Cordova educators continue to challenge students during shutdown

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CORDOVA – Cordova educators are finding creative ways to stay connected to their students and keep them engaged in learning during the shutdown.

Bankhead Middle School’s Amber Parsons wasted no time creating a Coronavirus Quarantine Challenge on Facebook.

On Monday, the assignment was to take pictures of different kinds of flowers. She received over 100 pictures; 33 varieties were the most submitted by one family.

Other challenges have included finding a four-leaf clover on St. Patrick’s Day (bonus points were given to one family who found a five-leaf clover), building an indoor fort and taking photos of at least 10 kinds of animals.

“I want them to be engaged with the outdoors, problem solve and use some critical thinking skills, and hopefully do all of that in a way that does not seem like work,” Parsons said.

Bankhead teacher LeAnn Hood is issuing her own daily challenge on several social media platforms.

Educators at Bankhead have also started encouraging eighth grade students to dress up as a historical character and share the presentations they had prepared for the school’s annual living wax museum, which had been scheduled to take place on Monday. The videos are being shared on the school’s Facebook page.

Donations to the Colon Cancer Coalition, which would have been accepted in order to make each figure come to life at the school, are being accepted virtually. The cause was chosen in honor of Hood’s husband, who is battling a recurrent case of colon cancer.

Principal Amber Freeman is doing her part to give teachers and students alike a sense of normalcy. Teachers get a text from Freeman each morning reminding them that it is time for the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence.

Not being in a classroom each day has been difficult on teachers who enjoy their work and look forward to seeing their students and each other, according to Freeman.

“We’re such a close-knit bunch. Being separated like this separates us like we would be separated from our families at home,” she said.

Freeman is also making a daily post on the school’s Facebook page in which she calls for students to do the pledge, recognizes birthdays as she would during a normal school day and suggests a schedule for the day. Completing the Coronavirus Quarantine Challenge tops the list, followed by suggestions for helping around the house, getting physical exercise, reading and doing one of the 50 STEM activities shared previously on the page.

“It’s things to do to help pass the time, not necessarily academic but things that they aren’t able to do when they’re at school and some things that will keep them off of electronics and social media all day,” said Freeman, who admits that she is also finding ways to occupy her time because she feels best when she is busy.

Most students at Bankhead have Internet access at home, even if it’s only through a smartphone, according to a survey that Freeman asked teachers to conduct in their classrooms when it became clear that the school year was going to be interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many teachers are using Google Classroom to stay in touch with students, giving them practice assignments on topics that have already been covered in class.

“Obviously, we can’t require it of them, but it’s to help them pass the time and keep things as normal as we can for them,” Freeman said.

Students can also reach out through the Facebook page about any needs they have during this time. Teachers, aware that many of their students live in homes that struggle financially or that may be a stressful environment for them, are checking on them regularly.

“For a lot of them, we’re their happy place. We’re their safe place,” Freeman said.

At Cordova Elementary, teachers are contacting a handful of students each day. Two containers of books have also been placed in front of the school so that parents can come by and pick up one or two at a time to keep their early learners reading.

The page is also being used to share resources for parents. On Thursday, the school shared some helpful ways to talk to kids about the coronavirus. Teachers and support staff also responded eagerly to a request for volunteers to help deliver meals to Backyard Blessings recipients on Friday.

At Cordova High, librarian Grace Williams has returned to her roots as an elementary school librarian by hosting a virtual StoryTime.

“Because schools are closing in our state and many others, we educators are teaming up to make sure students still have moments in their day that are familiar and comfortable. For me, the most comfortable time of the day was always when a teacher or librarian would read to us. Many authors and publishers support this and have agreed to allow their books to be read in their entirety online while we adjust to learning from home,” Williams posted on her Facebook page Monday.

The stories are being offered on Facebook Live at various times.

Williams has also compiled a list of fun, educational resources for parents and students. Examples include Prodigy, which teaches math skills, and a weather program offered online by Birmingham meteorologist James Spann.

South Carolina educator Ken Beck made a Facebook post about the ingenuity teachers are showing during the COVID-19 outbreak that has been widely shared on social media: “We gave educators almost no notice. We asked them to completely redesign what school looks like and in about 24 hours local administrators and teachers 'Apollo 13'ed' the problem and fixed it. Kids learning, children being fed, needs being met in the midst of a global crisis. No state agency did this, no so-called national experts on curriculum. The local educators fixed it in hours. HOURS. 

“In fact, existing state and federal policies actually created multiple roadblocks. Local schools figured out how to do it around those too. No complaining and no handwringing - just solutions and amazingly clever plans. Remember that the next time someone tries to convince you that schools are better run by mandates from non-educators. Remember that the next time someone tells you that teachers have it easy or try to persuade you that educators are not among the smartest, most ingenious people in society. And please never say to me again, ‘Those who can't do anything else just go into teaching.’ 

Get out of the way of a teacher and watch with amazement at what really happens.”