KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Teachers at Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School in Kansas City, Missouri, began the new school year on Aug. 19, earlier than just about any other school in the city.
To balance the novel coronavirus pandemic, the school is having all middle school students learn remotely from home. Elementary school students are in classrooms, with the option to learn remotely.
Scuola Vita Nuova allowed 41 Action News to tag along on a Thursday morning to see how teachers are handling the obstacles that come with teaching during a pandemic.
First, on the virtual side. Janell Williams began her day at 8:30 a.m. by hosting a virtual homeroom for her sixth grade students. The English Language Arts teacher always helps the students plan their day, makes sure they’re awake and has a fun activity planned to start the day off with some virtual camaraderie.
“Just hear from them, see how they’re doing, connect. I think that is something the students really need right now is that connection,” Williams explained.
By 9 a.m., students are off to work in their subject classes. Each day, they must attend one live-streamed class, one live-streamed small group lesson and participate in a recorded lesson with a corresponding assignment.
Williams said the format allows students to be flexible.
“We really wanted to honor our families and we know every family has unique circumstances right now. When students can work is not going to be the same time for every family,” she explained.
Before the first day of school, Aug. 19, SVN Charter held a two-day, in-person training session to help students master their online learning platforms. Williams feels like that “boot camp” got students off on the right foot for virtual learning.
Williams and other middle school teachers all teach from their normal classroom. That way the teachers can collaborate, check on students and provide a school setting for students who are at home.
In the elementary wing of the school in the city’s Historic Northeast Neighborhood, Maygan Howard teaches a second grade class.
The desks in her room are as spaced out as far as possible in order to keep students socially distant. Students do everything from their desks, including eating lunch.
Art, music and other specials course teachers come to the classroom. Students only leave for physical education and recess.
Howard said young students thrive off of each other's energy and presence.
“They really do love being able to see each other in the classroom,” she explained. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you in so long, how are you?’ Obviously, they can’t get close to each other, but they can still talk.”
The curriculum for elementary students now includes lessons on sanitation and other healthy habits.
“These kiddos are learning really great life skills about how to keep themselves safe and healthy and clean, which will carry on forever. We want them to be able to wash their hands effectively and clean their workspaces effectively,” Howard said.
She said students are required to wear face masks during class, and so far, they’ve done a good job keeping them on at all times. Howard thinks it helped that cities implemented mask mandates over the summer, so children already had some experience with wearing them.
Howard tries to incorporate technology into her in-person learning as much as she can. For one, there may be a time when school goes all virtual again like this past spring semester.
But there’s another reason, too.
“I think it’s really cool we’re empowering kids to learn in new and different ways and that does mean using technology,” she explained.
Both teachers have found a groove and say students have too.
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