Dr. Seuss once said, “Children want the same things we want: to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.” Saline County is known for its excellent school systems, and each has found the silver lining in the dark COVID-19 cloud as it pertains to education. Our teachers, food service staff and administrators are finding ways to continue to challenge students, create smiles and make memories.
Arkansas students have been participating in online learning since March 15 when Governor Hutchinson closed schools. This necessary decision is having a significant impact on everyone, but in true Saline County spirit, there are many good things coming from it.
Bryant Parkway Kindergarten teacher Debbie Huddleston makes each morning special for her class. “We have a Zoom meeting every morning that gives those who can attend a chance to see each other and stay in touch. We sometimes have ‘show and tell’ to see what is going on in our friends’ lives. I go over the day’s assignments, and we will practice on some skills to keep them sharp. Every meeting is ended with a group hug we send to each other and two questions–”Who loves you?” and “Who misses you?” Seeing her students and sharing in their lives is a joy.
But there are many hours of preparation that go into online teaching. A typical day begins around 8:00, preparing for the Zoom meeting that begins at 8:27. Each child is welcomed as they appear on the screen for the 20-30 minute meeting that explains the day’s learning activities. After the meeting is over, it is uploaded to Google Classroom so others can watch it if they could not join live. Zoom meeting attendance is recorded and work reviewed from the previous day’s assignments. In addition to student interaction, Mrs. Huddleston has Zoom meetings with the school faculty, or grade level meetings to determine any issues needing attention.
After teaching through Zoom, uploading sessions, and attending faculty meetings, she then starts checking for completed assignments. “At the end of the day, I check on the next day’s assignments to see what the students will be doing and make sure that I know what to explain. That evening I will post the following day’s work and check to see if someone else has turned in work.”
This system is effective, but it doesn’t take the place of real community. “What I miss most about being in the classroom is the sense of family we have. The hugs, laughter, encouragement of the classmates, the “a-ha” moments when the learning clicks, reading stories, and just watching them grow. They are so young when they come in and to see them mature and become a class of learners and friends is just amazing!”
Kindergarten, a child’s first year of school, is a special time, as is the last year of school for seniors. Benton Senior Kip Tracy says the hardest part of missing his senior year is Panther Baseball. “I miss the time spent during practice, traveling to and from ballgames, hanging out in the dugout with my buddies. Laughter, sharing stories, high-fives, ragging each other and being on the ballfield and listening to the fans in the stands. That is time and memories you cannot get back!” It’s true. Much has been lost, but there are memories and experiences that students would not have had in a normal school year. “During this time of slowing down, I have spent a lot of family time working around the house and building a garden. I also know that every day is good, and some days are better! Family is very important to me and one day I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren what my 2020 senior year was like living through a pandemic.”
Kip stays in touch with his friends through social media and “on weekends I either fish or go frog gigging with my buddies.” In the time that Kip does have with friends, he is an encourager, telling them, “Don’t let this hold you back! Be better! Go out and make something happen for yourself.” Senior Kip Tracy is spreading the silver lining.
Kip and Mrs. Huddleston aren’t alone in their efforts. Saline County schools are going above and beyond in every area to help during this uncertain time. Harmony Grove, Bauxite, Benton and Bryant have all offered “Grab-and-Go” meals in some form for students. In a recent article published in The Saline Courier, Harmony Grove Superintendent Heath Bennett said, “We are just trying to make sure the kids who would have normally eaten at school have food.”
In addition to working to meet academic and nutritional requirements, Saline County teachers are also concerned about their students’ social and emotional needs. Teacher drive-by parades complete with signs and balloons help to remind the children how important they are and how much their teachers love and miss them.
Another group greatly affected by school closings is, of course, parents. Liz Douglas is a working mom and parent of two Hurricane Creek Elementary school students, Gracie (5th grade) and Piper (2nd grade).
Being a working mom and trying to ensure your children are receiving quality education is a monumental undertaking. “The toughest part for me is there is no downtime. I work as an NICU nurse on weekend nights. So, there’s stress at the hospital, and then I turn around and put on a teacher hat. It’s like asking a teacher to come to my work and start an IV on a baby. As a mom I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job, and as a teacher I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job.
“Honestly, I feel like I am too hard on them, and run out of ‘nice mommy’ far too early in the day. But they are so resilient and encourage me all the time. They really are troopers. Not to mention, we can’t go anywhere for a fun learning experience,” says Liz. Gracie and Piper’s assigned work includes literacy, math, social studies and science. “They also have to have a daily zoom meeting with their teachers. 8:00 am for Piper and 9:00 am for Gracie. Art, P.E., library and music were eliminated as not ‘mandatory’ on the revised schedule. Now each is an optional activity.”
So, where is the silver lining? “Learning invaluable lessons that they couldn’t learn in school, spending quality time with them all during the day, seeing how they learn, and what is being taught. Helping them learn different ways to solve problems are the good things coming from this. During a regular school year, I would ask “How was your day, what did you learn?” and the answer was always, “good and stuff”. Now I know the stuff and can help them break it down and learn from different angles.” Liz says one very big silver lining is that everyone gets to do their work in pajamas!
Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, President of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development has this advice for parents learning how to teach their children.
Consider limiting your children’s cell phones and tablets until their schoolwork is done satisfactorily, so that it can receive their undivided attention.
Make Space for Learning
Your children will achieve their best work in a quiet, comfortable, and dedicated space devoted to learning. Ideally, this will be a different set-up than where they normally play games or watch television.
Monitor the (Computer) Monitor
In this new learning milieu, you can help by monitoring your children’s levels of interest and engagement in adapting to their new schedule and at-home materials. The simplest way to do this? Observation. Look at your child’s eyes to see if they’re following along with the screen. Check if they’re taking notes or zoning out. Ask questions at the end of a lesson.
Make sure that your children take plenty of breaks in order to get physical activity and time away from screens.
In-person interaction is ideal for kids, but until it’s safe for them to return to school, encourage your children to video chat or text message rather than simply scrolling through social media.
We’re All in This Together
Remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Check in with other parents to see what they’ve found effective or to ask if they need help.
Plan Your Work & Work Your Plan
Good planning can relieve stress for both children and parents. Check in with your kids about their plans and help them develop a written schedule not only for the day, but for the whole week.
This Ain’t No Vacation
Even though staying home from school might feel like a holiday, remind your kids that they’re not on vacation. Assignments, grades, requirements, and tests like state exams, SATs, and ACTs aren’t going away just because classes have moved online.
Don’t Forget To Have Fun
Plan off-screen activities for the whole family. Between school and work obligations, it’s rare for parents and children to have this much time together, so turn it into an opportunity for bonding.