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Silver Linings: Students, Teachers, and Parents in the Virtual Classroom

With plans and schedules thoroughly disrupted, we are all forced into new ways of doing things, and finding unexpected opportunities along the way. This is as true in education as in other areas of our lives.

So how does a school community recreate itself, keep the learning process going, and even take advantage of the circumstances to find new learning experiences? For students, that can mean taking more control over their own education; for teachers, it can mean finding new flexibility; and for parents, it can mean finding the right balance between allowing their child to grieve over what has been lost and encouraging them to keep going. 

OUR STUDENTS ARE LEARNING TO MANAGE THEIR OWN SCHEDULE

Without a bell schedule and faculty moving them from one activity to another, students are finding their schedules flexible. In some cases, they are spending less time on their education, but have to manage that time themselves. For some, this is a very adult experience and they are finding it challenging and exhausting. On the other hand, others are realizing they have extra time to do things they otherwise could not do and perhaps be more reflective. One Senior Project student made the following comment to teacher Cory Boyce:

There's a lot that's uncertain and scary and frustrating.  There are a lot of things that I miss about school, but there are some good things that I didn't expect either. I didn't think I'd have time to read or watch TV, or hang out with my family, or go on walks, or Facetime my niece, and suddenly I do. It's cool to watch people from all over the world come together over this shared challenge, and honestly, I'm grateful to be a part of it.

OUR TEACHERS ARE LEARNING TO DEAL WITH DIGITAL OVERLOAD

We are all spending a lot of time staring at a screen. Although Art class might seem like a difficult environment to replicate online, here is how Visual Art Department chair Keith Gruber describes his department’s adjustment: 

I believe that art assignments provide students with an opportunity to process some of the emotions that they are feeling. 

Two artworks I have assigned thus far are a 360 Degree Interior Panoramic Drawing and a Portrait. Taking the time to study and draw every detail in all four corners of a room provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their surroundings, and their circumstances. And in drawing a portrait, students will spend hours interacting with and intently observing someone with whom they are experiencing this unprecedented situation. 

These assignments are a chance for students to work through their feelings and will serve as a lasting memory of this pivotal moment in their lives. These are scary, uncertain times and through art assignments, students take a moment to look for the beauty around them and in turn, they create something beautiful, which can be shared and thus bring a bit of needed joy to others

Our costuming course is usually completely hands-on, with students creating articles of clothing to be worn in performances. Teacher Lori Odhner gave her students the assignment to recreate a famous work of art with materials on hand. She invited them to “be playful,” and one student sent her the following:

two students recreating a painting
OUR PARENTS ARE SUPPORTING THEIR KIDS IN THEIR NEW EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT 

To have your school kids come home during the summer or vacations is something you can plan for, but to have them unexpectedly grounded for an extended period, so to speak, can be hard on both parents and children. Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of How to Raise an Adult, has advice for how parents can adjust their own thinking and attitudes to the new realities, but also how to identify and accommodate the reactions of young people, whose lives have been changed almost beyond recognition, and have not yet developed the perspective of adulthood. In her article, Navigating COVID-19 with Young Adult Offspring, she addresses “What you might hear, and what you might say” in dealing with your teenagers. 

MAKING THE BEST OF OUR SILVER LININGS

All of us–students, teachers, parents–have different challenges to face. In a recent video message, Chris Barber of the ANC pastoral staff reminds us that it is more important than ever to acknowledge the difficulty we have in seeing the big picture, and the importance of looking for silver linings. In his inspirational message he quotes this passage from the teachings for the New Church, which puts our current worries into perspective: 

Those who think about Providence based on worldly events assume that it must operate only in a general way, and that particular events are left up to us humans. . . .They say to themselves, “This [event] would never happen if divine providence factored into each individual event.” They do not realize that divine providence is not focusing on what will soon pass away and end with life in this world but, rather, is focusing on what will last to eternity and therefore never end. That which never ends is real; that which does end, in comparison, is not real. 

Consider, if you will, whether a hundred thousand years amounts to anything compared to eternity, and you will realize that it does not. So how important are a few years of life in this world? [New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, Emanuel Swedenborg]

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