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Covid-19 Special Subscriber Spotlight

Showing compassion goes a long way for two educators managing the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This special RFE Subscriber Spotlight is based on follow-up interviews with Nichole Keister, Early Childhood Education Director of Bangor Township Schools in Bay City, Michigan, and Teri Nieveen, Reading Interventionist for Freeman Public Schools in Adams, Nebraska. Both were the subject of their own previous Subscriber Spotlight features.

Parent involvement teaching materials have become even more important as educators work under pressure to provide parents what they need to assure children continue learning outside the traditional classroom environment.

COVID-19 turned the U.S. education world on its ear in March when nearly every community had to close school buildings and set up students to continue learning at home—all in a matter of a few days. Teachers and administrators met the challenge with leadership and innovation and continued the student learning experience while forging intensified partnerships with parents.

Subscribers to RFE publications throughout the U.S. and Canada have reported many of the same concerns while creating and executing workable plans to meet the needs of their communities. Nichole Keister, Early Childhood Education Director of Bangor Township Schools in Bay City, Michigan, and subscriber to Early Years, described the primary challenges for her city.

“The biggest challenges to providing supplemental education at home are not only the availability families have to internet access and technology devices, but also the dynamics families are facing and living in right now,” explained Nichole. “We have parents who are essential workers and are working long, difficult hours. We also have parents who are essential workers and are actually living displaced from their families right now. We have tried to be very sensitive to these family dynamics while developing a continuity of education plan.”

Teri Nieveen, Reading Interventionist for Freeman Public Schools in Adams, Nebraska, subscribes to Reading Connection, both the Beginning and Intermediate Editions, and shares many of the same concerns. She also added that, like many of the families her schools serve, she knows what it is like to work and take care of her own grandchildren at the same time!

“Teachers have found a rhythm to what they are doing and have dealt with becoming proficient with Zoom,” said Teri. “We are a rural community so not everyone has access to internet, and cell service can be sketchy. We’ve also found that not all families push their children to get things done. Some are not home when their children are, and others are trying to work from home and help their kids. I know it’s the same for families all over our country. In fact, many of our teachers have their own children they are trying to school.”

Finding the most effective platform to reach often overwhelmed parents has been a recurring theme in both communities. Nichole has continued to use Class Dojo, an educational technology communication app that allows teachers to share photos, videos, and communications with parents. Teri’s school system, on the other hand, is primarily using Zoom for lessons, especially on the elementary school level.

“I really feel for our parents as we’ve made most of them teachers without training! To supplement the work of the teachers, I daily tweet a School Success Tip of the Day from RFE to all our parents,” explained Teri. “And we have emailed the monthly editions of Reading Connection and the [RFE] Special Editions to provide additional support.”

Both school districts learned early on that their schools would be closed through the end of this school year. This made it clear to both Teri and Nichole that continuing regular classroom learning as well as social-emotional learning was going to be a challenge for all.

“While some parents are worried about their employment status which impacts paying rent and putting food on the table, others have the stress of finding quality daycare during this time,” said Nichole. “We have really been trying to provide these families with activities that are simple enough to easily do at home using the materials they already have.”

Since Nichole subscribes to Early Years, she has that resource to help provide just those kinds of activities.

And although assisting with reading is Teri’s primary focus, she can’t help but be involved in all aspects of what parents and children are facing now.

“The kids seem to just need someone else to talk to, so being available for them is helpful,” Teri said. “It also helps parents if teachers are available to help explain lessons parents themselves don’t understand. I talked to a friend who is a grandma, and she is doing remote learning with her grandchildren. She feels the struggle to make sure they have enough devices for her grandchildren to accomplish their lessons and make all their meetings.”

Despite living in different states separated by nearly 900 miles, both Nichole and Teri expressed very similar sentiments when asked about their biggest learnings so far. Both responses reflect ideals parents around the world can only hope their children’s teachers keep in mind.

“The biggest learning I’ve had so far is to be compassionate,” Nichole said firmly and quickly. “A gift of compassion goes a long way.”

To Teri, it’s important for teachers to realize they are probably not the only teacher a parent is dealing with. Parents are juggling being employees and their children’s teachers—with several schedules to keep on top of.

“Everyone is needing some grace,” said Teri. “We need to be tuned in to the fact that there are many family dynamics, and most are not perfect. Keep things simple. Be patient. Over-explain your directions. And exude warmth and cheer as much as possible.”

Stay tuned for a follow-up in the fall, as we follow how the learning environment progresses for both Nichole and Teri when school resumes.

To read Nichole’s first interview, click here.
Teri’s first interview can be found here.

We’d love to find out more about what you are doing at your school and how our publications help you fulfill your mission. Contact our Fulfillment Manager, Carol Ann Fox, to arrange for a time to chat. Email, or call her directly at 540-340-7384. She’ll make sure we see you and your school in a future Subscriber Spotlight!

Nichole Keister

Nichole Keister

Early Childhood Education Director of Bangor Township Schools
Bay City, Michigan

Teri Nieveen

Teri Nieveen

Reading Interventionist
Freeman Public Schools, Adams, Nebraska