LAGRANGE — With the state ordering schools closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers like Lakeland’s Sam Plew are looking for new ways to take advantage of technology and keep students actively engaged in their education.
Plew, Lakeland’s Elementary Intervention Specialist, is a former classroom teacher and said he always has been passionate about helping children learn to read.
So during this shutdown, Plew decided to read chapters from books to children now at home, using his Facebook page to deliver those stories. Each day, Plew records himself reading a chapter of the book, Stone Fox. He later uploads that to his Facebook page. He said the idea came to him while he was reading a story to his child.
“I thought if I can reach one student, why couldn’t I reach all of them with the same technique?” he said.
Plew said he decided to read Stone Fox because, for starters, the book is one of his favorites. Also, the book is part of the school system’s third-grade curriculum. Finally, the book is so well regarded there are dozens of school-related activities devoted to the book online that children can use to broaden their educational experience with the book.
“All you have to do is look it up online and all that curriculum is right there,” he said.
Plew said ultimately, he just wanted to do something to help encourage children to actively use their imaginations.
“It’s so easy to turn on Netflix and have someone use their imagination for you, but when you hear it, you have to create that own image in your head,” he explained. “That’s so much more developmental than having someone create that picture for you.”
Plew said once he’s finished with Stone Fox, he has plans to read other classic stories to children.
Plew’s storytime is a hit online.
Plew said he’s had as many as 300 people, children and adults alike, tune into his Facebook page at various times just to listen to Plew read the story of Stone Fox.
Plew’s story time is just one of many examples of professional educators going above and beyond to make sure children remain engaged in education even while their schools are shut down because of the coronavirus, said Lakeland Intermediate School Principal Brad Targgart.
Targgart enjoyed Plew’s story time so much he’s re-posted those sessions on the intermediate school’s Facebook page, hoping to make them available to a wider audience. He said Plew’s story time is just one example of the numerous efforts undertaken by area teachers to stay connected to their students
“We’ve had a good response from our staff about reaching out to kids using the phone and things like that. They’re connecting with our kids,” he said.
With the state’s recent announcement that Indiana schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, most school corporations are quickly making new plans to continue educating students outside of classrooms. In an experience unlike any that’s ever faced Indiana educators.
“Right now, we’re sending out as much stuff as we can to keep the kids engaged, and to give the parents resources,” Targgart explained.
Sometimes, that’s prompted a lot of phone calls from parents wondering what expectations the schools have for each student.
“What I’ve been telling parents is we don’t expect your child to complete everything that we’re giving you,” he added. “We’re trying to give you a smorgasbord of options for reading and math that shouldn’t take a lot of instruction from the parents but still keeps the learning going.
Eva Merkel, Lakeland’s Superintendent said the challenge is that schools are no longer in a position of effectively using eLearning techniques, but must quickly master techniques of distance learning.
“We’re looking at all this as extended learning — forget ‘waiver’ and ‘eLearning.’ There’s a lot of differentiated communication going out there — to families who only have email, to those with reliable access, to those who might need something mailed,” she said. “There’s lots of behind the scenes work planning for ‘what if’ and lots of ‘can we...’ questions being explored.”
In a recent letter she sent to families of Lakeland students, Merkel encouraged parents and caregivers to keep up the good work at helping their students continue to learn.
“No one expects you to be a professional educator,” she told parents. “We know that what students can do is going to be different than if they were in school. We know that, the longer we are separated, the harder this will be.”
But she also promised the school system and its staff will do what they can to help students continue their educations.
“Students — do what you can to keep up with what teachers are sending. Teachers and staff are trying to keep in contact as much as possible. We all really do miss you! We know that you are not going to spend all day on schoolwork – you should be helping your families with chores around the house, too,” Merkel said.
“Please know what I know for sure – Lakeland School Corporation will do right by our students by reaching out as much as we can, supporting needs for credits leading to graduation, and setting students up for success in the next school year. It won’t look or feel the same because we’ve never had to face this challenge before. We will get it done.”