Students in Jenifer Scott’s after-school program at Kokomo High School completed a weekly STEM activity – which on this particular day involved engineering a spider utilizing only recycled aluminum foil. 

            Ms. Scott, in addition to teaching English at Kokomo High School, serves as the KHS coordinator for Purdue University’s GEAR UP STEM program. During the school year, Ms. Scott met regularly with 43 KHS sophomores for tutoring and STEM enrichment.

            Those meetings initially took place at Kokomo High School, but when a global pandemic forced school closures across the nation, the meetings moved to a virtual space. Students joined a video conference at 3 p.m. on Mondays for a 30-minute STEM activity. Ms. Scott had to be creative with these activities to ensure students had the materials needed for completion.

            One activity challenged students to develop their own mathematics equations using small objects found in their homes. Classmates then attempted to solve the equations. During another activity, Ms. Scott tasked students with creating catapults using household objects.

            “My biggest takeaway from our at-home STEM activities was that students enjoy using their creativity to demonstrate understanding of concepts,” Ms. Scott explained.

            Following the planned activity, Ms. Scott remained in the video conference until 5 p.m. to offer homework help to students, and to give the educator an opportunity to connect with the young adults.

“I learned that students want to stay connected to their classmates and teachers,” Ms. Scott noted. “While using a computer for that connection is not ideal, it does help.”

On Thursday, April 2nd – during the scheduled Spring Break for Kokomo Schools – Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued a mandate requiring the closure of all school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, Kokomo School Corporation officials extended the Continuity of Education phase of the district’s comprehensive response plan through the last day of school, Thursday, May 21st.

            Kokomo School Corporation’s eLearning/remote learning was conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, while classes were cancelled on Tuesdays and Fridays.

            Kokomo School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Jeff Hauswald noted: “During this challenging time, I saw only the best in our students, families, teachers, and staff. While this was not our preferred way to deliver instruction, our teachers worked tirelessly to create quality lessons and activities to keep our students engaged and learning while at home.”

            As teachers made the rapid transition to remote learning, they relied on their administrators and each other to adjust lessons and develop new plans.

            Greta Faurote teaches AP and IB biology and the Tomorrow’s Teachers course at Kokomo High School, but she assumed an additional role during remote learning. Mrs. Faurote, a technology leader at the high school, volunteered to help her colleagues as well.

            Every weekday from March 11 through the end of the school year, Mrs. Faurote helped at least one teacher navigate technology issues. During the first few days of eLearning, Mrs. Faurote was on her computer – working with students and teachers – from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Each day after that, though, Mrs. Faurote spent a little less time coaching her colleagues.

            “Teachers became more comfortable with remote learning and pushed themselves to do more as the school year progressed,” Mrs. Faurote explained. “Instead of helping teachers with major issues, by the end, I helped mostly with minor issues. Teachers still reached out every day, though, and I loved the interaction!”

            Mrs. Faurote provided lessons on how to use video conferencing technology, so teachers could interact with students “face-to-face”, and in real time. Some educators sought help to learn the best ways to record lessons. This allowed students to see and hear their teachers explaining concepts, and to watch the lessons as many times as needed.

            “The most amazing thing about all of this is that my colleagues took what they learned, and went way beyond that,” Mrs. Faurote added. “The teachers sent me so many eLearning tools that they discovered. I had fellow teachers taking online classes on how to run an online course because even though none of us liked the situation, we tried to be prepared. I think many of us realized that some components of eLearning blend really well with face-to-face instruction and will enrich student learning in the future.”

            Lafayette Park International Elementary School preschool teacher Cierra Wisher-Williams sought help from as many educators as possible during the building closures. She constantly texted some of her teacher friends and had weekly video conference meetings with this same group. Mrs. Wisher-Williams consulted with her best friend, who is an educator in Indianapolis, and with her sister, who is an administrator for Kokomo Schools. Mrs. Wisher-Williams also sought feedback from parents through surveys to determine which activities were most effective.

            Remote learning at the preschool level required many adaptations since much of the preschool curriculum focuses on developing the social/emotional skills needed for kindergarten. These skills are not easily taught online.

            Mrs. Wisher-Williams said she focused on maintaining as many classroom routines as possible, while continuing to build her relationships with students and parents. The preschool teacher recorded read-alouds, finger plays, and songs the students know and miss. These videos were sent out daily. Students were asked to respond to some of these videos with drawings, photos, videos, or voice recordings. In weekly video conference calls, students experienced show & tell, color scavenger hunts, a GoNoodle dance party, and a guided drawing.

            Teachers throughout the district used their creativity to develop remote learning lessons that kept students engaged.

Maple Crest STEM Middle School math teacher Matt York moved eLearning outside for a day. Mr. York traveled to students’ homes and used sidewalk chalk to write math problems on their sidewalks or in their driveways. Lafayette Park International Elementary School 1st-grade teacher Victoria Schneck partnered with Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service to provide her students the opportunity to participate in a virtual Chicken Embryology project.

Students in Mary Page’s humanities class at Central Middle International School created their own illuminated letters after reading about how manuscripts were crafted during the Middle Ages. Kokomo High School transitions teacher Angela Lovegrove developed special projects for her students with special needs. In social studies, Mrs. Lovegrove’s students developed their own COVID-19 time capsules to help them document the details of their life during the pandemic.

During the past several months, educators worked to respond to the emotional needs of students in addition to their academic needs.

Mrs. Wisher-Williams noted that during building closures her most important goal was to remain a positive presence for her students.

            “It was important for me to send something to my students daily… even on weekends, and even during Spring Break,” the teacher noted. “It was crucial that my students understood that we were still around, and we still cared even when we couldn’t tell them in person. Our students are loved, and missed, more than they could ever know!”

            During the first weeks of building closures, Mrs. Wisher-Williams, Lafayette Park 5th-grade teacher Elizabeth Schuck, and a school social worker made, and delivered, goody bags for students. Thanks to a PTA donation, the bags were filled with school supplies, such as crayons, markers, and paper, as well as fun activities. In the last weeks of April, Mrs. Wisher-Williams also created, and delivered, yard signs to her students and their families. The signs read, “Mrs. W. Loves Me!”.

            Ms. Page utilized the discussion function on Canvas to provide her students a space to have conversations about how they were, and what they were doing.

            “Some students used this to carry on conversations, while others just popped in to say hello,” Ms. Page explained. “When I had a check-in from a student I hadn’t heard from in a while, I made sure to tell that student how happy I was to hear from him or her. I felt it was important to let our students know that we still worried about them, and still cared about them, even when we weren’t physically together in class.”

            Technology Academy at Pettit Park Elementary School 1st-grade teacher Lashanna Fuller learned a valuable lesson from this remote learning experience.

            “I learned that having grace is so important,” Ms. Fuller noted. “I came to understand that not everyone had the same access to technology, and not every parent or student could focus on school during the building closures. The world is filled with uncertainty at the moment, so the best thing we could do was offer grace. It was a humbling experience."

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