Teachers finding creative ways to connect with students

Online learning was not mandated by Calcasieu Parish School Board leadership during COVID-19 school closures, but teachers are finding creative ways to stay in touch with students despite the distance.

Shelby O’Blanc, a pre-kindergarten teacher at T.H. Watkins Elementary School, said breaking the news of the closure was difficult for both her and the students.

“It was kind of hard for them to understand,” she said. “It was not exciting for them like a lot of people think.”

Questions and uncertainty loomed in the classroom of 4-year-olds who learned of the break right after nap time.

“I was only able to get a few papers together for them,” she said. “Some of them asked, ‘Oh, will I give this to you tomorrow?’ or ‘When will I see my friends again?’ ”

O’Blanc said she knew the adjustment could be difficult for the children, especially because everyone doesn’t have a stable and consistent home life.

“I wanted some kind of communication, especially for my babies to see me and hear my voice. They’re used to me seven hours a day. That’s going to be a void.”

Taking cues from her family’s trip to Disney World where a bedtime story is aired nightly, she decided to record a bedtime story to post for her students.

“I thought, ‘That’s comforting for any child, anywhere, a bedtime story.’ And parents don’t always have enough time or resources to provide that.”

O’Blanc wears her pajamas and reads to an audience of her own 4-year-old, asking questions throughout the text for engagement. “People seem to really, really like it,” she said.

One parent told her, “I feel like I know you now because I see you every night. It’s really great, too, because I’m running out of things to do by the end of the day.”

“Yeah, we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere,” O’Blanc replied.

O’Blanc and a group of teachers from Watkins took their commitment to remain engaged with students a step further by visiting the children at home and delivering care packages of play dough, scissors, crayons and toys — each item selected to help continue the development fine motor skills.

Students were “delighted” to see their teacher at their home, she said.

“They were excited to show me their real clothes because they always have their uniforms on.”

Like the contents of the care packages, O’Blanc said parents can easily help young learners continue their development at home with “counting, reading, singing, creating and using their hands and body to exercise.”

She also advised not to “stress out about it too much but try not to have them all day on the screen.”

“Ages zero to 5 is their biggest brain development. If you miss that opportunity, then it’s gone and you can’t get it back.”‘Ages zero to 5 is their biggest brain development. If you miss that opportunity, then it’s gone and you can’t get it back.’

Shelby O’Blanc

T.H. Watkins pre-kindergarten teacherKindergarten