There’s no question that 4-year-olds are much different from 13-year-olds, so it only makes sense that approaches to teaching them via distance learning will vary as well. At St. Edmond’s Academy in north Wilmington, the pre-kindergarten teacher and school administrators have worked to make sure their youngest boys are getting an education as close to the actual classroom experience as possible.
Allie Conner, the pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Edmond’s, is doing what she can to keep her 4- and 5-year-old charges progressing in a setting no one imagined even a few months ago.
“Each day we are sending home lessons,” she said. “It’s the curriculum I would be teaching in my classroom. I just do it through video.”
Teaching pre-k students has some challenges that older grades might not present on as large a scale. Some of the younger boys may not have the attention span the older ones do. Plus, Conner said, since they are at home, they may not view it as school time.
“I think that’s the big difference between my classroom and the older classrooms. So I make sure my lessons are interactive, so they are doing something. They’re not just listening to me through a video. I have parts where, if I’m reading a book, we pause for questions. They feel like they can be part of the lesson,” she said.
Juliana McClellan, principal of St. Edmond’s lower form, which goes through third grade,
said the school treats its early childhood program like the rest of the school. When schools were closed three weeks ago, “there was never a thought that they wouldn’t receive their continuing curriculum just like our first- through eighth-grade classes,” she said.
Keeping the students’ attention is just one piece of the puzzle, Conner said. Often, her students are not the only school-aged people in a house, so the live interaction is limited to a few video meetings per week.
“We were thoughtful that there are multiple siblings for a lot of them, so they might only have one piece of technology,” she said. “We are mostly just building connections with our Zoom meetings.”
With Conner posting video lessons for her students, they are able to work on a schedule that is convenient for the youngster and the rest of the family. If a pre-kindergartener wants to do his work in the morning, he can. If circumstances dictate that evening or weekend hours are more convenient, that is acceptable as well, McClellan said.
McClellan added that teachers and families need to accept that there is no perfect solution to distance learning.
“No two households are alike. We’re just trying to find that middle ground for people that makes this doable,” McClellan said.
“It takes a lot from the parents, and we’re very grateful that we have such a great community of families that are partnering with us through this.”
Another factor is that the youngest students are not as independent as their older counterparts, and many are with parents who are also working from home or who may still have to report to an office.
Distance learning required adjustments from teachers as well. Conner, in her first year at St. Edmond’s, said the transition was more challenging than she expected.
“I thought I can be in comfy clothes and be in a comfortable setting, but really figuring out ways to get lessons to the boys through the screen has been more challenging,” she said.
Finding ways to reach her students also has been time-consuming. “I miss being in my classroom and being there face-to-face with them.”
The real connections with students are made in the school, she continued, not through a computer monitor.
“I think that’s the big piece that you don’t get when you don’t see them face-to-face. Hearing their stories and getting to have that personal interaction with them.”
Currently, schools in the Diocese of Wilmington are closed until May 18. Whether students return to St. Edmond’s for the final few weeks of the year has not been determined, McClellan said. She and other school officials are watching the news and keeping in touch just like everyone else.
“I would — like all of my teachers — love to be back in that school building before the end of the year,” she said. “But if this is the way we have to go for the better of the world, then we’ll follow through with this plan and make the best of it.”