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The boys had been out of school two days and there were a few moments of cabin fever. When Heather Sellett learned one of son Jackson’s teachers wanted to try a “virtual classroom” Wednesday, Sellett was all for it.
Jackson Sellett is a seventh-grader at Dimmick School and his social studies teacher, Jaime Bazydlo, had posed a question Monday before Dimmick dismissed for coronavirus: Did they want to try an e-learning session using the teleconferencing program Zoom? The kids were willing and agreed to a 9 a.m. Wednesday social studies class from home.
“Jackson went into his bedroom for it so my other son and the dog and the cat weren’t distracting him,” said Heather Sellett, who lingered close enough to door to sense how the pilot class was going. “It didn’t sound chaotic to me. From what I could hear it sounded like it went really well.”
It did indeed. Bazydlo got nearly 100% participation (just one child had connectivity issues) and Bazydlo found them attentive and engaged. Bazydlo was so pleased that she’s working on virtual classrooms for Dimmick’s sixth- and eight-grade students and got the OK from her superintendent to spread the word: This can work.
Bazydlo has been teaching for 15 years (seven with Dimmick) and had never used e-learning to reach her students offsite. When Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued the order shuttering all public and parochial schools beginning Tuesday, she began weighing options to keep the kids from losing ground.
“I thought, well, I’m starting a new unit so I might as well try it with the kids,” Bazydlo said. “I thought, ‘Heck, I’ll try it on Zoom.’
“The kids were involved. I told them when I asked a question just raise your hand and I’ll call on you just as if we were in the classroom. When I brought it up to them Monday they were very excited.”
There was only one transient protest. One child protested he wouldn’t be fully awake for 9 a.m. Wednesday, her proposed start time. Bazydlo answered him patiently: Better to adhere to a school-like schedule even when you’re home.
One reason the e-class was so successful was the timeliness of the topic. Bazydlo was teaching the kids about the judicial branch and due process – two topics with real-life application to coronavirus and its sweeping impact on schools and the workplace.
“There were some excellent examples for our discussion,” Bazydlo said. “You can kind of see this in action.”
Feedback still is trickling in, but most kids and their parents have responded enthusiastically, not least because of the extensive downtime at home. “No school” are magic words for kids – until it sinks in they’re stuck there with no schedule to fill the hours.
“Working with kids, I know they enjoy and thrive with structure,” Bazydlo said. “So I did this for the academic aspect but also for social and moral support. Kids are very social and, with all the devices we have, it can put them in a funk if they’re not socializing with one another.”
Heather Sellett, for one, hopes it’s an idea that catches on.
“I was very impressed that she took the initiative to do it,” she said. “I just like that it was getting my son engaged and pulling him back into the school setting a bit.”
Tom Collins can be reached via (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.