Even though schools have closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers in Dinwiddie, Virginia are still trying to engage and excite their students remotely.
In mid-March Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered all K-12 schools in the Commonwealth to close for the rest of the academic year to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The order meant that students and teachers had to move to classes online. And while this new way of schooling means students have the option to take their classes in their pajamas, it also means that the fun activities and bonding students get to do with teachers are lost.
“The biggest thing for us as school administrators is that we miss seeing our students and staff! We went from enjoying hugs and conversations each day with them to a quiet building,” Georgette Mickens said in an interview with Dogwood. Mickens serves as Southside Elementary’s assistant principal.
In order to ease that sense of loss and help students continue to learn in a fun and engaging way, the teachers and administrative staff at Southside Elementary School decided to have a virtual spirit week. Mickens said teachers came up with the idea.
“I was thinking of fun activities we could do to still engage with our students and families,” she said. “Last week I asked the teachers to send me pictures of themselves holding up ‘I Miss You!’ signs so that I could share them on our Facebook page. I’ve also had students and staff share and read aloud videos.”
During the first week of April, Southside Elementary School will use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to participate in theme days including Talent Day, Board Game Day and even Explore Day, which will give students and teachers an opportunity to share their favorite outdoor activities.
For teachers like Melonise Jiggetts, who works with four and five-year-olds, getting students engaged and excited about online classes has been a difficult adjustment.
“The biggest challenge has been how to engage students via remote learning since we are not able to complete different activities with them,” she told Dogwood. “I’m very big on building strong and healthy relationships with my students. My favorite part of the day was first thing in the morning when I could chat with my little ‘friends.’ It was a time where I got to hear about their interests and it was also the perfect chance for me to get to know more about them as individuals.”
Despite losing the opportunity for direct interaction, remote learning has its benefits as well. Jiggetts said with everyone home, she can include her whole household in the school’s activities.
“I am extremely excited to include some of my household family members in the upcoming virtual spirit week activities,” she said. “Typically, I am unable to have them participate in activities due to varied schedules but I’m eager to include them in the dress up activities with me.”
With lots of people working from home, student family members have also been able to participate in Southside Elementary’s activities. Parents and families have been using the #sesvirtualspiritweek to share in the fun.
“The responses we have received show us that the students are engaging in the activities with their families, so hopefully this is getting rid of some of their boredom too!” Mickens said.
She explained that the administrative staff will also be participating in the week’s activities as a way to continue connecting with the whole school community.
“I love participating in all of our activities. It is an excellent way to establish rapport with our students, families, staff and community and continue to engage with them,” she said.
According to reports, engaging students in fun activities like spirit weeks can actually boost academic achievement. A study published by the National Federation of High School Associations noted that by creating something for students to look forward to and get creative with, schools can better engage and excite students with their other studies as well. Plus, Mickens added, it reminds students that teachers are still trying to bond with them.
“These activities allow the students to see that even though we had to cancel some of our fun activities planned during the school day due to the closure of schools we have not forgotten about them,” Mickens said.
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