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Willow Tree students embrace distance learning

 

Last updated 4/30/2020 at 5:21am

Friends of Willow Tree student Lilly starts a watercolor painting for one of her afternoon class projects.

Kate Beishir

Special to Village News

For teachers, March is usually filled with thoughts of springtime and what might be left to accomplish in the remaining months of academia. It can resound with the pulsing beat of the approaching spring break, and thoughts of relaxation and renewal.

This March, however, took a very different turn. In what seemed like a matter of hours, decisions were being made that would affect residents' lives for many months to come. What had just been a concern in a far-off place in another region of the world was now a very imminent reality in their own homes and schools.

The teachers at Friends of Willow Tree are watching closely for the tide's turn. They were saddened at the thought that they would not be able to see their students face to face. The core of the educational beliefs at Friends of Willow Tree are built upon connection, personal experiences and tangible curriculum.

What were they to do now? As the dust settled, the teachers met together as a staff and knew it was time to dig deep and rise up.

They knew that the upheaval in each child's home was going to be monumental, and they needed to continue to feel the connection with their classmates and their teachers. So, the teachers ventured forth into a virtual world which was – and still is – foreign territory to most of their students.

Since many families have purposefully kept the virtual world from their children, they did not own the technology needed for this new way of learning. The teachers reached out to the community, and donations came forward to provide laptops and wireless routers for those students who were in need.

Each teacher wrote their own virtual roadmap that they were ready to embark upon. For some, it meant meeting with their classes daily online for a few hours. For others, it meant flipped learning – recording lessons, sending them out to the families and doing one-on-one check-ins with each child every week.

The school's administrator spent many hours training teachers and parents on what this whole new world would look like and helping them navigate the roadmaps that the teachers were creating.

Now that the school is in its third week of distance learning, all of the students can now complete their assignments and are able to even play games like, "Heads Up Seven Up" and "Charades."

Some teachers gather their classes virtually to simply read aloud "together" or do a "show and tell." Some share a class conversation over tea, so that they can be with one another through the pixels on a screen. Each teacher meets with their students individually on a weekly basis to check in both academically and for emotional encouragement. During this special time together, the students are able to share heart stories or struggles.

In addition to "class" time with their lead teacher, students meet in small groups or individually with their "learning coaches" who are assistants in the typical classroom setting. Students have had opportunities to accomplish assignments, practice reading, play games or simply just "connect" with familiar faces.

Colette practices her needlepoint skills as part of her home schooling with Friends of Willow Tree.

Each afternoon which was typically set aside for "specialty" classes like woodworking, music, foreign languages, handwork, etc. still continue. Things look a little different in an online setting, but these classes continue in their own magical way.

Each of the teachers at Friends of Willow Tree has met this outer chaos with their own inner strength allowing students to have an anchor in their storms. It has certainly been an emotional ride as they interact with a completely different world of online meetings, classrooms and appointments. It is not at all what everyone had expected and yet they forge a new path now.

While no one is sure how long it will last, Friends of Willow Tree is not prepared to give up their time or their connections with their students. The river of life has taken a much unusual turn, but they have grabbed their boats and paddles and will continue the journey. They have heard the call and are honored to answer.

 

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