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Teachers host virtual lunch, extracurricular clubs with students to help fill social void

Beck Stephens
Fayetteville-Manlius teacher Beck Stephens during a virtual lunch hour. She’s holding up her dog, Lokie, to her students.";

Teachers are coming up with creative ways to keep in touch with students in this era of distant online learning. One central New York teacher is using technology to go beyond the classroom basics.

Fayetteville-Manlius 7th grade history teacher Beck Stephens wants to keep a kind of schedule for her students. So, even though schools are closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, she’s still holding her extracurricular book club. But she’s doing it online, with kids logging on and ironically, discussing the book, “Fever 1793,” about a colonial-era smallpox epidemic.

"We spent a lot of time talking about what is better in our society, like how we’re better equipped to handle a pandemic as opposed to in 1793, especially since in 1793 they were bleeding people to get the virus out,” Stephens said. “They’re happy we are not doing that.”

Stephens said so far, most students are on board and comfortable with the concept of online learning, so the academics are coming along. But many kids are simply bored with schools shut down, often home alone because both parents work. To fill what can be that social void, she’s also having a virtual video lunch hour with students every day, where they can still see each other and talk about everything from their pets to suggestions about how to fill the empty hours.

"I think it was good for them,” Stephens said. “They got all excited when their friends hopped on. Like, oh so and so is here and so and so is on! So, I think it helped them feel a little connected.”   

She said teachers across the country are supporting and helping each other come up with ways to help students and families through this unprecedented time.

"There’s some beauty to a slower pace for a little while, that can be really positive for our community,” Stephens said. “But it’s a big transition. It’s a big adjustment for everyone, and if we can look for the positive instead of what we can’t do, and looking at what we can, it will be a lot better.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.