get the required school materials she normally would have prepped herself. Indeed, many families weren’t even aware that she was in the hospital until her story started to make local headlines.
“I didn’t want to add any more distractions to the already overwhelming situation of distance learning that was going on,” she says, adding that one parent has set up a “very sweet” GoFundMe fundraiser on her behalf since hearing the news.
Her doctors have also been “very supportive,” she says.
“When I asked them if it was even possible [to go back to teaching] because at the time I was still bedridden and wouldn’t have been able to get up, they said it was a good idea because it would get me up out of bed and give me something to do during the day,” says Udomratsak, who is restricted from receiving visitors due to hospital restrictions. “The nurses are so wonderful and supportive of my teaching. They put up signs on the door to let everyone know that I am in session with the students, and have worked out a schedule of bringing me my medications and doing testing during my breaks so that they do not disturb my teaching.”
Her room is now outfitted with classroom essentials like a whiteboard, bulletin board and, in a particularly homey touch, a “welcome” banner. Armed with the work computer and document camera she’s had with her since school shut down in March, she uses her meal tray as a desk while her storage table props up her displays.
It certainly isn’t how she’d envisioned spending the months leading up to the birth of her new baby — a son, originally due Oct. 20, whom big brother Henry has decided to name James. Separated from her family, she sees teaching as a way to make connections and lift her spirits while passing on her love for learning.
“I feel very excited to have gotten this far in my pregnancy but it hasn’t been an easy journey,” she admits. “I try to stay positive as much as possible even though the situation I am in is not the best. I haven’t been able to see my family since I have been admitted back in July due to COVID restrictions. Hospital policy right now is that I am not allowed any visitors, but because I had been here so long, the nurses pulled a miracle and my family was able to come in and visit me for an hour a few weeks go.
“When I am teaching and with the students, they motivate me to keep going on because I see them as my family and it brings me a little joy to have that interaction with them even though I don’t have that with my own right now. Teaching has always been my passion and when I am with them I am excited to hear their stories and see their passion for learning.”
But rest assured, she will finally take a well-deserved break once James arrives.
“I plan to take maternity leave ‘til the end of the year and just soak up as much time I can get with both the boys,” she says. “This is our rainbow baby so he is extremely special to us.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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