You know the saying, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” Well, in my family, none of us seem to be able to venture out of the education occupation. Both of my parents are high school teachers, my grandmother is a principal for a K-8 Catholic School, my uncle is Special Education Director, my aunt a principal at a less privileged elementary school, another uncle is the maintenance director for a school district, another aunt is an elementary school teacher, my other grandmother is a former aid and lunchroom worker and my grandfather is a former principal. If I did the math, nine of the twelve adults in my immediate family are in education. Therefore, it is as a daughter, niece and granddaughter of educators and administrators, not as a student myself, that I have seen the coronavirus change lives and occupations most.
Generation Z is made up of the most fluent users of technology. A month ago, this was not considered a blessing; in fact, most educators dealing with students who were keener on playing on their 1 to 1 device than engaging in class material might have been aggravated by the younger generation’s ease with iPads, Chromebooks and other such gadgets. Now, however, with high schools, middle schools and elementary schools down for the count until at least Easter, teachers, especially AP teachers, have changed their tune. When talking to AP calculus teacher Kimberly Bartz, she explained her relationship with technology in her classroom before and after the pandemic moved its way into the Mitten. She said, “Technology has evolved from an accessory in my teaching to a necessity.” Despite previously using videos, Kahoot, and other online forums to enhance a student’s learning, Bartz revealed she now relies on technology as her primary source of communication between herself and her AP students. When asked about how she thought the temporary leave from school would impact her students (Michigan K-12 teachers are not utilizing E-Learning yet), she revealed, “I am still placing content for my AP students and other calculus and pre-calculus classes online if they so choose to do the review work, but I cannot mandate that they do any of it. For my AP students, I would guess about 75% do the work as they have worked all year to prepare for the exam, the others, however, I know if it is not mandated, they will likely not do it. I think it makes it hard to ask kids to come back after this break or even this summer and take tests like the SAT to get into college because they missed out on so many days of content that could appear on the tests.”
School is not the only thing that students are missing out on during this interim of social distancing. Frustrations over missing out on athletics, club competitions, theater and other extracurriculars have spawned a wave of hashtags like #letthekidsplay and #redshirtcoronayear. In talking to head football coach, girls track coach and powerlifting coach Kevin Bartz, he thought this loss of a season, for some their last, might impact his students and athletes by discouraging and decreasing their motivation. He said, “For some kids, sports are what keep them engaged in school. It is what ensures they maintain a certain GPA or attendance record that keeps them in the classroom and working towards that diploma. So it is disheartening to know that without those incentives, kids may struggle. It is why, as a coach, I still send out daily physical challenges to prompt healthy competition and camaraderie.” Moonlighting as a biology teacher beyond the three sports he coaches, Bartz revealed how he personally plans to incorporate COVID-19 in his course curriculum in the following years. “I think this has been eye-opening for a lot of kids. I talk about the Spanish Flu and how it thinned the population and the devastation it caused but often get the retort that that happened a hundred years ago. I believe this event will allow students to relate their own experience to what we learn in class, whether it be in regards to exponential growth, natural selection, immunity, or even the environmental recovery that has stemmed from businesses having to temporarily close.”
The last time a global pandemic struck was in 1918, when the Spanish Flu that resulted in somewhere from 20 to 50 million deaths. It was the last time in recent history people on a global level were being quarantined for the same reason. The repercussions on education were not as severe during this time as many jobs were still in the categories of manual labor or unskilled labor. An educator of 55 years, Elaine Holmes, recounts how her K-8 building is addressing this pandemic and making adjustments for the future given the loss of classroom instruction that allows for a better learning experience. She said, “In all of my years in education we have never experienced a pandemic, which has forced us to change all of our thinking on how we can deliver to our students best-practice education. My teachers have employed a variety of different platforms for students that would be most easily understood and user friendly depending on the age range—primary grades are using Google Classroom, and middle school students are using Canvas with which they were already familiar.” The state of Indiana has ordered their schools to continue teaching through distance learning given that many districts already had programs in place in the event of snow days. The idea is to not lose the strides students have made in their understanding while also maintaining a level of normalcy. Holmes explained the schedule her teachers and students have been keeping is designed to do just that. She revealed, “We cannot give the students all of the content they would normally receive in a classroom. Therefore, we have to determine what is most important, releasing assignments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for primary students while our middle schoolers have new content pushed out to them on Monday through Thursday, with Friday being utilized as a flex day to turn in assignments.” Holmes also explained her teachers are keeping regular school hours as they work from home as it is essential to maintain a schedule. They cannot, however, interact with students over video chat one on one without a parent present for the safety of the children.
Regardless of how teachers or administrators are adjusting to fit this new style of learning to best fit them, the general consensus has been that the patience and grace of students and parents alike have been crucial for this switch to online learning and loss of extracurriculars. These are sentiments that Hope students can easily relate to. If nothing else, it is nice to know there is much similarity among all ages of students and our current predicament with online learning. For the first time in a long time, there is a sense of solidarity that we are all in this together, educators and students alike.
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