CCS teachers, students find virtual connection beyond the academics

CCS teacher Wanda Mays holds a Zoom classroom session. (Photo courtesy: 10TV)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Wanda Mays, a teacher at Berwick Alternative K-8 School, usually starts her class with a weather report. And that holds true even in this new era of online teaching.

She and her 3rd-grade students share how they're feeling, using weather descriptions.

"I started my day a little bit cloudy because I was nervous because I didn’t know what to say," said 9-year-old Johnnie Johnson.

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Many of the students were a bit nervous for 10TV to join in on a recent classroom Zoom session.

But they were all in agreement about one thing — their desire to see one another.

"(It's sunny) because that I get to see all of you guys," 8-year-old Perryn Booker said.

And Mays said that has been one of the important takeaways from this time outside of the classroom because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"They're so excited that they're squirming, trying to see each other," she said. "You can see them looking at the screen, waving at each other, so they're so excited."

And it isn't always easy to keep the young students on task while at home. Mays has to rely on the parents, while the parents are relying on her.

"Actually, I'm up 7, 8 o'clock at night talking to parents now, 'cause there's parents who work during the day, and they need to talk to me in the evening to make sure their child is doing what they're supposed to do, so our hours are running a little long, but I don't mind," she said.

And the parents are clearly grateful. Several moms joined in the Zoom meeting, and all had high praise for their children's teacher.

"It was definitely hard getting started at first, but I would like to thank Ms. Mays," said Perryn's mom, Charisse Booker. "I put out an SOS call, and she gave me all the instructions, and I think just getting the kids into a regimen, doing home PE, doing all of the above, we’re getting into a rhythm."

Also getting into a rhythm is Centennial High School teacher Jennifer Zutterling. She's finding it challenging to instruct her robotics students, who are typically very hands-on, in a virtual format. But she is finding ways to do it, including having her students create videos using coding.

"If there's one thing that teachers are good at, it's persevering and making sure that kids have what they need," she said.

And one thing they seem to need right now is extra time with each other.

"I do have certain kids who attend multiple (online) meetings during the week, and it's just 'cause they're looking for something to do or they miss their peers and they miss the people that they usually interact with," Zutterling said.

She adds in a little fun as well, switching up her Zoom backgrounds to show her vacation destination photos while everyone is stuck at home right now. And she understands that her senior students are especially struggling, worried about whether they will see their friends again before graduation and if they'll even get a ceremony.

So she is doing what she can to be there for her students, both academically and otherwise.

"Making myself available to them and making sure that they understand that I'm reaching out to you and I care about you and I miss you and, you know, those are things that they need to hear, but I think, in return, I'm getting an 85 percent return rate on just work in general," she said. "It's just as hard for teachers to be missing their students every day."

Coronavirus: What you need to know

There are now 31,625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio; 1,888 people have died from the virus and 5,773 were hospitalized, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Breakdown of Ohio cases by county >>

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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