In the Age of COVID-19, teachers, parents, counselors, and students learn a new way forward together
By Valerie A. Hoffman
Lake Lure Classical Academy
By the time this newspaper gets into your hands, the students of Lake Lure Classical Academy will be days away from the summer break from the 2019-2020 school year, one like no other in their young lives. No graduation ceremony will cap off the close of the school year. New prom dresses hang in the closet unworn. Plays, art shows, musical performances, sports games, playoffs, and summer camps simply didn’t happen.
Spring Break will have been a game of ball in the yard, a walk in the park with the family dog, or binge-watching a favorite TV series. It’s the new normal in the age of COVID-19. While there is simply no way to replace what our students have lost, many positives have emerged from this experience. While schools remain closed because of the Coronavirus global pandemic, teachers were able to quickly find creative ways to engage with students by relying on the technology that was already in place.
What that use of technology looked like from grade to grade is different, observed Barbara Cohen, Interim Executive Director for Lake Lure Classical Academy. “We were already 100 percent a Google school,” she said, “So we have long had the tools in place to stay connected with students and teachers.”
But Internet connectivity, family dynamics, work schedules, and grade level dictate what and how at-home assignments have taken shape. Flexibility on the part of everyone has been the key. Assignments for the kindergarteners were mostly paper assignments sent home or picked up weekly, while the older students utilized Google Classroom, which streamlines the process of sharing files between teachers and students.
Even before the March 16th closure of public schools, teachers, parents, and students were connected at LLCA through an educational technology communications app called Class DoJo. Additionally, the school’s website, its regular e-blasts, ‘all-call’ notifications, and two Facebook pages have kept the school’s audiences connected.
Depending upon Internet access, students and teachers can log on to any of these technology platforms from home from a cell phone, tablet, or computer. Students can watch their teacher demonstrate a math problem, hear them read a story, or follow a class lecture.
Of course, none of this replaces the human connection between teacher, parent, and student, Ms. Cohen said. “We have all missed each other,” she said. “But together, all of us have made it a priority to ensure that students continue to learn. The office staff and teachers have been working together to make take-home packets of class materials. They have filled boxes with food and supplies for families, and they have adapted their teaching style to encompass all the newness of distance learning.”
Of the new normal, Assistant School Director and High School Principal Brad White said that despite the personal challenges that everyone is facing, the students, parents, and staff made the transition to virtual school easier than anticipated.
“We have had teachers taking students on virtual field trips, conducting online teaching, and providing one-on-one virtual tutoring where needed,” he said. For students without the Internet, the school provided paper copies while they waited on the arrival of Internet hotspots to help get more students connected. The school also provided Google Chromebooks to numerous students who had no computers at home.
Even in the best of circumstances, Ms. Cohen and Mr. White said that distance learning would never take the place of what happens between teacher and student in the classroom. The faculty is genuinely looking forward to getting the students and staff back in the building. “Until such time, we are so proud of the resiliency of our LLCA Community.” Mr. White said.
Elementary School Principal Linda Edgerton agreed. “I believe the hardest part for teachers has been the absence of physical contact with the children. It is hard to see their faces light up when you are working virtually.”
“Being in a role that is centered around face-to-face interaction with students, becoming a work-from-home school counselor has been a challenge, to say the least,” said Morgan Poff, a counselor for LLCA’s middle and high school students. “However, I am so thankful for technology and the ability to call, text, and email with students who are struggling, have questions, or just need a sense of normalcy for a few minutes during this crazy time.”
Ms. Hayley Duncan, a Middle School Social Studies teacher at LLCA, has been impressed with the students themselves. “These kids have been working hard,” she said. “I am proud of how self-directed and resilient they have been.” The students actively participate, cheer each other up, and even send kind messages to the teachers, she said.
Emma Hoosier, a 9th-grade student at LLCA, said the most challenging thing to get used to about distance learning has been in doing the homework without having a teacher ‘right there.’ “Trying not to get distracted is also a challenge,” she said. As for what she likes about learning from home, she enjoys working in an environment where she feels comfortable.
As parents of a third-grader and a sixth-grader at LLCA, Geneive Helms observed that distance learning is just that, a distant second to the education and enrichment that the kids were used to at LLCA.
“The teachers have created strong bonds with the kids and laid an amazing groundwork, so aside from a few technological glitches due to high Internet traffic, helping the children complete their assignments has been fairly straight forward,” she said. What the Helms have enjoyed about learning from home is the opportunity to help their children learn new ways to quench their thirst for knowledge and seek information. “We love rewarding our children with family projects and fun togetherness,” she said.
Of the entire experience, all of the faculty at LLCA were in agreement that when on-site classes resume, it will be impossible to return without carrying much of what they are learning back to the classroom. They expressed confidence that these new ways of learning and interacting with each other, along with a greater appreciation for the role that everyone plays, will make Lake Lure Classical Academy a better and even stronger pillar of the community.