Teacher creates community to support distance learners.
Two days before the June 17 deadline to choose between digital or face-to-face learning for the new school year, I was making every attempt to determine what was best for my sons. I researched medical websites and studied fact-checkers that analyzed news reports. I sought the advice of my retired-educator parents. My husband was in a month-by-month, work-from-home situation, and I would not be able to stay home because I am a teacher. Luckily, that day, we received informal confirmation that my husband would be home through December, so we chose digital learning for our sons, who are in third and sixth grades. Our biggest worry was their social-emotional health and the consequences of keeping them from social connections.
I did what everyone around me seemed to be doing during their summer of isolation: I looked to social media. People on Facebook were creating or joining groups that kept them connected with others in Cherokee County who had common interests and concerns. I read through local groups, hoping to find a family in our situation. The rhetoric became overwhelming, so I decided to create my own group – The DL Kids of Cherokee County. I reasoned that if I found 10 people like me, it would be a success.
What occurred was the equivalent of digging a tiny hole in the ground and suddenly striking oil. Within 24 hours, 500 people asked to become members. I recognized the need and started organizing. I set up posts for different grade levels and encouraged people to tell what schools they attend. Over the next 24 hours, our number grew to 700. I asked for volunteers to help as co-administrators, and two wonderful ladies answered the call. I would be unable to manage the group without their insight and perspectives. As the digital learning deadline passed, membership jumped to more than 1,200. I was amazed at the response. Parents who had chosen digital learning wanted to know what other families were doing. Parents who were on the fence wanted to see if their ideas were feasible. Most of all, parents wanted empathy and understanding.
By the time we reached 1,500 members, we had divided into subgroups for Pre-K through 12th grade, as well as a group for special education students. Admins in these groups are organizing by schools and teachers, setting up connections, and rallying to keep each other strong. One mom in the 6th grade subgroup organized a virtual meet-and-greet for the kids and had her son moderate it, complete with talking points. After the meeting, they broke off to play their favorite online games together. At this moment I realized this was the community I hoped would form. A community lifting up each other, helping navigate this unique experience.
As of Aug. 4, as I sit putting the final touches on this article, our membership is 1,982. [At press time, the number had grown to 2,118]. Parents continue to help each other find answers to questions and find patience as teachers and schools work tirelessly to pull everything together. Retired teachers and former teachers are offering to help our kids by tutoring, organizing social activities, and facilitating pods so parents can continue working. (Pods are small groups of students who work on schoolwork at the same location.) We have started albums within the groups to better disseminate information.
The biggest surprise was how quickly this happened. I set out to find connections for my own children and, in less than seven days, found a community of parents able to set aside differences and focus on what is truly most important: the children.
– Jenny Scarborough, a teacher of 24 years, has taught in Cherokee County since 2007.