Spring Mills Primary School kindergarten teachers find new ways to reach students

First came jokes about being late due to the long commute and heavy traffic, then someone else chimed in about needing a big cup of coffee to start the school day.

Soon, however, an April 21 online staff meeting hosted by Spring Mills Primary School Principal Nicole Krause with kindergarten teachers was in full swing with a discussion about "sight words" that help students learn to read. 

It’s definitely not business as usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially because everything from teaching to staff meetings now happens remotely since schools were closed in mid-March.

But the new normal has some benefits because teachers — and the school’s approximately 500 students in pre-K to second grade — are getting to know each other in a different way, Krause said proudly.

During the online meeting, the kindergarten teachers smiled as, one after another, they talked about how their young students react to seeing them teaching from a computer screen.

Using a videoconferencing app like Zoom with excitable youngsters is a whole new experience, they agreed.

One teacher recalled a youngster taking her on a tour of his home while holding his mother’s phone, while others spoke about being introduced to a child’s favorite toy or even a pet.

This is another way that teachers and students are learning about each other in a new way that enhances their relationship, Krause said.

“I already knew how fortunate I was to have such a great staff and amazing teachers, but what they are doing now to reach the kids is really a gift," she said. "Being out of class doesn’t mean they are out of our students lives."

The weekly staff meetings give teachers a chance to discuss innovative ways to reach students virtually, new activities and any concerns about the future, she said.

Alicia Shaffer said she has been encouraging additional student participation by posting their creations on a “shoutout board.”

“Even if it’s just silly little things like losing a tooth or learning to ride a bike, up on the board it goes because I really want to have that positive communication,” she said. “It pulls them in big time.”

She also jokingly credited “Instagram research” for finding a postcard in the shape of a rainbow with math problems on it that she is mailing to students.

Lori Clark planned to make rain sticks with her students and had invited another teacher to join in the fun by singing a song.

“It’s so much fun, that I say, 'come one, come all,'” she said with a laugh.

Monica Gillions had made an alphabet countdown that features a letter per day that will end with Z on the last day of school, she said.

“It gives the kids something to look forward to and it’s fun for them,” she said.

Participants also discussed the additional academic help that kindergarten students might need before moving onto first grade in the fall.

“We are already thinking about a possible learning gap next year," Krause said. "So at the very beginning of the next school year we’re going to do vertical planning'

“We’ll have you touch base with first grade teachers to talk about the chunk of learning they might have missed this fourth nine weeks (grading period)."

Courtesy of The Herald Mail, written by Jenni Vincent; photo submitted