DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — In a small school, everyone knows everyone else and being apart can be difficult.
“Because we have a smaller school, it’s more of a family feel,” said Molly Davis, who teaches fifth grade at St. Patrick School, which has 160 students.
But the governor’s stay-at-home order, closing schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has gotten in the way. To keep students and staff connected and preserve a small part of the daily routine, the teachers and Principal Nick Blackburn take turns preparing a video to substitute for morning announcements.
The video includes the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer, a teacher reading the Bible verse of the day and some other features.
One popular idea is “Teachers’ Pets,” where the staff members introduce their animal friends to the students.
“A couple of days ago, Mr. Blackburn showed us his pet turtle, and Mr. (Jerry) Spain his pet chinchilla,” said Felicity Hunt, an eighth-grader.
Blackburn also uses filters to change his look for fun, said Felicity’s mother, Laura. He appeared as a chicken one day, and as an old man another day, when the theme was watching out for elderly relatives during the coronavirus crisis.
Last week, they had a spirit week, with different themes for each day, like Pajama Day, and they’ve had an online talent show, where kids could sing, or show something they’d baked.
“We try to involve as many kids as possible so they can see themselves (on the video) and stay involved,” Blackburn said.
School at home is working fairly well for the family, Laura Hunt said. Felicity, who is also taking classes from St. Teresa High School, needs occasional help with algebra, but is mostly self-sufficient. Her brother, Ethan, in fifth grade, had a little trouble learning to use the Seesaw app at first, but has figured it out and is able to ask his teacher questions when he needs help.
“The teachers have been fantastic,” Hunt said. “They’re on the ball. I can’t praise them enough. The kids are getting used to it, but they’re pretty tech savvy, too. Some of the teachers who weren’t as tech savvy jumped on board, and it’s going way more smoothly than I would have hoped.”
It’s important to interact with the students, Davis said.
“So they can see our faces every day,” she said.
“We want to get some sort of normalcy for the kids, too,” Blackburn said. “They hear the announcements every day when they’re at school and we wanted to give them something like that while they’re out of school, so they can come together and listen.”
Teachers are prepared to continue to teach online at least until the current April 30 end of the stay-at-home order, he said, and if it appears that the order will be extended, they’ll handle that, too. Lessons have moved from review and practicing skills to learning new material, as far as it’s possible under the circumstances. One teacher is continuing to read Harry Potter books with students, for example, which they had begun before schools had to close.
Davis said she’s found that text and email don’t work as well as video with her students. When they have questions, they make a video to send to her, and she can show them in a video how to do a tricky math problem, for example, more easily than she can explain through a text.
When students do return, Blackburn said, the school staff will do their best to meet all the students wherever they are academically after this extended break from the classroom.
Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/3a1prZX