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UNC Education Students, Alumni Step Up in New Environment

Empty classroom

April 10, 2020

In addition to changes made at UNC to better support Bears going through the switch to online classes, UNC students and alumni in the teaching field are taking diverse approaches to supporting families in the switch to online learning for their children in preschool through high school.

Rachel McGuire, an English Education graduate student with an emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Education, teaches sixth and seventh grade in Greeley’s District 6.

“District 6 is encouraging the theme of ‘hope’ to our local community,” McGuire says. “While other schools in the state have shut down altogether, we’re hoping that our remote learning approach only lasts until the government-issued order of April 30th. Of course, we’re planning ahead for the worst-case scenario, but hope to welcome students back for the last month of school in-person and provide them with a sense of ‘normal’ before the academic year officially ends.”

In the meantime, McGuire says, District 6 has worked to meet student technology, curricular and nutritional needs.

“Students have a structured schedule reflecting their regular routine while at school, attend conferences with their classmates and teachers in each course, and complete work,” McGuire says. “During this time, educators have been grading gently and considerately, mainly checking in to ensure students are safe and healthy.”

In addition to prioritizing student well-being, McGuire and her team are continuing to build productive relationships with students and families — something that her UNC coursework helped equip her for.

“I’ve found Dr. Stacey Bailey’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies to be especially helpful throughout this process,” McGuire says. “It’s a challenging task motivating students from afar; I’ve found that checking in with their emotional and mental states has been a wonderful way to reach their overall living and learning experience during this pandemic.”

Reaching out via social media

When schools first started switching to remote learning, many teachers — including UNC students and alumni — began offering their expertise to families via social media. UNC junior Selene Ortiz posted on Facebook to offer support to any parents in her hometown of Rocky Ford, where she and her family are weathering the pandemic.

She originally planned to return to her hometown to teach, like the homegrown local Mexican American educators who had positively influenced her early life. But she was also inspired by her grandmother’s costume-making skills, and now plans to attend fashion school when she finishes her degree at UNC. Despite her change of plans for the future, Ortiz still wants to give back to her community right now.

“I don’t have money to donate, I don’t have goods I can donate, but I have a lot of knowledge. I have three years of training,” she says. “I’ll always be an educator at heart.” 

She emphasizes the ways that both students and educators can rely on other people during uncertainty and stress.

“It’s OK to lean on people academically,” she says. “It’s OK to lean on people emotionally during this time.”

Using technology to increase normalcy

Madeline BushellMadeline Bushell ’19 teaches kindergarten in Jefferson County and has used technology to allow students to see her face like they would on a typical school day, as well as adding excitement for school through initiatives such as having special guests appear during her daily read aloud videos.

“One big way I have been comforting my students is by keeping in touch with them through our digital platform,” she says. “When students turn in assignments or record videos for me, I respond back with voice comments to make it feel more like I am right there with them like I would be in the classroom.”

Madeline Bushell“The biggest way my UNC education helped me was knowing how to build my classroom foundations from the first day of school,” Bushell says. “No one could have guessed that we would be in this situation that we are today, but if I hadn't built a classroom community with my students and their parents from the beginning, distance learning would be much more difficult. I’m also fortunate to have learned from so many professors who taught us to think on our toes and be ready for curve balls, which is exactly what I’m doing right now!”

--Written by Rebecca Dell


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