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College of Education > News and Publications > 2020: 04-06 news > It's been quite the experience for Penn State CI 495 student teachers

It's been quite the experience for Penn State CI 495 student teachers

Synchronous and asynchronous education on Zoom and other platforms are the new normal, and student teachers Kristen Krause, Lexi Principe, Gabriela Marsh and Carley Cassandro have rolled with punches delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent K-12 school shutdowns.

It’s a tall task for teachers to maintain a sense of sameness when the world around them suddenly is drastically different.

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Kristen Krause, a senior from Allentown, makes virtual contact with her class at Easterly Parkway Elementary School in State College.
But that’s what Penn State College of Education student teachers in the field experience portion of their curriculum and instruction classes quickly had to adjust to at Easterly Parkway and Spring Creek elementary schools in the State College Area School District.

Synchronous and asynchronous education on Zoom and other platforms are the new normal, and student teachers Kristen Krause, Lexi Principe, Gabriela Marsh and Carley Cassandro have rolled with punches delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent K-12 school shutdowns.

What was supposed to be a 15-week classroom assignment turned into eight, but they still aspired to be great. Krause and Principe at Easterly Parkway were part of a team that started Eagle News, a show they send out daily. They also send out individualized e-birthday cards to help keep students’ birthdays special.

“We thought this would be a way for Easterly Parkway to keep the community bond that has been in place and to create a sense of normalcy for the students,” said Krause, a senior from Allentown who was a member of Penn State’s women’s volleyball team. 

“Eagle News includes the Pledge of Allegiance, reviewing our schoolwide SOAR (Students Occupationally and Academically Ready) guidelines, a mystery guest, a mystery Eagle location, different activities daily and a daily joke. So far we have gotten incredible feedback and they hope to continue this through the end of the year.”

But the teachers have to hold students’ attention for much longer than morning announcements, and technology allows them to do that.

“The world of technology poses many questions and can be quite daunting, but the ability to communicate with our students through this medium has been the greatest blessing,” said Marsh, a senior from Pittsburgh who will commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on May 18. “I could not imagine a world without technology when there is an international pandemic.”

Marsh said teachers quickly learned that meeting virtually over Zoom is beneficial for some things, but not others. 

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Senior Gabriela Marsh adjusted from leading a class at Spring Creek Elementary School in the State College Area School District to leading it virtually from her home in Pittsburgh.
“It is not natural, nor is it good for a child to be staring at a computer for hours and hours daily; we acknowledge that,” she said. “So, to allow more flexibility in each child’s household and independence when completing lessons or activities, we have split our content into both synchronous and asynchronous mediums.”

Principe said holding students' attention can be hard for any age. “But it is especially difficult for kindergarteners which is who I teach,” said the senior from Long Island, New York. 

“One way we keep their attention is by keeping the meetings short, starting off with a quick warmup game or activity. We then split into breakout rooms where each teacher has three or four students. The breakout rooms have been really successful in gaining my students' attention because they are more intimate and require all students to be engaged.”

Cassandro, a fourth-grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School, said the last few weeks have indeed been interesting. So much so that she reached out to schools that were planning on attending Penn State’s Career Fair, participated in several Zoom interviews and accepted a job in Arizona. She’ll be leaving Pittsburgh and moving across the country in May, she said.

As a student teacher, she said she helped her mentor create content for the students to complete on their own time throughout the week in reading, writing, math and word study.

Krause cited that management in a virtual classroom is “definitely different” and has been a learning process. She also said because some families were not able to Zoom during class time that an asynchronous learning opportunity was provided.

“This way they have access to the material whenever it is the best time for them,” Krause said. “At Easterly Parkway we have an extremely diverse community which makes it so important for us to build connections and let all students be heard. Because of this we decided that we would use our Zooms as a time for our students to continue to build that community and share anything special that is happening in their lives.”

The lives of the Penn State student teachers also were uprooted and disrupted by the pandemic. Adjusting, while not something they ever thought they’d have to do, was made easier by them still being able to be around their students – at least virtually.

“I definitely think being able to see my kids four times a week and being able to interact with them in different ways has definitely helped me cope with the idea that my last semester was cut short,” Krause said. “There is no way to replace the feeling of actually being with them every day and being able to see them grow in the classroom and just develop in all aspects of their lives, but I am fortunate that myself and my family are healthy through all of this and I have the chance to still see the kids who make me smile every day.

“I am so lucky to have been placed in State College Area School District and at Easterly Parkway to be able to have the chance to continue to see, as well as learn, from my students and my mentor teacher. 

“There is no way to replace the feeling of actually being with them every day and being able to see them grow in the classroom and just develop in all aspects of their lives, but I am fortunate that myself and my family are healthy through all of this and I have the chance to still see the kids who make me smile every day." -- Kristen Krause

Principe’s feelings were similar. “Although I’m really disappointed my semester came to an abrupt end, I’m so thankful that I am able to be in touch with my students,” she said. “Even though we are not in the classroom, it makes me so happy I can see and interact with them every day. If I weren't able to see them, I would be completely distraught. They have definitely helped me cope with remote learning.”

Cassandro, like everyone else, was blindsided. “Having my senior year cut short was something I never expected to happen,” she said. “I left on spring break only to be told halfway through that I would not be able to return. 

“Not only did I not get to say goodbye to my students, but I also didn’t get to say goodbye to all of the people who have made my time at Penn State so amazing over the past few years. Being on a consistent schedule with the students has helped restore a sense of normalcy in my life. Although it is not the same, their smiling faces still make you feel better even through a computer screen.”

Marsh said she and her students were able to share their disappointment, and that was therapeutic.

“When I realized that I would not be seeing my students anymore for the remainder of the year, my heart broke. It was premature and did not feel fair,” she said. “But I do realize that the students feel that way, too. For many of my kids, school is a second home that provides a safe community full of learning, fun, caring adult figures and friends.

“In a sense, Penn State and Spring Creek Elementary provided those things for me, too. It is sobering to realize that we are not alone in the feelings of disappointment and that coming together, both staff and families, in support of each other’s emotional wellbeing in this time is the foundation of our endurance through this season,” Marsh said.

Jim Carlson (May 2020)