This article was originally published on April 23, 2021 by MontcoToday.
By David Bjorkgren
There have been plenty of stories in the media about how disruptive the pandemic has been to education and how parents grew concerned about their students falling behind academically and socially because they couldn’t be in school.
The pandemic’s impact did not go unnoticed at The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth, especially in its Leadership Academy.
The Leadership Academy provides a K-12 small, safe school setting focusing on leadership and social skills development.
Educators are weighing in after more than a year of trying to help students who found themselves isolated, learning virtually at home.
Todd Fegley, a Leadership Academy Social Studies and Art Educator said virtual learning for some of their students definitely put up a barrier to building relationships.
“I have had to come up with new ways to relate and engage with students,” he said.
A virtual student can easily disappear into the background, which challenged Fegley to be even more aware of the students in his class, to make sure they are “understanding and engaged in learning.”
With 15 years in alternative education, Fegley was already accustomed to be flexible with students who may have gaps in their learning.
But the pandemic gave him a chance “to do things that I would not have considered before.”
English educator Mike Venzke said the pandemic has forced teachers to use technology better in the classroom, “to be creative in inspiring students to log on and to participate.”
In a way, the technology has allowed the teachers and fellow students to understand their peers better.
“Having students have direct access to share videos and other media online with us as teachers and with classmates has allowed us to see into their world a bit more, helping us develop a better understanding of them,” he said.
Society’s cultural awakening this past year has also meant more resources to promote cultural awareness in the classroom.
Math Educator Zhuoyan (Angus) Sun found that virtual lessons made it more difficult to balance group work versus individual time for students.
The pandemic took away in-person measures of accountability so it was harder to motivate students to try something new and independent.
“However, I have more trust in my students and what they’re capable of,” he said.
Counselor Stephén Hood said this last year stood out for him because of the progress of one student who previously would barely speak to him.
“He expressed how he appreciated that I stuck around and accepted him for who he was even though he could be difficult to work with at times,” Hood said. “Now he’s an open book and it’s been a beautiful process to see him grow as time progresses,” Hood said.
Athletic Director Dan Rooney said virtual learning has actually put him in closer contact with families and students.
That plays well into his philosophy that when you show students you care about them, they will care about what you know.
Because of social distancing and virtual learning, he was able to share with students more individualized work-outs, yoga and meditation.
“Since the students have to stay in one spot all class, I’m afforded the opportunity to share those activities and get some buy-in,” Rooney said.
Special Education teacher Elizabeth Morin has seen more meetings with students and families during the pandemic to improve individual supports and improved engagements.
Music Educator David LeCompte completed his second year at TLC under the shadow of the pandemic but sees the year as a change for the positive.
“The students seem to know me better and have accepted me as a regular teacher,” he said.
His greatest success was seeing a student who did not attend his class very often in a previous year come back with a totally different attitude and really succeed.
School Climate Coach Keith Keys sees the pandemic affecting students differently.
“I feel that the relationships have changed both positively and negatively because some kids need that face-to-face interaction and some kids are all right with not having that face-to-face interaction.”
In a year of virtual learning, Keys has had to make sure he connects not just with his students, but with their parents/guardians as well.
His best memory so far through it all was when they returned to in-person learning.
“One of the students from the previous year saw [sic] me and just started to smile and said, “I missed you, Mr. Keith!!”