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How a group of specials teachers found a creative way to remotely connect with their 863 students

After schools closed in March due to COVID-19, the art, music, media, STEM, and PE teachers at Mills Park Elementary in Wake County searched for a way to start remote teaching their students.

Mills Park Elementary has 863 students. While most of the students are able to connect with their homeroom teachers, it’s more difficult for the specials teachers to instruct their students, which is the whole student body.

“If we were to set up Google Classrooms for every class, I would have to manage something like 42 Google Classrooms,” said Shirley Pyon, Mills Park’s STEM teacher. “We have students who are sharing devices with their brothers and sisters, but also with their parents who are working from home.”

The specials team brainstormed solutions. Instead of virtual classrooms, they opted to create a website featuring weekly short instructional videos.

Mills Park Elementary remote learning website

Each week, the specials teachers upload instructional videos to the site. They instructed the students to spend 30 minutes completing each assignment. While this method of remote teaching does not feature direct interaction between teachers and students, it does allow students to complete tasks on their own schedule.

“Every kid could have minimal supplies at home to do the actual activities,” said Scott Rood, who teaches PE. He instructed his students to create a fitness obstacle course with sidewalk chalk. Emilie Young, the art teacher, had her students create art from items found in nature.

While the teachers are satisfied with the participation from their students, they haven’t been able to reach all of their students. Cammie Ledford, the media specialist, is not sure how many students are actually participating.

“We have had some parents correspond and say, ‘We’re just not really getting it all done,'” said Ledford. “We’ve had to step back and say, ‘You do what’s best for your family.'”

While remote teaching is a challenge, the teachers are embracing the opportunity to learn.

“We’ve had so many challenges thrown at us,” Pyon said. “I feel like we’re going to come out wiser at the end of all of this.”

Community art project

Young encouraged her students to participate in a service project. For one week, students created art thanking the workers at Duke Hospital. She has a good friend who is a nurse there and inspired the project. The student artwork now hangs on the wall at the hospital with a sign that says “stay strong.”

“I think they [the students] had really enjoyed doing something for other people,” Young said. “It feels like we can’t always do something. Art is always a tool that we have.”

Taylor Shain

Taylor Shain is a documentary filmmaker and video producer with EducationNC.