By Leslie Simon
When the pandemic first caused us to shut our doors and cancel theatrical programming, it was our teachers and Education department who transitioned the fastest by adapting their classes and summer camps into virtual formats. With a willingness to try new things, these teachers provided connection and engagement to our students and patrons at a time when things were grim. They did such a great job, that many of our students stayed enrolled through the pandemic, providing us with a good foundation to get back on our feet now that in-person classes have become the norm again.
“My inspiration for teaching over the pandemic came from the desire for connection that I saw everyone reaching out for. They wanted to try new things, experience things with other people in any way they could - be it howling into the neighborhood or puppet classes online or socially-distanced performances,” said Arvada Center Performing Arts teacher Sammie Harroun. “Even when I was tired and exhausted, I saw students showing up to my class ready and excited to spend time together and try new ways of sharing themselves and the arts.”
With drive and determination, Arvada Center teachers quickly looked for new delivery methods to keep their students engaged. They were able to figure out how to teach their classes through Zoom, and even as we have moved back into in-person classes, certain classes worked so well in a virtual format that they are still being offered that way.
“A big challenge when transitioning classes to online is the ability to keep students engaged in the content, as it is very simple for student to ignore their computers,” said Arvada Center Performing Arts teacher Eniia Seymore. “I overcame this challenge by making the classes as interactive as possible, and creating engaging projects for students to work on.”
- Performing Arts teacher Sammie Harroun
As health and safety restrictions began to loosen, our teachers stayed nimble, impressively adapting to constant changes in classroom sizes and mask requirements. “I went from only teaching online, to teaching hybrid, to teaching all in person, and back and forth on the regular,” said Harroun. “I started really thinking through every activity and lesson to make sure it was flexible. This helped me feel more connected to my learning community because I was constantly thinking about what would be equitable and available to them. Now, I can more easily shift my lessons to reflect all my students’ needs and environments.”
- Performing Arts teacher Eniia Seymore
While this has been a challenging time in so many ways, being required to work with what we had allowed our teachers to try new things that they had only discussed in the past. “I use a lot more visuals now. In order to keep students engaged online, I used pre-prepared presentations that showed picture examples or gifs or videos,” said Harroun. “It helped when kids got distracted – they could look back at visual resources to help them understand, and it really helped students who speak different languages. Now that I'm back in the classroom full-time, I find a lot of those same visuals are still super helpful to keep the students engaged.”
Our teachers also found that keeping a positive environment was crucial not only through the pandemic, but even now as we begin to recover. “Something new that I will continue to implement in my classroom is the use of positive affirmations,” said Seymore. “Every class begins with repeating a few positive affirmations as a group. This gives the class the opportunity to begin with a positive mindset, while also building students’ self-esteem and confidence.”
When asked how families at home could best support their children during these confusing times of hybrid learning models, both teachers agree that communication is key. “Allow your children to be human. We are all experiencing a lot of big feelings and fewer choices,” said Harroun. “Give them space to share what they are feeling, connect with them about times you feel that way, and then explain ways they can work around that and still be safe.”
Parents and guardians shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to their children’s teachers either. “Open up that line of communication between you and your children’s teachers,” said Seymore.” “If you have questions about the content, questions on how your student is doing in class, or how you can best support your student at home - reach out! Attend parent-teacher conferences. And don't be afraid to answer the phone when the school calls; it might just be good news.”