Virtual Community at a Time of Uncertainty

Growing up, I watched the Jetsons, a comical cartoon about a futuristic world where Elroy, a school-aged boy, attends Little Dipper School and interacts with robots, holograms, and space age conveniences. I never imagined until three months ago, we would be embracing a virtual world that is similar in so many ways. Faculty are developing a whole new way of teaching and learning virtually, embracing technology to interact, plan, deliver lessons, assess, and provide feedback. Our teachers and students are working harder than ever before and have risen to the challenge in a way that is nothing short of remarkable.

Vir·tu·al  /ˈvərCH(o͞o)əl/  adjective 

denoting particles or interactions with extremely short lifetimes and (owing to the uncertainty principle) indefinitely great energies, postulated as intermediates in some processes

Indefinitely Great Energies

Each Wednesday, Swain faculty meets together virtually to plan for the week ahead. We brainstorm, problem-solve, and support one another. Through these meetings we are witnessing great energy and hope. One of our Lower School Specialists said, “Teachers are supporting one another even though we aren’t in the building together. We have time to talk on a daily basis to build lessons, to offer and receive feedback. We are problem-solving the best way to connect and help students.” A second grade teacher shared her perspective, “My partner teacher and I feel like a married couple. We are on the phone everyday for hours talking and planning each aspect of our lessons.” 

One of the benefits of these efforts has been the unexpected outcomes. Teachers are discovering the advantages of seeing children in a new light. “Having the ability to work on creativity,” says Ms. Bocian, “has presented such a unique opportunity. Our students are totally in their element, in the comfort of their own space, and uninhibited in using their imagination. It has been a pleasant surprise to uncover this silver lining.” Teachers are also seeing the efforts of their classroom instruction from earlier in the year translate to this new platform. According to the Prekindergarten team, “Our students have carried their public speaking skills that we’ve practiced in class to their responses they post on Seesaw and during their Google Meets. They are learning to explain their thought processes carefully and clearly as they detail how they have accomplished an assignment.”

Intermediates in Processes

Teachers are working closely with families by sending weekly plans, offering “live” sessions, recording videos, and offering supplemental activities. Each lesson is thoughtfully and intentionally planned to provide opportunities for different learning styles and abilities, while holding true to core content. These lessons are serving as the lifeline for many families. One family wrote, “Our virtual learning experience has been so helpful during such a difficult time. The face-to-face Google Meets have kept the children connected to each other and to their teachers. Our child has daily interaction with (their teacher) through Seesaw. She provides feedback and constant support.” Swain teachers, given this adversity, are making an enormous difference for their students. One appreciative family agrees:

“The amount of interaction for my child at the lower school is so impressive. Whether it is a quick response on the Seesaw app or a virtual “in person” call, I know my child still feels connected to both her teacher and her classmates. 

Thank you to the middle school teachers who have managed to keep my middle schooler engaged despite the physical distance. The amount of effort put into lessons and the online class meetings are a constant reminder to my middle schooler that this year is far from over. 

These teachers have gone above and beyond to make sure my child’s academic needs are met and have been more than willing to be available for any questions they might have. I am so impressed with our Swain teachers. They have had to learn how to teach the curriculum in a totally different way and have not missed a beat. My child is engaged with both the teachers and their classmates, and we are provided with thoughtful lessons weekly. If I have a question, or my child needs extra help, I am met with a willing and caring response. To not be physically in the classroom with our children must be very hard for our teachers, who love our children too. They have managed to connect with my child all while taking care of their own lives and families during this difficult time. My family is so appreciative of this community.”

Learning support teachers are working side-by-side with core subject teachers to continue to provide daily lessons for students. Similar to their established in-school routines, these students are receiving help individually and in small groups. There hasn’t been a gap for these children. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. According to one family, “Not only are the teachers presenting new material, they are finding interesting and creative ways to keep the kids interested at home. Swain teachers have gone above and beyond what the normal classroom teacher does – we can not say thank you enough!”

Maintaining community and strengthening relationships has been a priority from the beginning and is the fabric of our mission. The joy on children’s faces when they connect with teachers and peers has resonated with many and is often shared during our weekly gatherings. Children are also reciprocating on the lessons learned. Signe Whitson, Guidance Counselor, says, “Students have been making videos and sending photos of themselves as they practice mindful strategies and engage in acts of kindness at home.” Legend of Allentown senior living community has received letters and pictures from Beginning School students wanting to connect with their “classmates”. Justin, a middle school student, has offered to be a guest reader for  Beginning School classes. Lori Trumbauer, Music teacher, loves receiving the videos her students are showing her of the instruments they’ve made. 

Uncertainty Principle

There is no doubt about the uncertainty and challenge this time and these events have caused. For those who watched the Jetsons, every episode centered on problems generated by faulty technology, overworked parents, and disgruntled robots. Similarly, today’s families are balancing work from home while providing a school environment for children. In some cases extended family has jumped in to serve as caregiver while essential employees leave to care for others. In others, a parent is unable to supervise synchronous lessons due to their own work schedules, or multiple children may be using devices at the same time. These challenges, although different for each family, are universal. 

As our faculty meet each week, we are hearing your stories and reaching out to support in ways we know we can help. Additionally, we have recognized the need to provide more “live” instruction for our youngest students so they are able to maintain a stronger connection to their school community. We appreciate your feedback and are discussing how best to move forward while maintaining safety in a digital platform. 

Short Lifetimes

I suspect, in twenty years, we will remember clearly only some parts of this strange time in our lives, yet I hope some things remain vivid: 

My hope is that children will remember how they felt safe and loved.  

My hope is that teachers will remember a time of rediscovering creativity and flexibility. 

My hope is parents will use this as an opportunity to reconnect and to see their child through a new lens. 

My dream is that families will fondly recall the instant silence of activity and find ways to reset, slow down and find balance.

Ultimately, I know we will all remember our tremendous connection to Swain and feel gratitude for the profound impact of this community. 

Written by: Melissa Carroll, Director of Beginning and Lower School

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