Leanne Hagen left Conway Middle School on March 13 a little later than usual.
An Horry County Schools Teacher of the Year finalist, she was preparing for upcoming visits from district administration.
“I worked trying to get ready for that. We had no idea,” the eighth grade teacher said. “Then we get the message [about school closures] on Sunday, and to see that we’re actively working [online] with kids by Wednesday — it’s really been amazing.”
Hagen and other teachers in the county have been working hard to stay connected and make sure their students continue learning during the state-mandated school closures through March 31. Gov. Henry McMaster closed the schools in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Although the district provided some options for teachers, Hagen felt like she needed to make her kids a video.
“I felt like teaching them how to navigate things is a challenge, and a lot of them were really receptive [to the face-to-face video],” she said. “They wanted to see me — that’s really important. They could also go on and see how to function and how to work on things, what those choice boards are telling them.”
Hagen also made a video for parents, too.
“To show them what completed work should look like,” she said.
Hagen’s team came up with a Google form with some questions for the students asking about how they were doing in general, just to check in.
“On a linear scale, like how they are feeling – Did you eat today? Did you sleep well last night? Is there anything you want to tell us?” Hagen said.
The response was strong, and the team even got together to help contact some students whose answers stood out to them to be sure they were handling things OK at home.
“It’s really telling, a lot of them said they’d never take school for granted again,” Hagen said with a laugh. “They really do miss us.”
She said they are trying to focus on the whole child.
“Making sure kids know they can trust us … relationships are still so important,” Hagen said. “We’re really trying hard to make sure those relationships are sticking even through all of this.”
Next week, her team will try to put together a virtual spirit week for kids to check in, send photos and have a little fun.
“It’s such a learning process for everybody,” she said. “It’s remarkable what we’ve been able to do in such a short time.”
Other teachers are doing similar small things to connect with their classes. Carolina Forest Elementary teacher Cori Canada, who brought home her class’ caterpillars, posts updates each day for her students on how they are doing.
Conway High algebra teachers Jennifer Dusenbury and Audra Hill said they felt well-prepared, and earlier this week they had been doublechecking with their students to see how many had online access. Only a handful did not.
They said they would continue to use their Google classroom platform, and they were glad they had been putting videos on the platform from their lessons throughout the school year.
“The kids who are absent … they can go back and have an extra review,” Dusenbury said. “Each semester we try to do something different and add components, and adding video tutorials. We hope we can continue to do that. We’ve been so pleased at how our students have handled the uncertainty. They’ve been calm and waiting for further instruction. They’ll be OK.”
Jill Carroll, a fourth grade teacher at Waterway Elementary, said she is sad about the way things were left with her class.
“I miss every one of my babies and to think I may not see them for a while breaks my heart,” she said. “I think of the ones that are so less fortunate. I am that structure they need and the smile they need each day. Some are scared, and not sure what is going on, or what to do.”
She said she never lets them leave her room without telling them how much she cares for them.
“I wish I would have hugged them a little tighter on Friday,” Carroll said.
Conway High chorus teacher Jacelyn Spearman set up a studio in her home to help connect with her students and help them rehearse sectionals through Zoom meetings.
On Friday, she perched on the edge of her piano bench not squared off to the keys, but a computer to her left.
It was class time in her Conway home and she waited for the five faces to appear on her laptop screen via Zoom. She’s had to limit the number of students in rehearsals because of the size of the laptop screen.
“Strange times, that’s for sure,” she said as she texted her students waiting for them to log on. “I never thought we’d be doing this.”
One by one a student’s face would pop up on the screen. Spearman would wave as the student waved back. One was in her room, one in a dining room and two were sitting in their backyard. One face appeared, disappeared and appeared as the connection failed and finally caught hold.
“I’ve seen a bunch of funny memes about how much people appreciate teachers now,” she said giving the students time to settle in for choral rehearsal.
“We miss you,” a girl’s voice called from the laptop speaker.
“I miss y’all,” the teacher said smiling.
Surrounded by a banjo, guitar and an accordion she plans to learn how to play, Spearman settled in the piano seat and flipped through the pages of sheet music as she told the students she would use her left hand in front of the laptop screen to conduct.
After a few songs, one student interrupted and said she had to go run errands for her mother. They waved goodbye and Spearman teased another about being tardy because the internet connection popped on late in the first song.
“It’s different,” she smiled from her piano.
She has been busy creating PDF documents of the music the students have been practicing, posting them online in Google classroom, and posting on Weebly pages for those who can’t access the Google setup. She’s even planned on saving things on thumb drives for some whose internet access is limited.
She plans to upload the vocal parts too, in case they’ve got any questions.
“I’ll actually record the accompaniment in, and put in vocal parts they can link to … and sing along with me,” Spearman said. “That way they don’t lose their vocal parts … then they can click on [a version] with just accompaniment to try by themselves.”
South Conway Elementary kindergarten teacher Kayla Fulmer had to get creative, since her students aren’t reachable through personal cell phones or devices.
“My first thought was ‘Oh my gosh, how is this going to work?’” Fulmer said. “The district did a phenomenal job of compiling a work packet for our students to do at home, and that made it so much easier for us. I feel like everyone has worked together to navigate through this uncharted territory.”
Fulmer mailed out the work packets to her students earlier this week, and wanted to figure out a way to connect.
“My kids…my whole life revolves around them. I didn’t even get to tell them goodbye because we weren’t sure what the deal was,” Fulmer said. “I wanted to talk to them somehow, so I thought snail mail. I love getting mail.”
When Fulmer mailed out the work packets to her students, she added a little something extra — a handwritten note, and an envelope and stamp for them to write back to her as well.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “I hope when they get them that they are excited. I want them to know I’m thinking about them and praying for them.”
With the pen pal idea, she likes that this goes directly to the student, and they get to practice writing when they respond, and they learn about how to mail a letter.
“It’s life skills they need to learn anyway,” Fulmer said. “There’s something about a handwritten note. I thought this would be a cool way to connect with them, and through all of this uncertainty and unknown they know their teacher hasn’t forgotten about them and loves them.”