Binghamton University students continue to teach, mentor during COVID-19 crisis

Students from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL) are finding ways to help

The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced schools around the world to close, moving learning from the classroom to the living room.

As school districts throughout the Greater Binghamton region adjust to the new normal, students from Binghamton University’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL) have stepped up in a variety of ways to ensure that learning and support continue.

Whether it’s through fieldwork, internships or volunteerism, TLEL students (part of Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs) are helping schools and organizations find their way through the unprecedented changes that have happened as a result of the pandemic.

With almost all activities moving to the virtual space, Associate Professor Jenny Gordon said TLEL students have quickly come up with creative learning exercises.

“We have asked our candidates to continue their fieldwork by making two videos a week of high-engagement lessons for their mentor teachers to share with their young students. These lessons range from read-alouds to math challenges to science experiments,” said Gordon, who serves as the coordinator of TLEL’s Childhood and Early Childhood program. “The idea is to keep the children active, engaged with learning and connected to each other.”

Sammi Decicco, a student in TLEL’s Childhood and Early Childhood Master of Education (MsEd) program, said she has been keeping the students in her Binghamton fieldwork classrooms engaged with a number of virtual activities, ranging from weekly discussion questions to one-on-one meetings with each of the students.

With the hopes of setting up regular videoconferencing calls for the entire kindergarten class she works with, Decicco has been in contact with parents to assist them in getting the technology set up.

“[Teachers] should have low expectations for the first few video conferencing calls with their students. These students have not seen each other in a while and often get very excited when they get the opportunity to see each other on camera,” she said, recommending that teachers do trial meetings with students so they can get used to the platform before the learning begins.

Kerry Zostant, a speech pathologist in the Union-Endicott School District and a student in TLEL’s educational leadership advanced certificate program, has also been assisting her students to adjust in a number of ways. She recently helped distribute Chromebooks to all elementary students in her district.

“This has definitely opened people’s eyes to how society and things can quickly change around us, and how to be prepared,” she said.

As educators working from home face similar challenges to those their students and families are facing, Zostant said this moment creates an opportunity to connect.

“I think that first we need to acknowledge what families and students are going through. We just want to connect with them as people. Those relationships are really valuable right now. We’re here to support them in any way they need,” she said.

Zostant said the leadership opportunities created through helping others was a big takeaway from her Binghamton courses.

“I’ve learned that you can be a leader from wherever you are. You don’t need to have a title, but you can set an example by trying to help others and by trying to understand other people’s perspectives,” she said.

Mentoring continues

Over a dozen TLEL students are leading from where they are by continuing an internship course to mentor students with Down Syndrome.

The course, led by lecturer Tracy Lyman, has teamed up with GiGi’s Playhouse Southern Tier, the local arm of the worldwide network of Down Syndrome achievement centers, to provide literacy tutoring to participants in its program.

The group of TLEL students, consisting mostly of undergraduate education minors, had been meeting in person with their mentees for weeks before coronavirus-related changes were put in place.

“It all came to a screeching halt,” said Lyman. “But we wanted to make sure that students were still getting credit for the internship, and we also wanted to make sure we were honoring the families we had been working with. So we developed a plan to continue mentoring virtually.”

Lyman said the TLEL students continue to communicate with families, sending individualized plans that emphasize phonics exercises.

Psychology major Taylor Dworkin, who has been tutoring her student for two semesters, said the virtual move inspired her to create activities for the entire family.

“I have been trying to find activities that include the whole family so everyone can learn and enjoy some family time,” she said. “The student I work with is incredibly bright. He has an amazing memory and way of remembering things, and has a great work ethic. I do not doubt that he is continuing to grow and learn through this process.”

Dworkin said the transition has also taught her some new lessons.

“The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from this experience is how to be patient and creative,” she said. “It’s helped prepare me to make lesson plans and figure out what my students respond well to. Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for.”

Anna Bruce, program coordinator at GiGi’s Playhouse Southern Tier, said she is very appreciative of the continued support from TLEL students.

“It actually makes me quite emotional because this is such a difficult time for so many, especially our families, who thrive from consistency and constant practice and reinforcement of information,” she said. “Knowing that the tutors are willing and able to continue to provide these families with some sense of normalcy and support for learning opportunities is such an immense relief.”

Educators are often on the front lines in times of crises, helping students and families work through major adjustments in their lives. Sammi Decicco said TLEL ensures their students are well-suited for these roles.

“I believe TLEL has helped me prepare for this situation by teaching me to go with the flow, and helping me understand that meeting a child’s personal needs before academic needs is most important,” she said. “This program has taught me how to be flexible and work with children to meet their needs.”

Posted in: Campus News, CCPA