Eighth grader Carolina Viga's enthusiasm for school hasn’t lagged one bit now that she's learning virtually. Though she no longer has to take a bus from Wasco to Chipman Junior High School, she wakes up her mom long before school starts at 5 a.m., eager to start her day and log on to school.

“She’s always been really good at school and that’s a lot because of the teacher,” said her mom Mayra Rosas. “But right now she loves it.”

Her teacher is Jolene Berg, who has been teaching hard of hearing students like Carolina and deaf students for 34 years. When schools shut down last spring because of coronavirus, Berg sprung into action reaching out to her students to make sure their learning wouldn’t stop. Her efforts won her national recognition from Lifetouch’s “Thank You, Teachers” program.

In the early days of the shutdown, her seventh and eighth grade students connected through phones or whatever they could to connect a few hours twice a day on Zoom.

“There were a couple kids who didn’t join us often but the majority of kids did,” Berg said.

Students in Berg’s class are especially visual learners. They need a laptop and sometimes prefer two screens so that they can watch an interpreter signing during distance learning.

Berg worked quickly to make sure her students had access to laptops, hotspots to connect to Wi-Fi and mice. Though she is based on a Bakersfield City School campus, the deaf and hard of hearing program is operated with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, so it draws on students from all around the county.

Though Carolina lives with her mother Mayra Rosas in Wasco, she says Berg has never hesitated to drive out to personally deliver learning materials.

“She’s really dedicated to her kids,” said Rosas, whose daughter is enjoying her second year in Berg’s class.

Not only would that include the technology they needed to connect but hands-on projects. When her students were studying the Aztecs, they made a pinch pot using clay. They created a solar-powered soda can car for a science unit. And when SpaceX Dragon 2 launched this spring, Berg taught a unit on space travel that included a project where students “launched” an astronaut using magnets. That last project was a favorite for Rosas and her whole family.

“My boyfriend had fun with that,” she laughed.

Berg’s efforts weren’t just for her own class but for other deaf and hard of hearing teachers and their support staff of aides and interpreters. Berg said her decades in teaching and her background in technology helped. Berg is a board member of Kern CUE (Computer Using Educators), so she felt comfortable finding programs with her students’ needs in mind.

“She was working tirelessly creating material,” said Crystal Tobiasen, another seventh and eighth grade teacher at Chipman in the deaf and hard of hearing program.

Junior high teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing are tasked with teaching every subject — not just one or two like other teachers at their grade level. And their students work on developing their vocabulary not just in reading and speaking but in signing ASL.

“It’s a lot of work to create things digitally that work with our deaf and hard of hearing population,” Tobiasen said. “We can’t do what general ed teachers do. Our students are so visual.”

Berg and Tobiasen said their prep time for teaching has multiplied this year. Parents and the public might not always see that, but Berg says it's easily doubled for her, even though she's a veteran. But both of them say it's worth it for their students.

"I care and all teachers care," Berg said. "That’s what keeps us going."

Rosas has had her daughter in the Kern County Superintendent of School's deaf and hard of hearing program since she was eight months old, and she believes it's made a difference in her life.

"I am so grateful to have her in this program," she said.

Through it Carolina been able to learn ASL, English and Spanish, which she believes will serve her daughter well in her life and open up career opportunities.

“I tell her, ‘You have a great future in front of you,’” Rosas said.