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South Jordan Journal

Fun, flexibility key to teaching, learning during the pandemic year at Welby Elementary

May 26, 2021 01:22PM ● By Julie Slama

Welby Elementary third-grade teacher Carolyn Smith incorporates fun into her students’ day, such as a socially distanced Lunch Bunch picnic. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Year-end assessments provide teachers data on how well their students learned and how to prepare for next year. But during a year like this past one during the COVID-19 pandemic, Welby Elementary teacher Carolyn Smith knows students need a bit of “normalcy” in their days.

“I think we have found ways to have fun in different ways,” she said. “We can still go outside, and we can still play games. Instead of interactive touching games, the kids have loved playing Kahoot multiplication games. They are having so much fun, they don’t realize they’re learning. Today, instead of working in groups, my kids all made their own game boards. So, we just learn to do things in different ways, and they still have a blast.”

One thing Smith has done through the pandemic is continue with Lunch Bunch, an opportunity for students to relax and join the teacher for lunch.

“We just try to spread ourselves out beyond the blanket instead of sitting close together,” she said. “We moved it outside, so we were more comfortable, but the whole thing is having time together outside of class and eating with the teacher. It’s just a big deal to them and they love it. It’s [the] little things that mean a lot to them.”

Smith said there have been concerted efforts throughout the faculty and PTA to ensure students are having as much of a normal year as possible.

“The PTA is on fire. They have just done amazing things in spite of COVID. They’ve held virtual Bingo, they decorated the faculty room, they gave each kid a token for our book vending machine, they gave the kids water bottles and got water bottle filling machines in our school,” she said, adding that during the winter holidays they provided the school community videos of faculty reading holiday books. “They really found ways to connect around COVID.”

At the end of the year, instead of hosting the scheduled field day, Welby students were to run the Wildcat Mile with their principal, Aaron Ichimuru. 

“We won’t run it all together, but it will be more of a mini-Olympics day so we’ll just adjust, and they still will have fun,” Smith said.

The third-grade teachers created fun with the end-of-the-year ABC activities where students were able to celebrate their ABCs celebrating each letter with a different activity, such as A being bring a stuffed animal to school or B for blowing bubbles, and C sporting crazy hair. 

Earlier, they were able to do Dr. Seuss activities, but instead of switching classrooms, they just traded activities to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19, she said.

Smith also had students reading books about mice, such as “Tales of Despereaux,” and then, they’d do quiet activities.

“We have a quiet-as-a-mouse day and do mouse activities and watch a little mouse video and do things that are silent that they could do individually at their desks. We’ve had an apple day and a popcorn day and tie activities into our reading or math. They’re still learning academically, but they’re having fun and during this year, that is something they especially needed,” she said. “We have worked so hard, and they have made so many strides, they have missed the fun of learning, so we want to make sure they’re having those experiences. The kids here are excited to be here. They’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and they’ve had to be flexible. We appreciate the opportunity to be together and to learn and to be able to have activities, be they ever so adjusted to COVID restrictions.”

Smith, too, who earlier in the year admitted she likes to be organized and plan, has learned to adapt. While she still has two weeks of lesson plans ready in case she may need to quarantine, and has all her students able to log on to online learning should they ever need to make that jump, she has learned that during COVID-19 some things take longer, and she needs to adjust.

“Things have loosened up. We still wear masks, which I have loved helping result in the lack of a cold and flu season, but now we’re three feet apart instead of six feet,” she said. “There are some good things that have resulted. I wouldn’t mind if zoom parent-teacher conferences stayed. The majority of parents loved them. I talked to them at their convenience. I talked to them at the gym, in a parked car, in their office, in their kitchen, at a soccer game. I talked to them wherever they were, when they were available, and they didn’t have to come into school and coordinate times.”

She also likes the flexibility of Fridays where she is able to give instruction to those who need intervention or those who have extended learning opportunities. She also likes Zoom assemblies so “everyone gets a front-row seat and can hear” although at times, “it would be fun to be together for the hoopla.”

Even on this spring day as they were gearing up to leave their portable for lunch in the cafeteria, they smelled tar.

Smith exited the portable classroom ahead of the classroom to discover a crew was patching the blacktop. She made a game of it with her students, challenging them to take giant steps to cross over the fresh tar.

“It’s just another day; you have to go with the flow,” she said. “Teaching is totally flexible. You always have to have a plan B and you usually get to C, D,and E. That’s something I’ve learned time and time again during COVID, but you make the best of it and instead of having it be a hassle, you make it a game and it becomes a fun memory. This year, I feel we have been walking a tight rope, but we’ve made it through. We’ve conquered the mountain, we’re still alive, we’ve done it and it’s been hard sometimes, but it’s an accomplishment.”