Virtual learning at Second Baptist School is off to a great start, and we are impressed by how all of our students and faculty have risen to the challenges of this unique school year. God truly works in mysterious ways, because as we are apart physically, our SBS community is made stronger through our increased efforts to stay connected virtually.
Maximizing social engagement is vital in virtual learning, where physical separation is an obstacle; teachers all over our campus are finding creative ways to include students virtually and build community in their classrooms. Using iPads, OWL technology and Zoom gives virtual students a physical presence to participate in live classroom instruction, engage in small group and partner work and have quick access to their teacher. Accordingly, teachers in all three divisions make greeting virtual learners part of their daily classroom routine, allowing students to engage with one another as if they were all together in one place; students who are close friends with virtual learners, for example, love to run over to the iPad and say “hello” to their friends at home. Andrea Spence, upper school history teacher, holds the iPad at the door as in-person students arrive to class. Andrea says, “This always makes them smile!”
Upper school Bible teacher, Doug Walker, says, “We all struggle with the ‘fear of missing out’ no matter how old we are. For students, this is particularly real right now. In this season, where we have some students staying home, we want to make sure they feel as involved and present as possible.” Teachers are working hard to keep virtual students engaged in our SBS community, not just academically but socially and emotionally. Middle school teacher, Loren Hopf, focuses on building a “space for the students to share their emotions, raise questions to one another and change the view that mistakes are bad.” To bond with her virtual learners, she focuses on shared experiences and frequent communication. Many other teachers echo the same sentiments, choosing to emphasize social-emotional growth and connection with their virtual and on-campus students alike. Furthermore, teachers and counselors school-wide prioritize one-on-one check-ins with virtual students, via email, Zoom and during class.
This is a season where we are being refined, as unprecedented challenges teach unexpected lessons. SBS parent, Traci George, expresses her gratitude for sensitivity toward virtual families, saying, “The teachers are very aware of the virtual learners and work to include them in discussion and make them feel like they are part of the class. My middle school daughter said that she feels included and is learning through this experience.” Inclusion and connection are key in keeping our community walking together, no matter how we may be divided physically.
Academically, virtual students receive support for optimal learning opportunities, just like their in-person counterparts. Virtual students are encouraged to speak and act as if they were present in person; group work always includes virtual learners, and technology is utilized in creative ways to optimize participation and achieve learning community goals. OWL technology allows virtual students to interact as if they were in the classroom, and Zoom screen-sharing makes teacher presentations presentable to all. Additionally, each virtual student has access to a virtual learning support specialist who provides care, accountability and structure for virtual learners. The virtual learning support specialist seeks to connect with each individual student and family and strengthen the virtual learning experience in a variety of ways.
Teachers like Loren Hopf are planning virtual field trips and discussions on video conferencing platforms. PK4 parent, Brenda Blair, says her daughter has enjoyed her PK4 virtual lessons so much and has “already learned how to better write her letters and numbers.” She continues saying, “Mrs. Kates has done an amazing job keeping up with the class and making the class entertaining.” From the youngest to the oldest, it is exciting to see teachers and students working in innovative ways to bridge the gap between virtual and on-campus learners and meet the needs of all our families.
“At the heart of every student is the desire to be seen and heard,” shares Doug Walker. During group presentations in upper school, virtual students are able to Zoom in to participate. “Even though they aren’t physically present, it still feels like they are with us. That’s the goal: we want our virtual students to be seen, heard and to leave each class feeling like they are with us.”