Like young people across the country, Providence Academy Lower School students and educators are facing unique challenges amidst the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. School was scheduled to resume as usual after Spring Break, but “school” has taken a different form since March 30.  Students now find themselves engaging their lessons, but also engaging with each other and with their teachers from an unlikely classroom. 

Teachers and faculty have worked exceptionally hard to replicate the in-classroom atmosphere at-home. At the root of this newfound educational experience is the functionality of technology which provides the reassurance of a virtual community. With tools like live video meets, Google Classroom, and teacher-recorded videos, teachers and students are able to connect with one another in an unprecedented yet effective form. 

Fourth-grader Cormac McCarthy participates in distance learning from home. (PAW photo courtesy of Mrs. Kesney McCarthy)

Students start their day at 8:30 a.m. when they meet live via Google Meet with their teacher and classmates. Mrs. Sarah Millerbernd, a first-grade teacher, commented on this interaction, “My favorite part of the day is definitely seeing the children right away at the 8:30 live meeting. We pray together, talk about the day, read a morning message, and share. It is great to see them, hear their voices, and be together!”

The structure of lower school classes varies day-to-day, from grade level to grade level, and across disciplines. First-graders, for example, work on Superkids–a reading and writing program–as well as math and religion in the morning. At 12:30 p.m. students join Mrs. Steinbruek in a live meet to pray a decade of the rosary and hear a saint story. The rest of their afternoon consists of science or religion as well as specialist activities, such as Library, Art, Music, Spanish, and PE. 

Mrs. McElroy conducts her fifth-grade class via live meet as well. In addition to these sessions, fifth-graders are becoming familiar with tools such as Google Slides, Google Docs, and Google Forms. They use these platforms to complete classwork and assessments, giving teachers valuable feedback to gauge understanding and retention. 

McElroy remarked on how students engage during live meets, “I love to have students share as much as possible. There are opportunities for discussions each day, and my students have taken over leading our classroom morning prayer”. Fifth-graders’ schedules vary from day to day as well, depending on the time of live meets. McElroy also reflected, “What a journey we are on together! I am so thankful for Providence Academy and my wonderful students and parents!” 

McElroy’s workspace, where she teaches her fifth-grade students via distance learning. (PAW photo courtesy of Mrs. Kristine McElroy)

Madame Woodbury, the French teacher for third through fifth grades, has also been using various tools to teach and engage with her students. Woodbury explained, “I pre-record two videos a week for each of my lower school classes, usually between 10 and 20 minutes long”. She continued, “We always begin in prayer, then I review previous material with students”. Students will also begin using FlipGrid, where they can video record French projects.

Although students and teachers are not able to meet in-person in the classroom, their ability to connect through the computer screen provides an engaging and unforgettable learning experience. Through the benefits of technology, the PA community persists in this difficult situation.  Teachers and students alike look forward, even now, to the rolling out of the red carpet this fall, marking a return to campus, to normalcy, and to the dynamic learning that takes place alongside one another.

Woodbury reflected on being away from her students, “I miss seeing their faces, laughing with them, and being able to interact with a whole classroom. I miss learning about each of them. We teachers learn from students, too!”