Every Monday, Kate McFaddin's students in the Creative and Performing Arts program at West Middle School would check in for their writing assignments.
As the school year transitioned to remote learning, McFaddin realized her students needed something else.
The Monday check-ins for her sixth and seventh grade English students became Mental Health Monday, and students were encouraged to talk about what was on their minds. "Some of my students really need that extra support," she said.
The support wasn't like the conversations she had with the 15-20 students who chose to have lunch in her classroom every day. But she was able to support them during Zoom sessions. "I can have them share their screens with me so I help them with their other studies – if they were struggling in science, or social studies, or whatever. I'm like, 'show me what you're working on.' "
"Since we're already in the mindset, let's just get it done."
McFaddin noticed that once remote learning began, her students were overwhelmed with having to visit many websites. She also knew not all students could attend her scheduled Zoom class sessions, but recording the sessions directly on the Zoom app took up too much space on her computer.
So she learned the app Screencastify, which allowed her to make a video from the Zoom sessions and put it on Google Drive in one link for the class. Her students were already familiar with Google Classroom, as McFaddin had been using the tool for five years.
"I had several students say to me – which is very rare – that was super helpful. Thank you for making that video."
The foundation of connection, communication and trust McFaddin has built with her students pays off academically. She recently reached out to a student about turning around a failing grade. Together, they worked on a plan to complete five assignments; the student passed the class.
Even so, McFaddin still worries because she can't "Mama Bear" her students the way she normally would. "I miss them," she said. "I miss being able to feel like I am keeping an eye on them and making sure that they are safe. That's the one thing that's the hardest."
At Flinn Middle School, Mary Talley felt similar gratitude for the connection she had with her seventh grade English students. She offered daily half-hour sessions on Google Hangouts. She used apps like BrainPOP and Quizizz for reading comprehension and higher-order thinking skills. She came up with a point system to keep students motivated in the absence of grades. She knew many of them were competitive in the classroom and would miss that part of school.
The activity that resonated the most, though, was lower-tech: She gave them a chance to write a letter to their future selves. While they have to wait until next year to open it, Talley has already read each of the students' letters. And each wrote of the pandemic and its effect on them.
"They hate it," she said. "They are sick of it. A few are afraid. They want it to be over so they can go back to school. They miss it."
Students who are new to RPS 205 must first enroll in the district.
The state released formal guidelines on Tuesday about what in-person learning will look like this fall.
This message might not surprise you, but we wanted to share our disappointment with our students and graduates.
RPS 205 teachers and students will comply with all Illinois Secretary of State and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.
Please enroll for the 2020-21 school year before July 10.
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