May 1, 2020
By Gillian Kenah
Despite the pandemic closing schools and disrupting ordinary classrooms, Binghamton University students Alyssa Mastrantonio and Rhianna Triolo, both juniors majoring in psychology, continue to be active Center for Civic Engagement Youth Initiative interns at St. James Elementary School in Johnson City through virtual learning.
According to Beth Kreeger, a mathematics and science teacher for grades four to six at St. James, the interns have worked with the same students since spring 2019 when they were in fourth grade. Mastrantonio and Triolo joined the team of teachers in the classroom, in the hallways and at recess to provide extra chaperoning. Additionally, the interns provided one-on-one instruction and strategies to help students refocus on their studies.
Since the school’s closure, Kreeger said the interns join biweekly Zoom office hours to increase morale and keep contact with these elementary students, playing games such as “Two Truths and a Lie” and “Would You Rather.” Currently, the team is working on a FlipGrid project so interns can asynchronously connect with the students for Q&A sessions. FlipGrid is an online platform that allows users to post brief videos in response to a topic question, also providing the option to respond to peers’ videos.
“We love our interns!” Kreeger said. “The students always looked forward to seeing them. They have been an asset in our classrooms. They built strong connections with the students and teachers. We would love for them to return in the fall. They will be missed.”
Mastrantonio said the interns also answer students’ questions regarding their Google Classroom assignments. Above all, the interns prioritize keeping in touch with their students.
“My role has changed significantly since the move to online classes,” Mastrantonio said. “I am not able to offer in-class assistance anymore to the students, but I try to stay involved as much as I can. I sent a video to the students giving them an update on how college life has changed, because they were always so interested.”
For Triolo, maintaining communication with the students preserves the connection established almost a year ago.
“It is important to keep in touch with the students I have been working with because it provides them and me with some continuity during this uncertain time,” Triolo said. “They expected me to always come to their school and engage in lessons with them on specific days, so it is nice for me to still be able to help them out during this time. Connecting with them virtually face to face eases some stress we are all experiencing because we are excited to see each other!”
Dovetailing Triolo’s sentiment, Mastrantonio believes providing friendship and support is crucial as social isolation and abnormal school life evoke feelings of loneliness for students.
“I think it is extremely important to keep in contact with the students that I work with,” Mastrantonio said. “We have created a rapport with each other, and we care about each other. I always want the students to succeed and to feel like they are cared for, so being involved as much as I can in this unprecedented time is paramount.”
Photo-banner: Triolo and Mastrantonio join fifth and sixth grade class zoom meetings. Photo-right: Triolo (left) and Kreeger (right) prepare for the school's science fair prior to schools being closed by the coronavirus.