When Bethany moved to eLearning in March, the situation seemed daunting at first glance. From restructuring curriculum and moving lesson plans and assessments online, to losing face-to-face connections with students in the classroom, the socially-distanced semester seemed overwhelming.
However, having developed an eLearning model several years ago to use for snow days and other cancellations, teachers and students were at least familiar with some version of online learning. But being known individually as part of a community is what makes the Bethany experience unique—how would teachers continue fostering those connections from a distance?
Connecting through conversation
Different teachers answered this question in a variety of ways. Fifth grade teacher Linda Hochstetler decided to keep up with practicing accountability in the classroom, as well as checking in about things beyond academics. She sent a daily email to her class of students (and their parents) outlining the schedule and expectations for the day. She also had students fill out a Google form each morning not only for attendance, but to ask how they were doing.
“Kids that responded they were struggling, I would make sure to connect with them that day,” she said. The class also had a forum where students could anonymously post their daily joys and concerns. This allowed Linda to bring up topics with the entire class and discuss them together – things like missing their friends, their teacher, their classroom.
In addition to these conversations, each day began with the whole class on Zoom for twenty minutes, reading a book with Linda. Usually the book touched on emotions or dealing with life events, which then led to more class conversation about what was going on in their lives.
“We talked a lot about being quarantined,” said Linda. “That then led to conversation about what can’t be quarantined – God’s love, time with family, and things like that.”
Connecting through music
Similarly, the high school concert choir continued to sing together through virtual arrangements. Director Brody Thomas put together videos of the choir members singing and shared them with the Bethany community. These songs allowed students and faculty to come together for even just a few minutes, sharing together in song.
“I really wanted to make it seem like the choir was together again, singing with each other,” said Brody. “I hope this visual of us singing together was a symbol of optimism for a time when we can be together again. I hope it was a boost to us all and a testimony to what music can do for the vibrancy of our Bethany community.”
The spirit of the Bethany community was also shown by middle school students engaged in activities around the house for FACs class. Science, Anatomy and FACs and Nutrition teacher Cheryl Mast required students to do laundry, clean, and cook at their homes. They then submitted photos with family members showing off their work.
These assignments allowed students to engage in meaningful conversations and community efforts with their own households, something emphasized in Bethany classes and put to tangible practice during eLearning.
Another project that fifth graders worked on was creating a toolbox for coping. They filled their boxes with things that calmed them, comforted them, reminded them of someone or something or had other special meaning. They then shared their boxes with the class through videos.
Linda says that these activities allowed the class to discuss things they wouldn’t have otherwise, and to continue working on building relationships with each other and their families outside of the classroom. “I felt like I was able to maintain my connection with the kids,” she said.