Area teachers overcome long distance challenges

LAUREL — The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into the lives of every American. Few segments of society have

Few segments of society have been touched more than teachers and students, though.

A Scholastic and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation survey published before the virus took hold in the U.S., found teachers work an average of 53 hours a week or around 10 hours and 40 minutes a day.

That number has more than likely increased as instruction has moved from the classroom to distance learning.

In the wake of these changes, teachers have had to adjust — caring for their own home-bound children, while trying to teach their own classes. All seem to be rising to the needs of their students and their families.

“You have to learn to roll with the punches and be able to adapt and do things different because it is not your typical school setting,” said Laurel-Concord-Coleridge high school social science teacher Zeke Stephens.

Stephens said he is taking extra precautions because of the virus. “My wife is five-months preg

“My wife is five-months pregnant, which has led us to being very cautious. We have very seldom left our home during this time,” he said. “One positive during this time is the students in our district still have learning opportunities available due to technology. I know some schools around the state and country don’t have that, so I’m grateful our district has made technology a priority.”

He said teaching through Zoom, a video program that allows many people to see the same thing, has been an adjustment because it is completely different than everyone is used to. It has been great tool, though, he said.

Stephens said if people stick to the social distancing rules, life can soon get back to normal.

“The sooner everyone starts staying home and limiting social interactions with others, the faster this will all be over with,” he said. “Most people absolutely can’t stand just staying at home, but in reality it is an easy thing for us all to do.’’

LCC High School English teacher Jennifer Kesting said she is grateful to the staff at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge.

“In this time of need, we have been working together as best we can. Ann Milliken and I have been sharing our lesson plans and activities that we plan for students in Google Classroom. Having someone to bounce ideas off is immensely helpful,” she said.

She also noted fellow teacher Alex Glaubius really helped them get set up for distance learning.

“He is a master of Google Classroom and helped me invariably in the first few days navigating the features, in turn last week I shared my expertise on IXL,’’ Kesting said.

She is also working hard to try and stay safe when she is not at home.

“When I need to go to school to get curriculum items I have been going at night to limit my exposure,” she said. “Honestly, I haven’t traveled or even turned on my van in eight days.”

Her lifestyle has made this a fairly easy transition, Kesting said.

“I tend to have two or more weeks of food on hand at any given time. I am an avid home canner, so we have 60 jars of canned veggies in the pantry, much to my children’s chagrin,” she said. “The hardest part of this is trying to make my children understand that the neighbors they play with daily are now, and for the next several months, off limits.’’

Kesting said nothing beats face to face contact, but Zoom has helped teachers and students to connect.

“I miss my students so very much, I look forward to seeing them via Zoom and having them share their experiences while continuing to learn with me,” she said.

Kesting, who is also the yearbook advisor, said the students have been working hard to help figure out what to put on the pages that were planned for prom, track, and honors night.

“Thankfully, we have plenty of pictures to fill out additional pages to showcase the boys basketball team and their state run,’’ Kesting said.

LCC sixth-eighth grade math teacher Alex McKamy said he loves being home with his little ones but misses his students at school.

“With my two that are in school we try and keep them working on the packets given out by the elementary as well as work on some online skills such as IXL or digital books,” he said. “They definitely miss their teachers, but love seeing them on Seesaw, which is such a lifesaver.”

Outside of school work. McKamy said he tries to get the kids playing outside as much as possible.

“Also with my oldest, we are trying to introduce her to piano lessons, and she is loving that right now,” he said.

McKamy’s teaching methods have really helped his students make the distance learning transition work.

“Throughout the year I worked with a flipped classroom pretty regularly, where they would watch my instructional videos at home and then come back to class and spend more time on working through the homework,” he said. “This same principle applies during this time, where the Zoom meetings are structured as more of a homework support time answering questions that students have.”

McKamy is pleased at how well this seems to be working.

“In truth, I am so happy with how well my students have done with this transition of working at home, I could not be prouder of all of them, they are doing so great,” he said.

LCC teacher David Badley said regardless of where the responsibility for this pandemic may lie, he feels being home with those that matter most is a plan by God to bring families together - stronger than ever.

“My wife and I are now responsible for our children’s education and character growth. We have bonded more and more and have come to rely on one another for sole support,’’ he said. “We do not see the future of what may happen, but for those of us who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know all will work out for the good.”

Middle School Social Science educator at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School Eric DePew said he has been busy trying to balance family life with teaching.

“We have two children, a four-year-old and a five-week-old baby. My wife, Kim, is still on maternity leave for another week. She has been able to watch our children while I am teaching,” he said. “We have planned out a schedule so when she goes back to work where one of us can work while the other watches the children (she will be working from home also).’’

DePew said after he finishes teaching classes, he takes the two children so Kim can nap or relax for an hour or so.

“Then we try to have as normal a rest of the day as possible,” he said. “I have tried to do most of my lesson planning while the children are napping or at night after they have gone to bed.” DePew said the COVID-19 pandemic

DePew said the COVID-19 pandemic has to give everyone pause for thought.

“Keeping everyone healthy while maintaining quality educational opportunities is important,” he said.

Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School guidance counselor Alan Gottula shares information that the school received from the School Community Intervention and Prevention Program regarding COVID-19; particularly, Social Distancing, School Closure, and Youth Anxiety. This information will also be posted on the school website.

Gottula’s suggestions are to model calmness, maintain normalcy, listen and validate, keep talking, help sit with anxiety by verbalizing and recognizing the experience of anxiety and help practice relaxation strategies.

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