Fall VLO Celebrations Build Community
“It was an optional Zoom session, but 90% of my children came to the party dressed in their costumes. What I thought might be a half hour turned into 50 minutes of fun and laughter – talking – sharing – just enjoying being together,” said Wyandot ECS first grade teacher Abigail Detcher.
Woodland third grade VLO teacher Annie Wagner said a parent told her “our fall party was the happiest their child has been all year.”
Independence third grade teacher Laura Siambekos had a virtual fall party with games, a scavenger hunt and a dance party (with her husband as DJ). One family sent a thank you saying, “I heard some much-needed giggles, he had so much fun. I had my high school daughter sitting in to help Oliver if he needed it ......and she said it was a blast!”
Hopewell Junior School math teacher Savannah Vetter is seeing the same thing with her math students. Most recently for Halloween week, she gave her students the option to participate in a ‘spirit’ week. Students were tasked with wearing a costume to each Zoom meeting, which encouraged students to show their cameras (which according to Vetter, is a very rare occurrence for middle schoolers!). “Kids crave student-to-student, student-to-teacher interactions. I have found that students who attend the zoom meetings or participate in some of the ‘non’ math activities are finding much more success and confidence in VLO.”
Tricia Becker teaches VLO Spanish 1-AP and in-person ESL at the Lakota West Main Campus. “Our VLO students have the same needs and desire to interact socially as our in-person students. Socializing is a big part of high school and is possible in the virtual learning environment. In addition, these interpersonal skills are what students take with them into college and future careers.”
Her Spanish levels 1-AP classes recently learned about the customs and traditions surrounding Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). She held a Zoom session where students were encouraged to bring popcorn and soda as they watched a 25-minute film together. Becker also has her classes play review games while on Zoom, and makes sure to allow time for the normal relationship building that comes from asking about how students are doing, what plans they have for the weekend, etc.
Wagner's word for this year has been ‘connect’ from day one. “I knew this would be my biggest challenge from the start and it is constantly on my mind. I am always looking for new ways to help connect our class and build community. Building community is essential in any classroom. In the VLO setting, I’ve had to be creative and think outside of the box to do this.”
She said that communication is a really important part of community building and it starts as soon as your get your class list. Wagner told parents at the beginning of the year “that life and being a parent are hard enough, so let’s work together to make this the best year possible for everyone.” She wanted them to know that she is rooting for their child just as much as they are.
Detcher found that if she invites siblings into some of the Zoom sessions that older and younger Lakota students join in as well. She had a full house for her directed Halloween drawing activity. The children were smiling and participating and sharing what their family had made together.
She also learned during parent/teacher conferences that many younger siblings are also listening to the stories she reads to their first- grade brother or sister. For some, it has become a family reading event to gather together to listen as Mrs. Detcher reads aloud on Seesaw. “I am so honored that families would gather around a computer or an iPad to listen to a story instead of using television as entertainment. Reading together! That’s encouraging! I want my students to love reading and even from a distance, I know that they are growing into bigger readers.”
Parent support has been crucial to community-building. When Detcher said she wanted to have a fall party, two moms stepped up and put together buckets of party supplies – and delivered one to each student’s house.
West Freshman English teacher Tara Straz is always trying to find ways to connect with students on a personal level. The best success she’s has so far was the HallZOOMween party she held. During the party, they all told corny Halloween jokes, Straz read a spooky short story out loud, and they played Pictionary. “I did not require students to turn cameras on, but many of them did. It was fantastic not only to get to talk to them, but for my kids to have the opportunity to talk and laugh with each other! I think that’s what they miss the most about the classroom setting.”
The teachers are already planning for future virtual celebrations to help build community and connections with their students.
“I think it is a work in progress and something that VLO teachers will get better at as the year goes on,” said Becker. “We always have room to improve the experience we are creating for students, but when students attend optional zooms, it is always a good sign that they feel a part of something.”