The Journal Gazette
Sunday, March 29, 2020 1:00 am

Teachers staying creative to bond with students

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented Haverhill Elementary School teacher Jenna Chapman from seeing her fourth grade class for two weeks, but that hasn't stopped her and colleagues from organizing a bingo night, a karaoke night and an evening scavenger hunt.

These optional weeknight activities generally attract about 40 of the 70 fourth graders, who play and interact together through video conferencing technology.

The Southwest Allen County Schools educators aren't the only teachers finding creative ways to connect with students while classrooms sit empty. Teachers countywide are ensuring they maintain their relationships with children outside academics even as COVID-19 disrupts daily life.

“Just because you're away doesn't mean you're forgotten,” said Josh Burton, principal of Harlan Christian School.

Multiple schools have prompted virtual spirit weeks or theme days, including hat day; Harlan Christian is using Facebook Live to broadcast weekly activities, such as birthday announcements and chapel service; and a SACS Latin teacher is giving students a few minutes to socialize at the start of their live online class sessions and created a system for them to give each other compliments.

The closure has highlighted the power of the bond between teachers and students, who normally spend seven hours a day together, said Emily Oberlin, director of New Tech Academy at Wayne High School. Suddenly, she said, that consistent structure has disappeared.

“In our case at New Tech Academy, our students have been seeking connection with us because the closure has placed a void of those adults they interact with every day,” Oberlin said by email.

New Tech Academy has held Zoom meetings – video conferences – with staff and students to connect with each other, she said.

“I believe we as educators have the ability to really help our students get through this time,” Oberlin said.

Oberlin and her team wasted no time to show love to their Fort Wayne Community Schools students. Teacher Scott Brown suggested New Tech educators create a lip dub – a video of staff lip syncing to the “Friends” theme song, “I'll Be There for You.”

“Students have reached out to say thanks, sent back videos, and shared with parents how much they love their teachers,” Oberlin said.

Southwick Elementary School students are seeing a different side of Patti Hodges, who is typically quiet and reserved at work. She provides extra reading support to students and is helping students through videos during East Allen County Schools' closure.

The videos include props, costumes and makeup, Hodges said, acknowledging the getups can be over the top.

“I hope the videos can help my students escape for a minute and see a 'silly side' of me that they may not be able to see at school,” Hodges said. “I just hope to bring a smile to their faces and make them forget for a minute what is happening in our world.”

Chapman, the fourth grade teacher, said the situation has let her learn more about her students as they participate in class activities from home and share aspects of their lives that otherwise might not be shared in a physical classroom.

The theme nights, virtually held at 7:30 p.m. a few times a week, have included appearances from students' siblings, parents and pets. 

“I feel like we're getting to see a new side of them, for sure,” Chapman said.

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