Specials Find Special Place in Remote Learning

Specials Find Special Place in Remote Learning
Posted on 04/22/2020
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Specials photo collageAt a time when art, music, technology, exercise and creativity are a daily outlet to help offset the emotional toll of quarantine, Lakota’s “specials” teams are rallying to fuel their families’ idea banks. Called choice boards, flexible playlists or menu boards, their guiding purpose is all the same.

“During the time of this global pandemic, think about many of the viral videos you see on the news and social media,” said Delaney Roberts, the music teacher at both Cherokee and VanGorden elementary schools. “From people quarantined in Italy making music on their balconies, to the Hamilton musical cast Zoom call, to beautiful sidewalk chalk covering communities, the Arts are what people are turning to for comfort during this time.” 

Just as they do in a traditional learning environment, Lakota’s daily K-6 specials - art, music, gym, health, technology and STEAM - play a critical role in developing the whole child. Besides supporting social, emotional and mental health, they provide a creative outlet through which students can oftentimes apply their academic content. 

“These are all areas where we see students able to express themselves and have outlets that they really need during this time,” said Tara McDonnell, who teaches Wonderlab at Shawnee and Wyandot early childhood schools. “Many who may struggle in some academic areas, thrive in music, art, PE, tech or STEAM activities and projects.”

As a way to carry through Lakota’s commitment to personalized learning, Lakota’s specials teams have made it a priority to offer students an abundance of choice in their remote learning options. Each weekly list distributed via Canvas, Seesaw or even principal emails represent every special, and oftentimes with a multitude of options for eachl.

“Children all learn in many different ways,” acknowledges Sherry Federle, the art teacher at both Hopewell and Liberty early childhood schools. “Some children learn through movements and hands-on activities, while others need visual, spatial or musical activities to acquire information and fully understand a concept.”

Like other executions of remote learning, simplicity and flexibility are critically important to the specials team. “We make it a priority to keep the lessons open-ended and provide choice so that students can be successful with the activities given the materials they have at home,” said Erica Dunn, who teaches technology at Independence and Endeavor elementary schools. 

Evidence of the variety of activities can be found through rampant social media posts and other school-based sharing sites like Seesaw. From a month-long fitness challenge calendar, homemade board games and a multi-week music history lesson about the Beatles to a digital quarantine video journal, scavenger hunts and homemade obstacle courses, the options for a creative or physical outlet are plentiful. 

With every special teacher sharing two ECS or elementary buildings, similarities beyond shared buildings are a sign of district-wide collaboration. For example, all elementary students were challenged to a hybrid Wonderlab and music exercise that involved creating their own homemade instrument and then writing and performing their own song. Further evidence of their collaboration can be found in the widespread gym-inspired #LakotaTrickShot challenge. Students and staff, alike, have contributed to the online conversation, showing off their best trick shot and challenging others to do the same. 

Lakota’s team of physical therapists are taking a similarly collaborative approach, developing a weekly menu of options for their students who require Adapted Physical Education. A different fitness activity, stretching exercise, positioning activity and around-the-house challenge do their best to supplement the direction students would have received at school. 

By mostly distributing their activities on Wednesdays (after teachers have shared their weekly academic lessons), the specials teams are making a special effort to not overwhelm families, but also send a signal of support to their general education peers. The Heritage and Creekside ECS team has even served as mystery readers to their peers’ classes and made an effort to comment on non-specials posts in Seesaw, as a way to signal their support and stay connected to their students.

“Especially during this remote learning, we understand the classroom teachers especially have a huge responsibility for engaging and connecting with the children,” said Ben Kellerman, the technology teacher for Heritage and Creekside early childhood schools. “We wanted to support this effort. We sent a strong message to the children and parents that we (the unified arts team) are interested in how you are doing.”

As such, specials have certainly contributed to a newfound sense of community, even for the family unit. The specials team has been pleasantly surprised by the number of siblings and parents participating in their activities side-by-side with their students. 

“Our parents have been very thankful for our creative and thoughtful activities and have shared that many of the activities have not only included our K-2 learners but have offered the entire family a ‘good time together’!” Federle said.