In a game of charades via Zoom, Ms. Anne Garbarino mimes brushing her hair to evoke a character from the fairy tales learning unit. “Rapunzel!” come the triumphant shouts from across a grid of students video calling into the class. A student goes next, borrowing a chair to use as a prop so that she can act out the scene with a broken chair from “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.
The game proceeds with hiccups here and there - a couple students don’t have their video camera on, and family members’ conversations can often be heard in the background. With all the students participating separately in their own homes and their teacher far away, it doesn’t really feel like “business as normal.” Yet for these students and their teacher to be gathered together in this virtual space, discussing their favorite fairy tales characters, is more than a success in this time of crisis: it is a beautiful, remarkable thing.
Like many schools across the country, Global Village Project has not held in-person classes in over a month due to COVID-19. GVP’s last day on-site was March 16th. All hands were on deck during this last half-day of classes, as staff and volunteers rushed to prepare the supplies and resources students would need for quarantine: iPads, chargers, food, thermometers, COVID-19 information, homework packets, and more. Students practiced logging into all their learning apps, listened to instructions from health class volunteers, and packed their bags to go home.
Then their teachers kicked planning into high-gear. Through a concerted effort from GVP’s dedicated teachers and team of academic coordinators, GVP pivoted quickly and constructively to build a robust remote learning model for our students. Teachers dove into learning a whole new set of online platforms. Academic coordinators set up a daily schedule and provided ongoing tech support. Our family support team delivered keyboards and styluses to students’ homes in Clarkston and set up Wifi connections for those who needed them. Getting the students online, engaged, and learning was a monumental task that required a coordinated and holistic team. Yet it was made possible by a fierce commitment to our students’ ongoing education.
Recognition of one simple fact drove our work forward: that while learning during this crisis was going to be hardest for students who are already underserved - students like ours, refugee girls who have all experienced interrupted education, it is precisely because they are already disadvantaged that we can’t let them fall behind.
Rolling out new elements week by week, the GVP team has developed a remote learning model that incorporates both synchronous and asynchronous activities to keep students engaged. Students meet every day at noon for a virtual study hall with teachers and Americorps service members. They hop onto Google Hangouts for two live classes each day in core academic areas, and they have assignments via Google Classroom to complete in their own time. They even have virtual music classes with Ms. Elise Witt and drama classes with Playmaking for Girls, and they are continuing weekly counseling classes with Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator Katelynn Villari.
All in all, the core components that make up GVP’s unique, holistic educational program are alive and well in our new virtual school. Still, the transition hasn’t been without its hardships. As STEAM Coordinator Danielle Ereddia explains, access to education in this new world has become completely mediated by technology, and students’ ability to engage can sometimes be contingent on minute details, like knowing which button to press to find their assignments. Many students are also now facing increased responsibilities at home and need to support their parents by cooking and taking care of siblings.
Most of all, there is the heartache. Students miss the school, their teachers, and each other; teachers long for hugs from students and the vibrancy so easily found along the hallway of GVP. When asked what the most challenging part of remote learning was, Danielle Ereddia’s reply was instant: “It’s that all of our hearts are aching.”
Until we can come together as a school again, back in our hallway on the third floor of Decatur Presbyterian Church, at least we have games of Zoom charades to keep our school community connected. We will continue to make the most out of this challenging situation. We will continue to grow and learn, one day at a time. And when we emerge on the other side, whenever that may be, our school community will be stronger for it.
Read a reflection from GVP Teacher Ms. Garbarino about her experience as an educator during COVID-19: "Teaching in the Time of Corona".