As Samford University and the rest of the world have settled into a new normal as COVID-19 continues, Orlean Beeson School of Education alumni have continued to find innovative ways to adapt amid the pandemic.
Katherine Clarke ’20 is in her first year teaching kindergarten at Pleasant Grove Elementary and to say it has been unconventional is an understatement. After teaching the first four weeks of the school year completely remote, Clarke transitioned to two weeks of hybrid learning and then to full-time traditional school five days a week.
Clarke has been working more hours to ensure that her kids are not only learning academically, but socially and emotionally as well. She has implemented “Morning Meeting” to allow classmates to greet each other with silly faces and virtual high-fives and give her an opportunity to check on everyone and ask a starter question for the day. She has also been doing a lot of modeling for the kids, such as how to write their numbers on the computer or how to use technology.
“When we’re online it’s really hard to tell where kids are at and what they need from us,” said Clarke. “My hope is that I can help my kids be resilient, do their best every day, learn new things and develop a love for learning.”
Even in a rapidly changing environment, Clarke has been able to serve her students and help foster their growth and development.
Like Clarke, flexibility is essential for Kate Wildman ’17, a certified child life specialist in the Cancer Center at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas.
As a child life specialist, Wildman promotes positive coping for children during their medical experiences. She provides diagnosis education, prepares patients for procedures or surgeries, normalizes the hospital environment and provides programming that allows kids to still be kids while they’re in the hospital.
When COVID-19 began affecting Texas in March, Wildman assumed an even higher level of responsibility to her immunocompromised patients. As the hospital had to restrict the number of caregivers and visitors, including siblings, Wildman had to get creative to help patients still feel connected to the most important people in their lives who weren’t able to be with them in the hospital. She and her colleagues worked to offer virtual education utilizing the same technology that the hospital uses for telehealth. They have also implemented socially distant programming such as “Challenge Week” where they visit each patient’s room and host “Minute to Win It” games once a month.
“I think the biggest challenge was just figuring out how to continue to help our families feel connected to one another when they are so isolated,” said Wildman. “Just seeing a lot of the fear and the worry that our families had for their children and their desire to be in community is something we’ve worked really hard to help them through.”
The importance of community and taking care of people has been a major theme for Florence City Schools superintendent Jimmy Shaw ’13. When COVID-19 began, one of the first questions he had to address was how they were going to feed students since they would be out for three months. There was a group of people who volunteered every day to prepare and distribute meals. They have carried that humanitarian mindset into the fall, but have also been able to put more focus on continuing instruction.
“We wanted to look at best practices of schools, but we also wanted to look at best practices of businesses and other industries, the best practices of community and civic organizations,” said Shaw. “I think Samford gave me that paradigm shift of thinking there’s a wider world out there than just what everybody does in education.”
After putting countless hours of research into what would best serve his teachers and students, Shaw has remained flexible as they’ve had to make changes to scheduling throughout the school semester. They have also adapted to new technology and communication platforms as they’ve tried to keep parents and students informed.
“Going forward, I hope we can take the positive lessons learned in 2020 and during COVID-19 and apply them,” said Shaw. “I hope it reminds us that at the end of the day, education is super important, but nothing is more important than the human spirit and taking care of human beings, because really and truly education is a vehicle for us to serve.”