As students wrapped up the school year, educators in local Worthington schools had to get creative in an effort to keep students engaged.
Teachers and support staff went above and beyond to continue to educate students as school buildings were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educators quickly switched gears to utilize the latest online tools to interact with students, sharing photos and videos, hosting weekly Zoom video chats and even organizing virtual talent shows.
“We did the best we could considering the circumstances and the time we had to prepare for this,” said Mary Rykowski, principal at Evening Street Elementary School.
“As educators we are used to the emotional part of teaching young kids, so trying to figure out how to navigate that, as well as continue to make sure they were learning, was challenging.”
Rykowski said teachers and staff tried to come up with creative ways to engage students, including going above and beyond to help struggling students.
“One teacher took a white board over to a student’s house and taught them a math lesson through the window because they were struggling to understand some of the lesson,” Rykowski said.
“Teachers also had ongoing Zoom meetings with their classes, read to students in the evening via Zoom and came up with other ways to go above and beyond.”
Rykowski also continued with her daily morning announcements for the students, but instead did them via Zoom. This gave students a sense of normalcy and routine, something they desperately needed during these tough times, she said.
At Colonial Hills Elementary School, the attempts at maintaining tradition included the annual sixth-grade clap out. Although students had to settle for a video walk through “Cougar Country,” complete with soundtrack and clapping teachers wearing masks, the memory is something students can look back on regularly.
Principal Sherri Berridge’s team came up with a virtual talent show, organized by Ms. Wessel, Steve Kucinski, and a Poetry Wall where students could share their creative writing online.
“We want to stay connected to our students because we love and miss them,” Berridge said in an online post.
Other activities the school did during distance learning included using tools such as Flipgrid to share photos and video, as well as hosting a virtual scavenger hunt to support a local non-profit agency.
The scavenger hunt centered around families raising funds for Worthington Resource Pantry. Families looked for spare change and cash throughout their house and in their cars and donated funds to the resource center.
“We also had a virtual talent show that students posted on Flipgrid,” Rykowski said. “The talent show was viewed over 2,500 times and was a terrific opportunity for students to see each other’s work and connect with one another.”
While educators want to return to their classrooms, Rykowski said if the district does have to do some distance learning next year, they have learned a lot and will be better prepared.
“One thing we want to fix is having one platform for teachers to post all assignments on and for students to work out of,” she said.
“We didn’t have this like other districts did, so all our assignments were posted on Google and students were sent links to their assignments. This is something we are already in the works of fixing if this continues next year.”
Students in second through fifth grade also were emailed their assignments.
Evening Street Elementary School also didn’t have Chromebooks for all their students, however students who didn’t have access to a computer at home were able to borrower a computer from the school.
“We had families who didn’t have a computer and others that needed their computer because they were working at home,” Rykowski said.
“There were many times where I had to hand deliver computers to families to make sure they had the resources they needed to complete assignments.”
However, the school had a 90 percent participation rate for online learning, she said. School leadership also would check in with families not submitting assignments to ensure the students had what they needed to complete their assignments.
“This was hard on everyone,” Rykowski said. “Parents were working full-time and trying to help their children. Students also didn’t have access to all the resources they were used to.”
For next school year the district is coming up with several different plans to prepare for all scenarios, from how they will socially distance students to doing partial distance learning to preparing if school is back to normal.
“We are looking at what is best for families, students and our educators,” Rykowski said.
“We will be ready for whatever we are faced with.”