Giving Students a Sense of Community During COVID-19
Something has been terribly missing from our lives over the past seven months: a sense of community. Students especially have been hit hard. They miss their classrooms, they miss their friends, and yes, they even miss their teachers. They miss their “school communities.” The lost sense of community for children is also a valid concern for most parents. For some, a paramount concern. They feel their kids are missing out on a vital aspect of life, and rightly so.
Coincidentally, I taught a Cyber Civics lesson to 6th graders this week titled “The Five Principles of Citizenship.” Before we get students to think about the online communities they’ll belong to (or already belong to), we have them reflect on what it’s like to be a citizen in the offline world. They’re taught five principles that guide good and positive civic participation. These are: Honesty, Compassion, Respect, Responsibility and Courage. They then apply these principles to a community of their choice (a sports team, city, state, church group, classroom, etc.) I even allowed one group, per their request, to use a fictional community, the Jedis from the Star Wars movies!
I used Zoom to conduct this lesson. After introducing the topics and assigning the activity, I broke students into breakout rooms so they could work in groups. I then bounced around from group to group to help and offer suggestions (by the way, this is exactly how I would deliver this lesson with in-classroom learning). I was not expecting to see what was before my eyes in Breakout Room #4. This group had the biggest smiles on their faces and were having so much fun. At first, I assumed they were looking at something off-topic. But no, they were effectively doing the activity. When I asked what community they chose, they said their class. When I asked to view their artwork (which was the second part of the lesson after they applied the five principles to their communities), I couldn’t believe it. They had all drawn their classmates on Zoom. This is their community today.
Their smiles, their willingness to adapt, and the quality of their work brought such joy to my heart. Afterwards I thought, yes, it sucks not being on campus and, yes, this is really hard on students. But the silver lining is, through technology like Zoom, they can still feel part of their classroom communities and they’re making the most of it.
Let’s take the negative effects of too much screen time and too much tech off the table for a moment. We are in a pandemic, after all. Without technology like Zoom, students wouldn’t be able to see each of their classmates’ smiles. A sense of classroom community would be totally missing from their lives. And to me, that’s highly important during this difficult time.
Author Peter Kelley has always had a passion for teaching and working with kids. In 2011 he made the switch from the business sector and earned his Single Subject Teaching Credential in English. He was a teacher and head coach for both the Boys and Girls Tennis Programs at Aliso Viejo High School in Aliso Viejo, CA for the next 6 years. Peter now works full time for Cyber Civics. In his role as Outreach Director he is in constant contact with schools, marketing the program, and helping schools onboard and implement. He also teaches Cyber Civics at Journey School, and makes presentations to schools and organizations. He resides in San Clemente, CA with his wife and two young children and feels this is “the perfect fit” for his passions and skill sets. Peter earned a degree in Communication from the University of Portland in 2001.