ROSALIE WILSON teaches her second graders using a white board she has set up on her back porch.
Grady County schools are on spring break this week and even though the coronavirus threat forced the system to close the doors to its buildings more than three weeks ago, teachers and students have continued the work of learning. Educators from lower grades to the high school level have utilized technology along with traditional pencil and paper to keep their students on track.
Schools have distributed preprinted packets of lessons, and teachers have used online tools to teach and stay in touch with their pupils. The internet has also allowed teams of teachers to keep in touch and strategize while following the social distancing guidelines suggested by healthcare leaders.
Third grade teacher Lindsey Maige says she and her students at Eastside Elementary School are adapting to the situation.
“This is definitely a learning curve for all of us; however, I think we have handled it pretty well. I would have never dreamed students would be doing virtual learning in this capacity at such a young age, but it has forced us to think outside the box,” says Maige.
She says use of programs like Remind 101, Zoom, YouTube and other websites have helped her teach from home. “I record videos of myself teaching just like I would teach if my students were in the classroom.”
Parents have told Maige that her work gives students some stability during these uncertain times. “The parents have said that the students really enjoy the videos, because they are able to actually ‘see their teacher.’ They have also appreciated the assignments, because it provides some structure and routine for their children,” she says.
Cairo High School math teacher Brooke Reynolds says having a variety of online platforms to choose from is helpful. “Personally, my students did not like the online-teaching videos and asked that I continuously post my handwritten notes on Google Classroom, allowing for them to check their work,” Reynolds said.
“Kristin Blough’s A.P. calculus class has used a screen-sharing app that allows her to work the problems out on her iPad with the students viewing it live.”
Internet access is a problem for some students, though. Eighth grade math teacher Allison Carter says she has encountered this issue with her Whigham School students. “It is challenging, because I have so many students who live in rural parts of the county and have very limited access to the internet,” Carter says. “I have created a packet for students to pick up from the school that will have information on how to connect through Google Classroom. I chose to use Google Classroom because students can access this using their phones or gaming devices. While I still plan on having them complete some paper/pencil work, I will be uploading tutorials to teach each concept they are to cover each week.”
Carter says she also plans to hold office hours through the online video conferencing tool Zoom so students can speak with her “face-to-face.”
Second grade students in Rosalie Wilson’s class are getting their lessons from their teacher’s back porch where Wilson records videos.
“I brought home a whiteboard and some Expo markers. I have just been doing short videos that review certain skills. Kids can pause the video, solve the problem, and then press play to see me go over it,” Wilson explains.
Zoom has allowed the Southside Elementary School teacher to connect with her students virtually face to face. “This has been so fun; to get to see them and have them interact with each other. We’ve just been using Zoom to socialize and catch up, not to teach anything new. I think these relationships are just as important as instruction, if not more,” Wilson says.
Being home can sometimes mean extra work for older siblings, as Jesse Woodcock explains. The Cairo High School Advanced Placement teacher says he has altered his lessons to allow for that stress. “I think many students are doing their best in their many different situations, with many now working extra hours or baby-sitting and some having to watch siblings where they cannot do the typical seven hour school day, so my assignment breakdown can be done with them only devoting a small amount of time daily to it and not be overwhelmed,” says Woodcock.
When holding virtual class, Woodcock’s young daughters have helped provide some levity to his lessons, much to the delight of his teenaged students. “They get a kick out of the fact my daughters Delilah and Charlotte will pop in and yell random questions as I am trying to teach. That sometimes gives them humor, which I believe is extra needed in this time,” he says.
Printed packets of school work that can be done at home were distributed by each school early on, and will continue to be used through the end of the year. Michael Best, principal of Washington Middle School, says having alternatives to online learning is important. “These packets were very helpful for our students because many do not have access to the internet,” Best says. “Beginning April 14, our teachers will provide work directly tied to the Georgia Standards in individualized learning packets or online curriculum,” Best added.
Work packets for students at Washington Middle School, Whigham School, Shiver School, Northside Elementary School, Southside Elementary School and Eastside Elementary School should be picked up on Tuesday, April 14 at each school from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Southside teacher Elizabeth Gainous agrees the packets are one more way students are learning during the pandemic. “It is certainly a learning curve for everyone. However, I have no doubt that every educator in Grady County is accepting every challenge and making sure that all of our students have access to education during this time,” Gainous says.
Being forced away from school has given teachers and students alike a new appreciation for chalkboards, crowded hallways between classes, and in-person lessons.
Gainous, who teaches English language arts to fourth graders, says, “I see it on both ends. I see my own daughter upset about the circumstances. She is 9, in third grade. She misses her classroom, teachers, friends and routine . . . I also am concerned about each of my students. I spent eight hours a day for 27 weeks with my students . . . I wake up thinking about them, and fall asleep brainstorming ways that we can still help them.”
Third grade English teacher Ashley Dumas says she sends encouraging messages to her students when she sees they have read a digital book using the Epic! app. Dumas says she is also using Google Classroom for 10 days of lessons to teach her Whigham School students how to write an opinion essay. “I check in to read what they have written so far, offer feedback, and answer questions. Students have also been using our class page to discuss what books they have been reading and recommend books to their friends,” Dumas says.
At Southside, teachers are also going to the school building, in addition to their virtual classrooms. “We are also having teachers report to campus by grade level on select days (maintaining the 10 or below number and social distancing) to collaborate and create work-at-home packets for the students who do not have access to technology,” says Kevin Strickland, principal of Southside.
Shiver School administrators say they have used Google Meets to stay in touch with staff, and teachers are working at the school building on varied schedules.
“We have tried as much as possible to protect our staff and have limited any grade levels coming into the school to two a day and they are on opposite ends of the campus,” says Todd Jones, principal of Shiver.
In addition to various education centered applications, schools are also using social media, emails and telephone calls to stay in touch with their school families.
“I received an email from one of my parents this week; she stated that she was thinking of me during this time and wanted to say thanks for keeping them informed and working hard to take care of the students during this crisis. It really touched my heart,” says Chiquila Wright, principal of Eastside.
“Our teachers are thinking ‘outside of the box’ to create lessons and provide access for all students,” says Tammy Donalson, instructional coordinator for C.H.S.
Cairo High School parents and/or students will have multiple opportunities to pick up their second packets of work at the school next week. The high school educators say parents and students should remain in their cars, and they will bring the work to them.
Pick up times are divided by grade beginning Tuesday, April 14, for juniors and seniors, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Wednesday, April 15, 9 a.m. to noon.
Freshmen and sophomores can pick up their work on Thursday, April 16, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday, April 17, 9 a.m. until noon.
It is not only academic work that’s online for Grady County students. Southside music teacher Whitney Scanling is holding virtual music classes for her students by grade level using Google Classroom.
“I’ve tried to post something every couple of days for the students to enjoy, including a video of myself playing and singing ‘Three Little Birds’ with the words for students to sing along,” says Scanling. “For my older students who were learning to play the recorder before school closed, I’ve posted videos of myself playing recorder along with their music so they can continue advancing.”
Scanling says she has connected with other music teachers online who say they feel like first-year teachers again, learning how to educate using new tools. Unlike other teachers in her school, Scanling teaches the same students as they age from Kindergarten to fifth grade. “I’m especially glad to have a Google Classroom for my 5th grade students who I began teaching in first grade, because they will not be back at Southside next year,” she says.
Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard said he and principals have been meeting virtually over the last several days to discuss plans for the remainder of this school term and to make plans for the future.
According to Dr. Gilliard, students will primarily be evaluated by the work they completed before schools closed. “The students have the opportunity to improve their class grades by successfully completing the work packets and assignments provided by their teachers.
The superintendent also anticipates major changes in education in the aftermath of this pandemic.
In a message sent to school system personel late last week Dr. Gilliard wrote, “What does our future hold? OPPORTUNITY! I’m excited about the opportunity we have going forward. I believe education is about to make a major change, education as the majority of us have know it will look different. We can lead this change or we can resist it. I want to be a part of the team that leads the change. COVID-19 and all of its horribleness needs to leave our community, we have children to educate! I encourage you to join me as we move forward. We have to stay focused on the future; we cannot change the past.”