Shawnee Mission teachers get proactive in approaches to continued learning amid COVID-19 pandemic

SM North visual art teacher Alexis Burdick is using Facebook to livestream drawing classes with her three daughters Clara (center), Bria and Adya (not pictured). Photo submitted

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Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a state order to shut school buildings, local teachers won’t be back in the classroom next week as they’d expected. But educators are already coming up with ways to connect with students through digital platforms.

The Kansas Department of Education this week convened a Continuous Learning Task Force to look into how teachers can try to meet needs of students through remote learning. The group released its initial report Thursday. David Smith, chief communications officer for the Shawnee Mission School District, said that administrators are reviewing the report and working on a plan for local schools. The plan is to discuss implementation strategy with principals on Friday, and then discussing more with teachers on Monday.

“We just received guidance from the state yesterday, and it will take us some time to digest it and roll it into the plan we have been developing,” Smith said Friday morning.

However, several teachers have been proactively organizing activities with students online. Here are a few Shawnee Mission teachers who are already working to stay in touch with students:

Alexis Burdick, visual art teacher at SM North

Burdick is livestreaming drawing classes on Facebook each day. The drawing parties take place every weekday at 1 p.m. CST on Burdick’s Facebook page, My Moxie Art Parties.

“Gosh, it’s hard to put into words how much I miss my kids,” Burdick said of her students. “As teachers, we care so much. Everything is going to be OK, we know it’s going to be OK. We love those kids and we’re going to do what’s best for them.”

She’s teamed up with her daughters, Adya, Clara and Bria, to livestream the drawing classes, which take place in their basement studio. Clara and Bria are participating in the classes, while Adya handles the livestream and monitors comments and feedback from participants.

“It’s me trying to use my talent to help entertain and keep these kids motivated and learning and doing,” Burdick said. “This gives a mom the chance to take a break and a kid a chance to focus and not lose that skill…At Shawnee Mission, these teachers are amazing, and these kids are very well trained. They know what’s expected of them in a classroom and know how to learn. This is also a way for kids to keep those skills present.”

Burdick said some of her old students from Rushton Elementary, where she previously taught art, have hopped on the livestream to partake in the class. She’s also had students participating from as far away as Texas, Idaho, California and all over Kansas.

“Thank you for using your ‘spring break’ time to start reaching out, I was thinking the art videos we are doing now will make our virtual learning less foreign,” said Karen Gerety Folk, a Rushton Elementary mom, in the comments section on the Facebook page. “It is amazing how resilient kids are, but I agree, it’s heartbreaking when they have to be!”

Heather Mayfield, eighth grade English teacher at Trailridge Middle

Heather Mayfield, an English teacher at Trailridge Middle, is using Zoom to have video conferences with her students. Photo submitted

Mayfield has been dabbling with Screencastify — a program that allows users to share their screens and narrate over it — as well as Zoom, an online video conferencing platform.

In fact, she’s had the chance to video chat with several of her students, some of whom were supposed to perform in the school musical (which she was directing).

“I just really felt their need to connect face to face in a group,” Mayfield said. “I didn’t know how many kids would show up, but 25 kids immediately hopped on to the meeting. The coolest thing about it — and I’ve never used it before — because they’re native to the digital world, they just jumped in, and they were helping each other, and they’re so happy to see each other’s faces.

“They’re learning it so quickly. It’s encouraging to me that it was possible.”

Mayfield said the video connections served a greater purpose for the students than if they had been chatting by email. She hopes to maintain her relationships with her students and see them continue connecting with each other.

“As isolated as we all are, it was really cool to connect in a way that we would never connect in the classroom, to kind of get to see their personal spaces a little bit,” she said. “It’s been really neat.”

During one video chat with her eighth graders, Mayfield read them “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. She’s also hosted a cooking show with a St. Patrick’s Day theme.

“After the governor’s announcement, kids pretty quickly started blowing up my email saying can we just get on and talk to each other?” she said. “We’re upset, and need a place to talk to each other. I said I don’t have answers, so we can definitely get on and just take care of each other.”

Mayfield said she has always been interested in incorporating introductory videos to the classroom; she sees this as an opportunity to utilize this technology and see how it could work in the classroom in the future. Regardless, she would like to have more equity for students in terms of technology access.

“Ironically, we were reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ right before we left, we were talking about how she wrote to get through hard times,” she said. “Our central question was how does literature reflect history, so it’s not feeling really hard to come up with ways to make that present in their lives now as we live through this unprecedented, historic event.”

Tony Budetti, AP government and economics teacher at SM South

Budetti said he and his fellow teachers are brainstorming new continuous learning opportunities on a group chat.

“Even though teachers have kind of time off, we’re all pretty much working, trying to figure out what to do next,” Budetti said. “Obviously we’re getting guidance from our administrators and from the state and from the county, but we’re all trying to do our part just to figure out what is this education process going to look like for the rest of this year, and how can we ensure the kids have a good time and it’s not just blow-off time.”

Budetti said the teachers may pool resources and play to their individual teaching strengths in offering remote lessons. He’d also like to utilize products already out there, like Jacob Clifford’s economics lessons on YouTube.

“I’m a team player on whatever is best for our kids; all of us are,” Budetti said. “We need to look at this as a new opportunity for engaging with our students at a time when it’s probably never been more important in their lives.”

Budetti also suggested tying in the COVID-19 impact to places of interest around Johnson County, like at the courthouse, the landfill, police stations or hospitals. Budetti is particularly interested in teaching his students about the impact of COVID-19 on economies and government policies all over the world.

“Just as many ideas as you can imagine — teachers are going to try to do the best job they can, and we have to,” Budetti said. “We have to give our best effort every day. Now, it’s probably never been more important that we give this kind of effort.”

Budetti said he’s a little worried about his students being in isolation.

“One of the things we might want to do is really make sure that those kids, where high school is the highlight of their day, that we still make sure that they’re OK,” he said. “There’s a lot of negative news, and things look like they’re going to be filled with despair. Hey, it’s going to be OK. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”