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Blue Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School doesn't let pandemic stop students from learning
By Shea Singley firstname.lastname@example.org @SheaSingley on Twitter
Jun 18, 2020
Joshua Fuhrmann, a Blue Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School student, works on an extra credit assignment during his virtual school day in March.
COURTESY OF GINA FUHRMANN
The Blue Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School in Hamburg is no stranger to overcoming challenges.
In July 2015, a tornado destroyed the building, which has since been rebuilt. Students and staff enjoyed one full school year in the building before facing the latest challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We didn't even finish the second year (in the building) because of COVID-19," said Karl Halye, school board chair.
Students left school March 13 with backpacks full of everything they would need to finish their work for the rest of the school year. They were able to continue learning when schools were physically closed and completed 180 days of instruction without any lost days of learning.
Principal and teacher Kaisy Marschner knew there was a possibility students may not be returning to school the following Monday.
"I started to do what I do with my kids before Christmas break," she said. "I'm really open with my students and we had genuine conversations about what was going on. But then also, 'Hey, I need for you to be able to still learn in case all of a sudden we can't come back to school.'"
Later that day Gov. Tom Wolf announced all schools in the state would be closed for two weeks starting March 16. The closure was later extended by a week, then indefinitely and finally closed for the rest of the school year.
Marschner and Halye had many conversations about the two-week closure over the weekend that was followed by a school board meeting March 16. On March 17, the students were home, set up in their virtual classrooms and completing assignments.
Transitioning to virtual
Rather than use the first week as a break in anticipation of schools reopening after the two-week period, Marschner thought it best for learning to continue.
“I didn’t want to wait for that transition to happen,” she said. “I wanted it to happen when the kids were already transitioning because if I waited and kids transitioned to being home and then they transitioned to online learning, they would have transitioned twice.
"I didn’t want to do that to the kids. I wanted them to be as consistent as they possibly could.”
In addition to conversations with school board members, Marschner also reached out to parents to discuss what would work best for students and what they would need to be successful in this new learning environment.
Marschner also had to adjust her own teaching to the new virtual format and the way she assessed students. Communication between teachers and students, and teachers and parents was an important factor.
“Our parents were phenomenal,” Marschner said. “Our kids are great. I love our kids, but our parents, they were really the key to success here. Communication was so important.”
Parents also had to transition to playing a larger role in their child's education.
“The first two weeks were a challenge,” Halye said. “It wasn’t long until everyone was on board and they knew what they had to do. She (Maschner) laid it out, and the parents supported everything.”
A new normal
Gina Fuhrmann of Mohrsville said overall it was a great experience for her family and her son Joshua, 9, was still receiving the same level of education. Joshua, who just finished third grade, enjoyed the new way of learning but did miss seeing his friends.
“I liked spending more time with my family and (teacher Matthew) White was always there to help me,” Joshua said. “I liked some of the extra credit work like watching art videos.”
A typical week would begin with a notification every Sunday from the teacher with Joshua’s assignments for the week broken down by subject.
Joshua’s school day would start with a daily video from White that included a good morning and a thought or devotional for the day. This video became something Joshua and Gina looked forward to.
On Monday and Thursday, Joshua would have a Zoom meeting with White and his classmates. The meetings would end with a Kahoot quiz on everything the students were learning about in all subjects.
After the meeting, he would start working on his assignments for the week. Gina would check over his work and help him with some of his projects.
White provided extra activities in case students completed their assignments early. Questions on assignments could be asked during the twice-a-week meetings or a meeting could be scheduled with a simple text from Gina to White.
“One challenge was when I needed help,” Joshua said. “I preferred how Mr. White explained things than my mom. He answered questions quicker than I expected, but usually it would be quicker if we were in the classroom.”
When assignments were completed, Gina would take pictures of the completed work or videos of the projects and upload them for White to review and grade. Then they would receive a document with Joshua’s grades for that week.
“I always felt supported and that they were only a phone call away,” Gina said. “I feel even though we were doing virtual learning, they really made an effort to make us still feel connected as a school.”
Gina said White and Marschner helped make the process more of a fun adventure for students instead of a stressful situation while still making sure they were receiving the same level of education as they would have in the classroom.
She is proud of how the school handled the situation.
“It’s been an adventure,” Marschner said. “I don’t know if it’s something I want to repeat, but my kids all finished their curriculum, all of it. It’s wasn’t review. It wasn’t extensions. My kids finished everything they needed to genuinely move on to the next grade level.”
It is still unknown what the start of the 2020-21 school year will be like. There is hope students and teachers will return to school as they had been before the pandemic, but if that is not the case, Halye feels the school is prepared.
“I feel very confident if we have to go back to distance learning,” Halye said. “I think the experience that we gained, we’re not going to lose anything. We’ll continue on with the program like we did.”
More information on Blue Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School is available at mybme.org.
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