By Amanda Compton
The model Twin Oaks Christian School Head of School Ms. Kendall Brewer envisioned for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic was one that is both academically rich and engaging, offering flexibility to families during a highly difficult and emotional time.
“Once the reality of the coronavirus pandemic sank in, we worked together with our faculty and staff to seize the opportunities provided through out-of-school learning,” said Brewer. “During this time, we emphasized the ways that hands-on activities, which may not be as feasible to coordinate with 20 students in the classroom, can be facilitated at home. Our teachers rose to the occasion and certainly made learning meaningful.”
Twin Oaks utilized Google Classroom and Zoom for distance learning, which provided teachers freedom to tailor instruction to their teaching styles and allowed them to interact face-to face with students. Teachers posted daily videos, devotions and assignments and hosted "Google Meets" so students could socialize with one another. Daily office hours were set up through Zoom in case parents or students needed clarification on an assignment. Teachers were also readily available via text.
"Since Google Classroom was already being used as a supplemental resource for our middle school and intermediate students, it made sense to extend what we were already doing to the lower grades," said TOCS Assistant Head of School Mr. Eric Wildermuth, who also teaches Middle School history.
In fact, Wildermuth kept his students coming back for more with his creative (and often comedic) weekly YouTube videos including one called "The Search" for the key to the last day of school. He also published an example for a hands-on learning assignment where students constructed a Roman aqueduct for their study of ancient Rome.
Second Grade Teacher Miss Corbin Shelton instructed her second graders on how to make bird feeders from empty laundry detergent bottles. "The bird feeders actually work," said Rebecca Fox. "We hung it from a tree in our backyard and watch as bird after bird lands on the feeder for food. We have seen Blue Jays, lots of cardinals, chickadees and a finch!"
Third graders designed a zoo, which entailed determining animal placement by calculating the area and perimeter for each animal pen and zoo attraction; second graders created a dinosaur for their "Bag of Bones" assignment; and fifth graders did Zoom scavenger hunts and a virtual trip to a New York aquarium. Another big hit was First Grade Teacher Mrs. Katie Ragsdale's use of the online resource, Scholastic, which offers science and social studies lessons with comprehension activities and independent computer works.
"School was definitely in motion!" said Marci Belval, pointing to the various middle school hands-on science experiments her sixth grade son, Nolan, did during distance learning including one on forces and motion and another on surface tension.
For instance, Laura Wagener's seventh grade son, Logan, measured the speed of a skateboard as he adjusted the incline of an angle, put different types of nails into water to see how they oxidized over time and built a paper airplane, which was then modified over several trials to help it fly further.
Jennifer Rieser, whose family is new to Twin Oaks, enjoyed watching her third and fifth graders work together during their co-curricular classes, particularly PE, their favorite activity. "We would go for a long walk and/or run or the kids would ride their bikes and we complete the exercises Coach Kate assigned for the day," said Rieser. "Some were easy and some were pretty hard! The 'Deck of Cards' was a great workout our family will complete together many times into the future!"
Jennifer also appreciated that Twin Oaks went forward with the service day on May 1. “We went to my grandma’s house and decorated her driveway with chalk art and scripture,” said Rieser. “She had not been able to leave her house or be with anyone so us being there that morning while she watched from her garage was so uplifting to her.”
In loving students from afar, TOCS teachers diligently commemorated special events with yard signs, drive-by visits to their students’ homes and hand-written notes delivered by mail. One of the more memorable moments was the drive through parade on April 30, when students had the opportunity to visit with friends from a distance and wave at their teachers while various Joy FM melodies rang across the parking lot. Students also received gift bags filled with reminders of God’s goodness as they exited the parade.
Though graduation ceremonies for Kindergarten and eighth grade students could not be celebrated in person, teachers worked hard to compile videos to share with those families, capturing pieces of what would take place on stage. Kindergarten students were each visited by their teacher to receive a yard sign, personalized balloon and diploma while a graduation parade took place for the eighth grade students.
To keep the community connected during this time a part, the Twin Oaks advancement team created the hashtag campaign, "#TOCStogether, A Community Connected by Christ,” so families could share what they are doing at home during distance learning. Each student at Twin Oaks received a #tocsTOGETHER t-shirt delivered directly to their home by a TOCS staff or faculty member.
Brewer moved the last day of school up one week with the following week deemed a “makeup week" in an effort to offer students more time to complete assignments. The Learning Center Teacher Mrs. Laura Quinn made herself available via Zoom for students who needed additional assistance with math, reading and writing.
“We lamented the fact that we could not be together in our school community,” added Brewer. “One of the reasons this season was so hard for students is because an authentic classroom experience is driven through conversations and shared engagement. While we saw some of the advantages that online instruction provided, what is efficient is not always what is best. We are eager to have our students back in the classroom, as this time revealed how relationships are the key to meaningful learning.”
Twin Oaks Christian School, a ministry of Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church