Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Island Teachers Finding Many Ways to Engage with Students

Teachers across the island are finding some very creative ways to engage their students during the coronavirus pandemic. Ideas range from teachers at Tommie Barfield Elementary staging a social distancing parade for their students on Thursday afternoon, April 2nd, to a Marco Island Charter Middle School art teacher assigning a hearts and music challenge for her students, and a Marco Island Academy teacher challenging his students to write a play on a 48-hour deadline.

Led by a police escort, the Tommie Barfield teachers drove their decorated cars throughout the island with horns honking and whistles blowing. Students waited along the route with their parents, waving and shouting greetings back and forth to the teachers as they slowly drove by.

Gigi, Rob, and Colin Garraty greeted the parade with noisemakers as it passed by their home on San Marco road. Colin is a fourth grader at Tommie Barfield, Gigi is a teacher at Marco Island Charter Middle School and Rob is a longtime realtor/broker with Premiere Plus Realty.

“It was fun,” Colin said as he stood with one foot on his skateboard. “It was cool. I miss my friends.”

Photos by Quentin Roux | The Conner family, Steve and his First-Grade son Easton, along with Adrian and her K student daughter Emersyn, react to the drive-by show of support and affection by TBE teachers.

Gigi appreciated the efforts the teachers made. “It’s a sense of community,” she said, “we’re still a community even though we’re not seeing anybody anymore, just through social media and our group chats. We do it twice a week with the staff and every day with my colleagues—the teachers. It’s been tough being cooped up. We’re working hard. The online education has its ups and downs, but Colin is having a fine time getting through the material and following along with the teacher’s instructions.”

Laura Cedrone and her daughter Jamie were at the southeast corner of Sandhill and Winterberry. Other students and parents were on the other three corners, practicing social distancing while waving to their teachers.

“It was good,” said Jamie Cedrone, a second grader at Tommie Barfield. “It made me feel happy, excited and very tired.” She said she was tired from waiting in the sun. She also said she misses her friends and her teacher Miss Bush.

“She was looking forward to this all day long,” said Laura Cedrone. “She really misses her teacher. She loves her teacher. It was fun for her to see everybody. 

Laura Cedrone said there have been a few challenges. “The first couple of days there were a couple of bumps, but I’ve also got a fifth grader and a fourth grader; they can pretty much do it on their own now. It’s really easy to follow. Yesterday and today she’s actually doing all of it on her own, too. You can tell the teachers have put a lot of work into it. They’re doing a good job”

Michelle Taylor and her daughter Madison, a fifth grader at Tommie Barfield, were on Bald Eagle Drive for the parade. “I prefer regular school,” Madison remarked. “It’s less stressful. The teachers are there to tell you what you’re doing. At home school, it’s much more stressful. You don’t always know exactly what you’re doing, but I can work at my own pace, and I definitely communicate with my friends.” 

“You’re able to reach out to your teachers via email,” stated Michelle Taylor. “I think now, on day four, we’ve got it under control.”

Chris Dayett, the performing arts instructor at MIA, has gotten very creative with his students. He reached out to the Naples Players, who gave the students a virtual field trip. 

“I thought, ‘Let’s try this, let’s make it work,’” he said, “It’s been a lot of fun.”

During Spring Break, Dayett participated in the Quarantine Bakeoff, which was sponsored by the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. It gave him the idea to do something similar with his MIA students.

“On Monday morning, they posted the ingredients that have to be in your play, and you had 48 hours to create a 15-page play. I got the idea to do the same thing at the school; I posted it on social media. We had seven students, plus me, write plays. Now, we’re in the process of figuring out how we’re going to do a reading of these plays. We had a meeting about that today. I think there were 15 people in the group; they got very excited. It was great to see them so happy again. I’m just super-excited about it.”

Martie Miller, the music teacher at the middle school, sent her students an assignment via YouTube. “I thought I’d try to send a message of positivity that there is still hope out there and things to be thankful for. So, I tried to combine hope, joy, and thankfulness. I had them all connect that with music somehow. It was kind of a way to send it out to the universe that we can still be okay, even in the midst of all this craziness. 

“This was a project they could do, using social distancing, getting outside for vitamin D. The kids have been super-excited about it. I actually found one kid’s hidden talents. The drawing he gave me is just amazing. He says he wants to grow up and do something in art or graphic design. I thought, ’That makes sense.’ They’re doing doors, windows. As much as possible I’m trying to get them to put things in the windows so others can see.”

George Abounader, the CEO and Principal of the middle school, commented, “This particular eLearning music lesson was a way for our band students to think about ways that they could spread some smiles, give some inspiration, and relieve some stress as they produce their project and share their project with others.”

Rob Eder is the art teacher at MIA. He is happy with the way things are going at the high school. “It’s been exciting and time-consuming. I told our Principal, Melissa Scott, this morning, ‘I feel like we’re not only designing the parachute, but manufacturing the parachute, after we’ve already jumped out of the plane.’ I don’t know if I heard that from somebody else, I don’t think I made that up, but I really couldn’t be happier with my students’ responses or my colleagues’ responses. One of the great things about Melissa is that she lets us do our own thing within the parameters of what’s in the best interests of the students. 

Photos by Scott H. Shook | Michelle and Madison Taylor at the social distancing parade.

“We’ve all come up with different ideas and tried different things. Some work, some don’t. In general, given the situation we’re in, it’s been very rewarding to me. I feel like my students are my heroes. I’m just very, very pleased with how they’re dealing with the situation—and also my colleagues. I’ve had to change the parameters of what we’re doing based on the way things are going. I haven’t gotten any pushback from the students. They’re completely understanding and have fluidly changed to meet my ever-changing requests. It’s been stressful, hard work and a very positive experience for me personally.”

Lori Galiana teaches social studies and history at MIA. She’s been at the academy for 8 years now. “Week one we had our bumps. Week two seems to be much better. Week one was all new. Things kept changing as we went along. The seniors are more self-paced. It’s been tricky. We’re getting much better. You’re worried about their physical and mental health going through all of this. I’ll put them into breakout groups, and I can hop from one group to the next. They like communicating with each other. Asking each other questions. Then I bring them all back in together.

“They have good attitudes for what they’re going through. Sometimes you look at them and they seem a little down in the dumps. I have a freshman boy who has to watch his little sister every day from 7 AM till 5 PM, and he’s trying to do his homework. He emailed me yesterday, ‘She’s not going down for her nap. I’ll be in class as soon as I can get her down for her nap.’ He’s got that kind of schedule. He has to get her down for a nap so he can take part in class—and that breaks my heart. Those are the things people don’t understand. I would like to add that Miss Scott has been incredibly positive toward her staff and students all along. I am very grateful for her guidance and professionalism.”

“It’s a learning curve,” stated Vanessa Koch, a math teacher at the high school. “Getting used to teaching in this aspect. It’s working, but it’s definitely been a learning curve. They’re getting used to things; having to realize that they have to speak up in different ways. Usually I can tell by looking at them, kind of who has that look of not quite getting it. I can only see so many of them at a time. That challenge of getting them to keep up, and logging in when they need to, and turning things in when they need to—it’s definitely a challenge. For the most part, my kids are doing really good. Now, we’re kind of in this rhythm. No one is missing class; they’ve been good about that. Some mornings they look like they’re just rolling out of bed. Some mornings I’m probably just rolling out of bed.”

Middle school science teacher Shane Totten perhaps captured the attitude of the island’s teachers best. “We all went into this profession to inspire people and help make the world a better place. So, of all the people in the world who are going to step up to the plate, teachers are certainly in that category.”

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