Regina Coeli Elementary School in Alliance might be small, but the staff’s efforts during the COVID-19 crisis have been mighty.
Teachers in the school that teaches kindergarten through fifth grade have made efforts to offer different levels of support for families.
In addition to the tele-teaching that is going on with students in the school, teachers have taken to making the experience a little better with encouraging messages visible in their backgrounds.
For example, fourth-grade teacher Ally Alexsonshk has created a wall in her home that offers messages of encouragement and visuals that are seen during the lessons.
Alexsonshk used a Cricut device to cut intricate, colorful shapes and figures she has hung up
She said she changes the backgrounds for the different lessons she has been preparing for students.
“I have a big room in my house where I have made different sections on my wall and decorated them in different ways and with different quotes,” Alexsonshk said. “I do it because I want my kids to smile. It really does make watching my teaching videos and participating in Zoom sessions more interesting.”
She said she tries to keep the visuals interesting.
“I add new things whenever I have the time,” she said. “I am currently working on getting their parents to send pictures of them working to post on one section of my wall, as well.”
She said she’s had good results from her students during the COVID-19 quarantine period, when students are safely tucked in their homes.
“Overall I have been very impressed with the level of engagement from the students and the parents during this time,” Alexsonshk said. “I attribute some of that to the fact we already used many of the apps and websites they are for distance learning. Our school has been using classdojo to communicate in at least four of our classrooms. When the distance learning began, it was an easy transition in regard to communication because many parents were already connected and had been using the app all year.
“With the older students, grades four and five, we had already used the Google Classroom (Learning Management System) in our class, so students were familiar with it, making for an easier transition for them as well.”
Alexsonshk said she altered her plan during the early days of at-home learning, to small-group learning.
“During the first three weeks of distance learning, I had tried to do live whole-class lessons, and that just didn’t work out,” she said. “It wasn’t as effective, and not all the students could log on at the same time.
“So now we’ve transitioned to promoting more self-paced learning among the students with small-group collaboration. Lessons are recorded and material is provided to students, the teacher is available to support and answer questions during daily office hours, and video-conference check-ins are used to assess students’ understandings.”
Alexsonshk said her students have adapted well to the changes they’ve undergone since the COVID-19 crisis began.
“Overall they seem to have adapted really well, but I know they constantly tell me how much they miss seeing everyone,” she said. “It has been very crucial during this time for me to support their social and emotional well-being by providing opportunities for them to connect to their peers through video-conferencing.
“In addition, I have made a ‘We miss you’ video featuring teachers and students from our school; we join in on Tuesdays and Fridays to pray together as we normally would if we were in our school building; and with our fourth- and fifth-graders, we continue to facilitate a ‘Fun Friday’ on video-conference, which helps to bring us together to socialize. Fun Friday has featured a special guest each week and fun games like Pictionary and scavenger hunts. This weekly event has certainly contributed to many laughs among the students.”
While many different industries have learned the value of connecting different parts of their operation to online communication, Alexsonshk said she doesn’t necessarily think education is ready for that step.
“Teachers are providing materials which students can access again and again if needed to deepen their understanding,” she said. “Even watching lessons via video has some positives, such as the fact the student can raise or lower the volume, start, stop, or fast-forward when they are ready, and they can rewatch a video if they don’t quite get it.
“Through one-on-one video-conferencing, teachers can assist and assess students without other classroom distractions. However, with all this in mind, it has been clearer now more than ever that the majority of our students still need a physical school. It still can be challenging to reach students through distance learning and they are not getting some of the authentic experiences they would get in a physical school setting.”
One of Alexsonshk’s fellow Regina Coeli teachers has had a vastly different experience during the quarantine. Kindergarten teacher Nancy Harsh, who is retiring at the end of the school year, has only the ability to share packets with lessons.
“There are two bins for student work packets,” Harsh explained. “One bin is for ‘new work,’ and the other bin is for ‘completed work.’ Some parents are choosing not to turn in the paper copies of the work, and instead are scanning their child’s work and e-mailing it to me. Some are taking pictures of it on their cell phones and sending it that way. Any way I can get it back is fine with me. I’m just so grateful that the students have been working very hard getting their work turned in, and am so appreciative of the parents seeing to it that it gets done!”
Harsh, who has taught six years at Regina Coeli after 14 at St. Louis School in Louisville, said the COVID-19 epidemic has changed her lesson plan.
“Spring was always such a fun time for ‘outdoor science experiments’ that we can’t do now,” she said. “I love nature, and we would always go out to our ‘Outdoor Classroom’ for some lessons. We have planted flowers and vegetables in the raised beds there in the past, and have done many other fun science lessons outside. Now, all I can do is try to assign some things the students can do at home, such as a ‘nature scavenger hunt’ in their yards.”
She said missing out on hugs from her 20 little ones has been difficult, and that she particularly misses the “A-ha” moments when the children pick up on a concept. Saying goodbye to teaching is even more difficult now.
“I already had braced myself that it was going to be emotional saying goodbye to everyone for the final time this year due to my retirement, but never did I dream that there would be a pandemic and we would miss the last quarter of the school year,” Harsh said. “Along with everyone else, I’m really feeling a lack of closure, and I worry that this lack of closure has been particularly difficult on my young students.”