Jennifer King, Bloomfield, NY

Prioritizing connections to students through technology

July 29, 2020 |
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We are asking how COVID-19 is impacting rural communities. Read below for a perspective from Jennifer King of Bloomfield, NY. You can share yours here: http://bit.ly/iaartcovid

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the novel coronavirus outbreak was officially a pandemic. That same day, during our faculty meeting after school, our Bloomfield (NY) Central School District leadership team (@bloomfieldcsd) discussed the possibility of our district’s MSHS and elementary buildings closing. At that point, a closure seemed possible to me, but not necessarily imminent. Nonetheless, faculty spent Thursday and Friday of that week adapting our lesson plans so that we could prepare ourselves and our students for what we would do if our school building closed. We made sure that our students knew how to access the online tools that we would rely on most, and we made sure that our students in grades 3-12 took their Chromebooks and chargers home on Friday afternoon. When our school day came to a close on Friday, March 13, just 48 hours after our faculty meeting, the reality of our school building closing seemed quite probable. Many staff members speculated that we would not be returning to school with our students on Monday. And in fact, that is what came to pass. But even then, we did not collectively realize that we would remain out of our school building for the remainder of the school year, which ended on June 17.

Our district (and community) was fortunate in that our district leadership had prioritized students’ access to instructional technology (@BloomfieldTech) in the years leading up to the pandemic. The 2019-2020 school year was the fourth year of our 1:1 Chromebook initiative for students in grades 3-12, and our district had been providing teachers and students with access to many online tools and resources. When our school buildings closed, our district was also quick to connect us with Zoom as a synchronous platform, and our district (along with the Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES) offered frequent staff development opportunities for faculty to expand their repertoire of tools and practices for online teaching and learning. I will always be grateful for our district’s foresight and responsiveness in regards to instructional technology. More than once, I said to my students, “Imagine if this pandemic had happened 25 years ago...We would have been really cut off from each other. Being on Zoom and Flipgrid isn’t the same as being in the classroom, but at least we can still see and hear each other!”

Our district staff also understood that, above all else, we needed to prioritize connections with students. We still valued our instructional content, of course, but we understood that we weren’t just moving instruction online. We were all teaching and learning and existing through a global crisis. It is worth noting that we are a district in New York State. And while our county had (and still has) a relatively low rate of COVID cases and fatalities, we were all directly impacted in some way. And as New Yorkers, we knew that our State was in crisis, and that our collective health and well-being (physical, mental, and emotional) had to be our top priority.

As a MSHS English Language Arts teacher, I did my best to encourage my students to keep reading, writing, discussing, and critically thinking. But many of the Zoom gatherings that I scheduled were to support students socially and emotionally. We did guided meditations, and had virtual birthday celebrations, and just hung out online together. And when racial injustice and unrest flared in late May, we gathered on Zoom for weekly current events conversations (co-facilitated by my students) so that we could thought-fully reflect on our nation, and our place in it.

Amidst the hardships and uncertainties, our extended school building closure presented some unique opportunities. I was able to offer an Online Writers’ Circle (OWC) and an Online Book Club (OBC) for 7th-graders who wanted more extensive enrichment opportunities to grow with each other as readers and writers. Each group met on Zoom twice a week. In our OWC meetings, students participated in student-led writing exercises, shared their writing projects, and introduced each other to websites where teen writers could post their writing and engage with other readers and writers. In our OBC meetings, students selected texts available to us through Teenbook Cloud; we created a reading schedule, and students’ facilitated our discussions. A highlight for us was reading Hit the Ground Running by Canadian author Alison Hughes (@Ahugheswrites), and then meeting with her on Zoom (pictured here). Alison was so kind and gracious, and we learned so much from her about her writing process!

Through our rural district’s technology, we have been able to connect with each other, and with the world around us. We miss being together physically in our MSHS building, and we look forward to going back at some point. But in the meantime, we are grateful to be able to use technology to come together, while apart.

Jennifer King, Ph.D, NBCT
@JKingBloomfield

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