I love my house as much as the next person, but I definitely don’t enjoy spending every single day inside (cabin fever, anyone?). While Dallas county – and much of the world – is sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 crisis, everyone is struggling to figure out a new normal. Adults are adjusting to life working from home every day, and kids are figuring out the virtual classroom environment. To help build positive connections during these difficult times, teachers at Addison-based Trinity Christian Academy are connecting with students in a virtual recess environment.
“Distance learning is a game changer,” said Cheryl Utley, fourth grade teacher at TCA. “From the moment we received notification that school was closed, my team began to scramble. We realized pretty quickly we would have to depend on each other and the parents of our students in ways that weren’t necessary before. Since our students are ‘digital natives,’ they adjusted easily to the new education platform. As for the teachers, we worked many long days and late nights to learn not only how to use them, but also how to use them in the most beneficial manner. We get better at it every single day. As the health crisis continues, our goal is simply to maintain a healthy rhythm of dependence, collaboration and community with our students, their parents and each other.”
Recess is a key part of the school day for elementary school kids, so Utley and other teachers decided to give kids a way to burn energy and keep social connections strong. Teachers meet virtually in small groups with students and have them do various recess-like tasks. These include scavenger hunts for items in their home, finding their favorite stuffed animal or pet to show to classmates on the screen, or performing exercises together. All of these are done via Zoom, a video-sharing technology that allows multiple people to call in at once.
“We love Zoom recess because we miss each other!” explained Utley. “It’s the closest thing to having my students congregated around my desk in the mornings, talking with their table groups or hanging out together on the playground. Those are the moments we miss the most. We miss being together.”
As cities around the nation are being ordered to shelter-in-place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and many schools are cancelling through the school year and over the summer, TCA teachers knew that now was the time to keep students engaged. Currently, TCA is doing a distance-learning only format until May 4, 2020, but that could be extended.
“The most difficult part of distance teaching is the inability to read students’ facial expressions and body language,” said Utley. “Technology allows teachers to deliver instruction, collect assignments and share videos with the children, but none of that replaces face-to-face interaction. In the classroom, I can easily tell who is having a bad day and needs a kind word. I can easily recognize the signs of a student struggling with an assignment and offer help on the spot. I’m constantly looking for signs of struggle and working to respond to student needs with the tools I have, but it’s not as effective as being in the classroom together.”
Located at 17001 Addison Road in Addison, TCA is a private coeducational school for grades PreK-12, which offers Christian families and their children a demanding, college preparatory curriculum within a Christian community committed to integrating Biblical faith and learning. The school was founded on the purpose of educating and developing the whole person for the glory of God.
“I miss the daily chatter,” added Utley. “Nothing in the world is more beautiful than the sight and sound of happy children.”
Keep up the good work, TCA! We will get through this together, one day at a time!