Long Beach teachers sing the ‘Canvas Blues’

Poly Jam Band voices frustration with LBUSD’s new learning platform through music and humor.

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Screenshot Via Youtube

Screenshot of Poly Jam Band’s “Canvas Blues” music video. Clockwise from top left: Rory Cuyugan – Guitar, Victor Jimenez- Bass, Doc Chris Stevens- Drums/Key boards, and Patrick Gillogly -Vocals/Lyrics/Lead Guitar.

“Opened up my District email/What do ya think I see?/This brand-new Canvas platform/Lord it’s killin’ me.”

So begins the Poly Jam Band’s “Canvas Blues,” a music-video collaboration among five seasoned educators at Long Beach Polytechnic High School (Poly)– Rory Cuyugan, Patrick Gillogly, Victor Jimenez, Albert Shaheen, Jr. and “Doc” Chris Stevens.

Like many other teachers in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), the five spent what they describe as an “exhausting” week getting immersed in Canvas-LBUSD’s new online learning platform-just before school started on Sept. 1.

“Sucked up so much of my soul/ There’s nothin’ left to lose./They’ve got Synergy, Zoom and Clever/ But I’ve got the Canvas blues.”

The band shared with the Signal Tribune through email that the song was Stevens’s idea as a creative way to express their collective stress at the end of summer.

“Our song and video […] rather unexpectedly and spontaneously spawned out of the angst surrounding the impending start of school and a bunch of technology to learn in a relatively short period of time,” Stevens said.

A music teacher at Poly for 25 years, Stevens said he knew that colleagues in other departments were also musicians and invited them to collaborate virtually. Stevens began the process by sending the others a percussion recording and 12-bar blues structure.

Cuyugan, an English teacher at Poly for 31 years, said band members then contributed separate tracks after their teaching days.

“Chris Stevens asked if we wanted to ‘jam out’ a blues song that would express our difficulties that had left us quite depressed,” Cuyugan said. “We each recorded our assigned parts– mine was rhythm guitar-and emailed them to Chris, who had a professional music engineer [Poly alumnus Thomas Kendall Hugues] splice and synchronize it together on digital audio.”

Cuyugan added that the three-minute YouTube video came together in a few takes on a Sunday afternoon after Jimenez came up with the idea to make it like a Zoom conference with the bespectacled teachers training in Canvas online before transforming into guitar-and-drum playing musicians singing “Canvas Blues.”

The lyrics– primarily composed by Shaheen and Gillogly– include references to Canvas, such as its “modules” section that contains assignments.

“After all these District trainings/ One thing I still need to hear/ How do I fill my modules/ With tequila, wine and beer?”

“These are the most dedicated and hardest working [teachers] you’ll ever find,” Cuyugan said. “But as you can see, we have our goofy side.”

Shaheen, who just began his eighth year teaching chemistry at Poly, said participating in the collaborative effort was a “major pick-me-up” after the late-summer Canvas rollout and ramp-up to virtual teaching.

“Creativity has been the antidote to the soul-sucking, nightmarish beginning-of-the-year experience,” he said.

Most LBUSD students and teachers are currently engaged in exclusively online education via Canvas and Zoom video-conferencing. The District recently postponed moving to in-person classes from its original planned date of Oct. 5 to Jan. 28, 2021 due to ongoing coronavirus concerns.

Jimenez, a 24-year education veteran with the past eight teaching English and language development for English-language learners at Poly said he found playing bass and editing the video uplifting in the current circumstances.

“My involvement with the band has been a welcomed and enjoyable diversion from the whole Canvas/ virtual learning/ pandemic thing,” Jimenez said.

Canvas training only added to the burden of preparing to teach online, the teachers agreed.

LBUSD had begun exploring a new, more comprehensive learning-management system (LMS) this summer to make online education more feasible, according to Chris Eftychiou, LBUSD’s public-information officer and as discussed at a July 20 board of education workshop.

“We especially considered feedback from students and teachers who wanted more of a one-stop platform to support communication and online learning in a user-friendly way,” Eftychiou said.

Canvas allows teachers, students and parents to access a common platform rather multiple applications for different learning purposes. Canvas costs LBUSD $390,000 annually, compared to $374,000 for School Loop, the district’s previous LMS, Eftychiou said.

However, Shaheen said Canvas training was rushed and compressed, with a steep learning curve. He has relied on other teachers and YouTube videos on Canvas to learn more of its particulars, he said.

Jimenez said he experienced Canvas training as long and tedious. “It was basically a crash-course in brain surgery– or felt that way,” Jimenez said. Cuyugan said he found the training and transition to Canvas overwhelming.

“Canvas forced us to become web designers overnight!” he exclaimed.

“I finally got a homepage/ Well, whoopdy frickin’ dee/ But with my Zoom link and HML editor/ Now I’m lookin’ at a blank screen”

Nevertheless, after nearly a month of teaching with Canvas, most of the bandmembers agree that it’s a better system than School Loop.

“Canvas is much more powerful and versatile than School Loop,” Shaheen said. “School Loop is very limited compared to Canvas […] it’s a great improvement now that we’ve had time to get acquainted with it.”

Stevens agreed that while its rollout was problematic, Canvas itself is not. “Viewpoints are all over the map about the wisdom and effectiveness of its implementation, especially on such short notice,” Stevens said. “But overall, I think it is a good thing.” Jimenez also said using Canvas has been getting smoother, though at different rates for different teachers.

“It does have many helpful and innovative tools that we are learning to utilize with our classes,” he acknowledged.

All the teachers expressed appreciation for their students who have to dwell virtually in Canvas and Zoom during school hours.

“Students seem to be getting used to it, just like us, but my greatest concern is the amount of time they have to be online,” Shaheen said, adding that the teachers have been brainstorming ways to relieve students of Zoom- and online-overload.

Gillogly, who has been with LBUSD for 27 years– the past 17 at Poly teaching AP US History and Model United Nations-said he, too, is cautiously observing how his students are handling virtual classes, though he is amazed at their attendance and participation overall.

“In the past, what we could do quickly and informally by reading expressions and body language is a little more difficult to assess,” Gillogy said, “We have all been very sensitive to watching carefully how our students are handling online learning, navigating the new platform, screen time, time management and the like.”

The bandmembers also give a shout-out in the video to Thurman Ashley, Kathleen Naruse, Gloria Scipio and Leslie Saito Waddles, LBUSD teachers who had to quickly learn Canvas in order to teach other teachers.

“We all agreed to use the song as a ‘thank you’ to four of our wonderful colleagues who took on the thankless and monumental task of training 150+ overwhelmed, grumpy, summer-brained, tantrum-throwing teachers the ins and outs of Canvas-virtually via Zoom and with very little lead time to learn it themselves,” Shaheen said. “They are our heroes and lifesavers.”

Superintendent Dr. Jill Baker told the Signal Tribuneshe’s seen the video and appreciates the band’s heartfelt thanks to their peers, who she said are still serving as Canvas trainers at school sites.

“I am happy to see our talented teachers are maintaining a sense a humor during tough times,” Baker said about the Poly Jam Band.

Gillogly, who provided vocals and lead guitar in the “Canvas Blues” video, said the band created the song to lighten the load for all teachers scaling Canvas’s steep learning curve.

“Sucked up so much of my soul/ There’s nothin’ left to lose/ ‘Cause I’m too young to retire/ So I’ve got the Canvas blues.”

“I would also agree with my colleagues that it is an amazing and powerful platform, and I believe that we are much better off in the long run with it than School Loop,” Gillogly said. “The novelty has already worn off for some, but the kids have been amazingly resilient on the whole, as have my colleagues.”