The Lessons of Home-Learning

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Every school has been impacted by the COVID-19 Virus. Students across the world are adjusting to the new educational reality of Home-Learning. What is being done in our area to help with this transition? Are the lessons being learned by educators today going to have a lasting effect in the future?

Educator Jodi Spakes and Principal Brandy Debenport of the Martha and Josh Morriss Mathematics & Engineering Elementary School in Texarkana offered their perspectives.

There is no shortage of information about the COVID-19 virus, some might say that there is too much, and what there is changes by the minute. Spakes offers that when Information is being continuously updated by administrators, it is important to be thoughtful of what we say to our kids by not changing the message several times a day.

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Keeping open lines of communication between parents, teachers, and students is paramount at this time, Spakes related. Adding, that teachers are reaching out to students at least twice a week via Google or Zoom answering questions about the learning packet or addressing any questions or concerns a student might have.

Debenport pointed out that it is a TIDS regulation requiring teachers to make contact via phone call or computer with every student at a minimum of twice a week. She also indicated that during this initial week of Home-Learning teachers are making contact much more than the district minimum.

“We feel It is super important for us to keep parents and kids connected to us at this time. There’s a lot of comfort that comes to a 5, 6, 7-year-old child when they see their teachers face,” Debenport said. Going on to say that many teachers are engaging with entire classes on Google Meets or Zoom Meetings because it is also important to keep the kids connected to each other.

“There’s a lot of comfort that comes to a child when we can create as much normalcy as possible. So, given the fact that we can’t actually be physically present with them, like we traditionally are, we can at a minimum virtually meet with those kiddos and let them meet with each other, let them laugh, let them talk. We’re just trying to keep as much normalcy as possible for all of our kids,” asserted Debenport.

Students are adapting to the changes. Spakes said that children are more resilient than we are with change. Some are excited to learn in a different way. Speaking for her own children, Spakes says that they are comfortable with the use of technology and they like learning in the virtual world, for now.

Although Home-Learning is a temporary fix, both educators lamented the lack of social contact.

“The collaboration between students is the biggest piece of what they are missing,” Debenport said. “As far as core-curriculum, we have worked very hard to design packets where they’re not missing core-curriculum, they will get that quality instruction. It’s going to be the interaction with their friends and the social aspect of collaborative work that they are missing out on most.”

Although the date for TISD schools to reopen is unclear, Debenport offers, “We need to be optimistic right now. If everybody does their part, staying home and trying to keep well as much as possible, then I think we have a greater chance of being able to return to a normal day to day function sooner.”

“The silver lining to all this is that we have been given more time with our kids, and that’s precious time you don’t get back,” Debenport imparts.

Education is just one responsibility school’s shoulder. Principal Debenport has resources allocated to mitigate difficult circumstances for students. Stating that people are being impacted economically and their worry, as a district, is that kids might not eat. They are doing delivery of meals through the bus system, delivering breakfast and lunch every day, free of charge. The school’s counselor is also available online for students and parents.

This is a new situation for everybody. Debenport said, “Everything is virtual, either by email, video chat or phone calls. I’m a people person, and I think most educators are. I’m used to having actual face to face time with lots of people every day, so to do things virtually is hard.”

She is checking in with the district every morning for their daily updates, then pushes that info out to her entire staff, as well as doing a daily wrap-up at the end of everyday with anything new that has come out. Adding lastly, “The most important thing right now is just keeping the lines of communication open and being transparent about things as they are changing.”

Spakes offered these parting words, “As educators, we’re constantly learning new and better ways to do things. We have the famous catchphrase ‘Monitor and Adjust’ because it fits, it’s true; You see what works and what doesn’t, you change. I think we have all, across the nation, learned a lot from this experience, and yes, we would be much more prepared if something like this were to happen again. With anything in education, when you have been impacted by something like this, you take that knowledge and apply it as you go forward.” Regardless of the situation, “we are prepared to keep the learning going.”

Pictured left to right back row: Instructional Coach Ellen Wright, Sophia Chavez, Sydney King, Sage Stussy, and Instructional Coach Jodi Spakes.
Left to right front row: Lily Davis, Sara Spakes, and Ellen Wright. (Picture was taken on January 14th)

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