With the temporary closure of school buildings across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have had to adapt to the protracted use of e-learning, in which they use videoconferencing and a variety of other online resources to keep their students on track.
March 13 was the last time that Community Schools of Frankfort students had a normal school day in their classrooms. Since then, CSF teachers have used email, texts, phone calls and various digital applications to continue to educate their students from a distance. It has been a challenge for these educators, but they have worked hard to meet it in creative ways.
“I think that a lot of teachers are missing their students terribly,” said Amy Perez, a kindergarten teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary. “We got into this because we love interacting with students. So, it has been a damper on our spirits. But after we realized that it was our reality, we had to find new ways to connect with students and their families.
“A lot of teachers are using Class Dojo,” she added, speaking of one of the many apps available to teachers and their students. “Other teachers are emailing and making phone calls. We have a program called Canvas that some teachers are using. I have a private Facebook page that our families, parents and staff are on. It is a really nice, creative community … It has been nice. We can share videos. We can create polls and graphs for our class. That has been a fun way to do it.”
Perez, who has four kids of her own from Pre-K to sixth grade, says that she has turned her house into something akin to a “miniature school” complete with an easel, rocking chair and desks.
“It has turned out great for doing live videos for my class, and my kids have been able to participate,” she said. “They love it. You can see in the comments that they are super-excited to see their teachers and hear their voices. They are just excited to have that structure. We are able to bring it into the comfort of their home, and they love it. We have done a few Zoom (teleconferencing app) sessions as well. They were wide-eyed. They were asking each other questions and were catching up on-line.”
Kindergartens have unique needs compared to older students in the district, and not being able to be there in person for the young ones has been a challenge for their teachers.
“In kindergarten, so much of it is hands-on learning,” Perez said. “So, students are not used to worksheets and paper-and-pencil work. In the school setting, we may sprinkle those in. Now, most of their learning is with paper and pencil at home. That has been a challenge for us because we know how rewarding those hands-on experiences are. We can model those hands-on things and then families can try it in their own homes together.
“I think that schedules and routines are key for any children and families,” she added. “To have study time and a special location in your home where they are going to learn – that has been super-helpful for us.”
Perez says that Zoom sessions with her fellow teachers have been good for everyone’s morale.
“I think that we all try to make it a positive experience and try to brighten everyone’s day because we know how much people need their spirits lifted,” she said. “We have been meeting once a week on Zoom just to connect with each other. We talk about what is going on with us at home and questions we have from parents. Then is gets into planning lessons and even planning for the next school year. I think these Zoom meetings that we have had have been helpful to the morale of the employees. You just hang up with a really good feeling in your heart that you got to see the people who are important to you.
Kyle Parvin, a teacher at Suncrest, says that his fifth-graders have adjusted well after starting with some nervousness.
“We have a lot of different avenues to meet with the kids or talk with the parents, so I think it has been a pretty smooth adjustment,” Parvin said. “At first, I think there was a lot of nervousness and tension. ‘How are we going to do this?’ But seeing the kids being able to handle it at 10 or 11 – if they are able to do this, I can do it.”
Parvin says his students love seeing everybody on Zoom.
“It is almost like it is the first fay of school every day,” he said. “They are excited to see you. My hope is that continues. I think it is just being able to talk to each other and see each other in person. It’s almost like show and tell. There are things that we don’t normally get to see in their lives that they are excited to show us.
“I think e-learning is a testament to how adaptable and creative all of our kids and all the teachers, staff and administrators can be,” Parvin added.
Kia Rushton, the English Department Chair at Frankfort High School, has the challenge of keeping high school students on track and engaged as they are studying from their homes.
“For me, the biggest challenge has been to make sure that everything that I give them is essential for them to know,” she said. “And I try to make my lessons engaging for them to want to do the work outside of the school.”
Rushton has been using Canvas and email to community with her high school students, who she says are more likely to get online in the evening or late at night to do their school work.
“That is when the majority of my assignments are being submitted,” she said. “I think that we have really had to learn as we go here. We understand that what they are getting at home isn’t going to be the same as they get in the classroom. We are making sure they are practicing their reading, comprehension and deeper thinking and analysis skills. And teaching them to write regularly.”
Rushton had a Zoom meeting with the other department chairs Thursday morning. Much like Perez, she says that it has been good to reconnect with her colleagues.
“It was really nice to see everyone on Zoom this morning,” Rushton said. “Just seeing other adult faces and hearing their voices – it felt like a mini-vacation after being home for so many days in a row.”
Rushton, who also has kids in the district, says she really applauds the elementary teachers for the effort they are putting into keeping in touch with their students as well.
“My son is a preschool student at Suncrest and is having a daily Zoom meeting with his teacher,” she said. “He looks forward to it. My daughter is at Blue Ridge, and they both said that it is really nice for them to see their friends and talk to them. Avery’s teacher even made a video explaining her homework. They are just going above and beyond.”