October 31, 2020

Connecting with Students in the Age of COVID-19

Graphic by Nermina Ferkić

When the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the United States in January 2020, nobody could have predicted the aftermath. Now, almost four months later with more than 600,000 confirmed cases across the country, businesses are closed, events are postponed or canceled, and schools – from elementary to high school to universities – have been moved online through the rest of the semester.

“Changing our interaction to a digital platform is challenging because you lose the face-to-face and meaningful opportunities to connect (with students) about a variety of topics,” said Angie Pappas- Muyco, assistant principal at Parkway South High School. “Learning is fluid and requires a variety of modalities to meet the needs of diverse learners.”

Since teachers cannot meet with their students face to face, many are struggling to connect with them. And a good number of younger students do not have the ability to use Zoom or another video conferencing site to communicate with their teachers or classmates, notes Leslie Sattley, a fifth-grade teacher at Simpson Elementary in Arnold.

“The pandemic has negatively impacted my relationship with students. We are used to seeing each other and interacting every day. I feel very lost without hearing from them.” Sattley said. “I hear their stories, they tell me their worries. I feel like they need to be able to express these things. Now, I have no way to check their moods and safety. That is scary to me.”

Sattley, along with other teachers at Simpson, have been communicating regularly to find ways to give their students a uniform way of learning. Although there are concerns among them on how to effectively assign homework online because very few students have signed in so far for their online learning.

Along with the current struggles that educators are facing, another worry for teachers is how students will be able to adapt next school year. A main concern for teachers is the learning gap that will be among students.

“We will take things slower at the beginning of the year next year,” Sattley explained. “We need to understand that some students have not been in a classroom for many months, and the learning gap may be a lot wider than expected. I also have to think about students who were supposed to get tested for special services. I imagine there will be a backup in this process. I will have to be very understanding and loving. Some of these kids will really miss their fourth-grade teacher.”

With the pandemic, students are not only missing out on education, but high school and college seniors are missing out on milestone events that they have worked for. Prom, graduation and other senior festivities have been postponed or cancelled throughout the St. Louis region. For the events that have been postponed, most administrators are unable to give a definite answer as to when they will be rescheduled.

But in these uncertain times, not everything that is happening is negative, according to mental health experts. People have the opportunity to spend more time with their family, focus more on relationships, and rethink what is important in their lives.

“Take this time to relax and enjoy the downtime,” said psychologist Jameca Falconer of Emergence Psychological Services, who is also a professor at Webster University. “Catch up on books, TV shows and conversations. This time is making us all focus on less. So hopefully, it is making us feel more gratitude for those things that we do have: health, employment and food.”

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