CIRCLEVILLE — Education, a prominent field of growth and expertise for all ages and levels, is on the headlines of rising horizons since the latest 2020 COVID-19 epidemic outbreak.

What Governor Dewine initially embarked as a three-week closure period in March, has now extended to May 1st at the earliest return and doesn’t appear to plan on stopping. Though schools, teachers, and students are remaining hopeful, and Dewine denotes it’s too soon to close schools for the entirety of the year, the possibility certainly exists. Educators of the 21st-century are facing a new challenge, reaching their students within the limitations of virtual classrooms.

Though the world of virtual reality and social-media is at an all-time high for most Generation Z students and Millennial academic leaders, adjusting to a full-time, and rigorous, yet adaptable online platform for both teaching and learning can be a challenge.

Trained in flexibility, adaptability, and the most up-to-date technology, graduates of Ohio Christian University, explain that though these times are complicated, hope in a dark circumstance is still possible.

“Our hope is in Jesus — none of this surprises God — He is in control,” Valerie Jones, Dean of Education and Professor at Ohio Christian University commented. “My concern is for students who don’t have a supportive life at home or a dangerous home life [but,] we pray for those on the front lines [of this pandemic] [and choose to] spread kindness! I see people turning to the Lord more than ever at this time, and that is amazing! I pray that, when we do get back to “normal life,” we don’t forget who we turned to!”

Ben Johnson, a junior at Ohio Christian University, furthers this view with hope for the local schools, colleges, and community.

“As a student, circumstances are always changing, and we have to adjust as this pandemic progresses. It requires flexibility. But when it comes to hope, my hope is not in my circumstances. The ultimate hope is found in a God that never changes, that cares, and is good and faithful no matter what our circumstances are. He offers people hope beyond a pandemic-plagued world in Heaven,” he stated.

Elizabeth Ennis, a freshman at the college, adds, “It is frustrating, but I’m trying to look at all the positives. The way we choose to use our time during the pandemic will influence us for the rest of our lives. God has given us the incredible gift of time, so what will you do with it? Will you choose to spend your time improving yourself spiritually, intellectually, and physically? Or will you choose to use your time binging Netflix and missing your friends? The choice is yours to make, but I choose to grow and I hope you do too.”

Noelle Reif, a 2018 graduate of the college and now a preschool teacher at FCA supplements, “It has been a very hopeful time for me. I’ve seen God pull at my heart and make me realize that I’ve been stuck not just in my relationship with Him, but in my schedule and routine and he’s given me the hope to know that this is just a temporary thing, but the decisions we make now will impact us forever.”

Outside of the college level, however, private and public school districts are also making an effort to ensure that teachers and students are well-fed and taken care of — both literally, figuratively during this unprecedented time.

On the student level, numerous local school districts like Amanda-Clearcreek, are delivering breakfast and lunch to students at home to ensure that no child is left behind without a meal. Especially because 30-70 percent of students at schools receive free and or reduced lunch or are eligible (Ross County 50 percent, Pickaway 45 percent, Pike-54 percent, Fairfield 37 percent), educators and parents of students agree this delivery service is one less hassle. While pupils are receiving nourishing meals to enhance their learning, the actual learning at-home is still proving to be a hardship for many to encounter.

Schools like Ross County Christian Academy, or Zane Trace, for instance, struggle to find means for students without at-home internet or computer access. Like many educational institutes within the poverty-line guidelines, it isn’t so much the virtual learning that is problematic, but instead, if the student has access to it or not. Hence, although the student may be well-fed and prepared for education, the biggest challenge comes with finding a way to get them online. In this case, schools have implemented paper packets and drop-off/pick-up availability for extra accommodation.

Jarod Lloyd, Principal at Ross County Christian Academy, commented, “When you teach online in any form as opposed to the classroom, every word you say or type is more intentional. We obviously take our in-person contact with our students for granted (pandemics don’t happen often). Experiencing this shutdown is beyond what any of us could have imagined. Being separated from our students makes us remember the positives, and it also makes us more caring in our approach to education.”

From a teacher’s perspective, Lloyd furthers that both students and teachers are directly impacted by the immediate closure and online switch due to COVID-19. Teaching from home versus teaching in the classroom certainly takes time and various adjustments. Depending on the format, immediate feedback isn’t always available, guardians play a more significant role in their students’ learning, and patience is vital. It isn’t an easy task to work from home; in fact, it is much more difficult for teachers to figure out how to reach their students and ensure high-standard learning. Sometimes, the internet fails us, devices lack, and students don’t respond. However, if other school staff are anything like RCCA’s, we know that our children are in good hands.

“Adaptability and patience, mixed with an endless array of ideas, is the recipe for our education currently,” Lloyd noted.

Asking teachers to “focus less on the amount of work kids get” and “focus more on the concepts and skills you want them to achieve,” special education teachers, Julie Cline and Cindy Martin added, “You really can teach an old dog new tricks!” After the encouragement from her fellow staff, Cline conducted Zoom and Google Hangout conference calls with her regular and IEP students-both of which were brilliant successes, minus the occasional interruption of some goofy students.

“I am going to have weekly zoom classes to stay connected with the students. I contact them daily through school emails that include and explain assignments. This seems to help them keep somewhat of a daily routine and answer questions. Students are able to submit work via email. This gives them fast feedback and they can stay aware of their progress.”

And even amidst the periodic chuckle, just like in a physical class, “This is why I love kids — they make you laugh. You don’t get that just looking at papers submitted. I hope we get to return to live classrooms, but this was a nice option — free too,” she continued.

Although teaching from home is much different from interaction in a classroom, online devices such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Google Classroom, Skype, Webex, and thousands of other free resources exist to aid educators. And for the most part, students are reacting reasonably well to this pandemic of adjustment.

“Most of our students are responding positively. They have been raised in a digital world so I do not think it is that much of a stretch for them to get on their computers and do work. Most are content for now, but I also think they see the benefit of the classroom and the interaction with their peers,” Lloyd stated.

“I think students are handling this well; however, they are missing the social aspect of school,” Cline interjects. “During my Zoom classes, for instance. All students admitted that they don’t want to be home and want to return to school. Some students feel overwhelmed and frustrated because this is such a drastic change in their typical daily routine.”

Given time to spend with family, relax from home, and get their work done on time can be hard. Many would instead go to school than stay-at-home, and teaching yourself in a sense is not easy. But, educators are doing everything they can to offer help and assistance through these platforms and offer additional services when students are struggling.

“Quality education for all the students is my concern if we are out the rest of the year. A lot of students can work independently and are self motivated, but there are many who need constant redirection, explanation, encouragement, and conversation. I worry about a selection of our students who don’t get it the first time or who do not have the support in the home to keep working and stay organized,” Cline continued.

Even if school is canceled for the remainder of the year like many colleges have already abided by, Lloyd and Cline proclaim that hope is a reliable and powerful force for students learning and teachers teaching alike.

“As a teacher, I also miss the face-to-face teaching of students. It’s difficult to tell when a student is struggling with a new concept when you can’t see his face or body language. I don’t believe we will return this year, so I am planning for that; however, I’ve been extremely proud of my students during this trial. They encourage me to keep doing my best,” Cline faithfully remarked.

“We continue in this environment because we know something better lies ahead. At RCCA, we trust that God is in control, and we know that we have an opportunity to serve those at our school and our community! We all have to do our part to encourage one another. I see what so many wonderful teachers and administrators are doing in our area schools, both public and private, and it gives me hope that we will all get through this! I am so proud of our cities and communities right now! I have witnessed so much more good in our society in the last few weeks than ever before. Schools are passing out meals. Kids are being checked on, and people are helping each other in the most basic, but necessary ways! Do I have hope? Most certainly, I do! This is an opportunity for the world to show how we can come together and love and serve,” Lloyd concluded.

Changes have already been made by the Ohio Department of Education, waiving state testing and not producing a 2019-2020 school report card. Still, individual school changes regarding events such as graduation, prom, and the eventual return to school buildings are pending via the next update given by Governor DeWine. This produces an immediate sense of relief, as educators can solely focus on adjusting their students for the fourth nine-weeks instead of preparation for and the stress of statewide testing.

In a whirlwind of the past few months, students, teachers, and parents can easily feel overwhelmed by the rapidly changing Stay-At-Home-Orders, directly impacting learning, communication, and growth. But if the field of education and educators has taught us anything at all, it is that we educators can promise you to hope during difficult times. It is amid adversity and hardship that you find out who you are and what you’re made. And for educators and students alike, that means pressing on when difficulties arise and becoming better stewards of learning, for this too shall pass.

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