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COVID-19 response Supporting our schools

Helping Chicago's teachers go virtual

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced students of all ages to move to remote learning, Loyola's School of Education stepped up to help teachers make the shift

When COVID-19 began shuttering schools, Loyola University Chicago students hustled to move back home and transition to online learning. Education majors had an additional consideration that many other Loyola students didn’t: their learning involved Chicago Public Schools (CPS), who were also forced to move to an e-learning environment.

Kelly Ferguson, clinical assistant professor and instructor for the elementary-focused professional learning communities (PLC) module, saw a fantastic opportunity for the students in her program after calling to check in with a personal friend who teaches second grade in CPS. That conversation highlighted how stressed her friend was over being given a wealth of resources to plan remote learning, but still needing to create online lesson plans with virtually no time to do it before she had to go live.

I believe strongly that what we do is beyond an exercise in academics. It’s not about a grade, it’s about using our gifts in service to others.
— Kelly Ferguson, Clinical assistant professor, Instructor for the elementary-focused professional learning communities (PLC) module
“I believe strongly that what we do is beyond an exercise in academics. It’s not about a grade, it’s about using our gifts in service to others.”
— Kelly Ferguson

So, she blew out her planned PLC on trauma-sensitive schooling in favor of an all-hands-on-deck effort to help that second grade classroom craft lessons plans, including differentiation, that quickly expanded to include one K-8 school and one high school within CPS under the moniker Loyola CARES (Candidates taking Action in Response to an Emergency Situation). Education majors across all four years broke into small groups assigned to a specific teacher, and then worked with those teachers getting their input on how best to help, along with specific demographic information on the students in class, and then set to work crafting e-learning lesson plans for students performing at, below, and above grade level.

One group was paired with a second grade CPS class and found out from the teacher the kids could really use help with math; specifically, money, time, measurement, and geometry. So, they brainstormed and came up with the idea of creating a series of virtual field trips to an aquarium, an apple orchard, a volcano, and the zoo. The group tasked with fleshing out the apple orchard virtual field trip started with a video to give the kids an overview of how apples are grown and harvested. They then segued into a lesson that combined basic math skills with money concepts, asking the students to figure out things like three different ways to pay for a 25-cent apple with coins. They were asked to draw a picture of an apple orchard featuring at least eight different apples and show it to their family—not only reinforcing basic counting skills but also bringing in art, providing a much-needed balance to academics and helping address the social/emotional needs that are so critical to vibrant mental health through this time of isolation.

Another group was tasked with using the same virtual apple orchard trip as a springboard to a language arts lesson. That group used NearPod, an online instructional platform, to create a lesson around nouns and adjectives, explaining the difference and challenging students to come up with at least four adjectives for apples using each of the five senses—how an apple looks, feels, tastes, smells, and sounds. Similar to the math group, the language arts group then added a more visual component to the lesson, asking students to create a poem about apples written in the shape of an apple to bring in some right-brain functioning to a more left-brained activity.

Teachers from the two schools can continue to submit requests ranging from tracking down instructional resources to curriculum design/lesson planning, and Ferguson will assign candidates to fulfill the requests. At the same time, Ferguson will be pairing up with assistant professor Charlie Tocci to guide master's candidates through their summer session that will have them creating a website that includes instructional resources and activities related to social emotional learning that will be shared with a partner school that specifically requested that support.

CARES is a huge win for everyone involved—the CPS teachers are getting a much-needed assist, the Loyola students are getting invaluable real-world experience, and the CPS students are ultimately reaping the benefit of such a strong, brilliant partnership. Loyola students have been praising this innovative program:

“Digital learning is a major shift for everyone, and this is just one of many ways we could help. Creating fun and informal lessons with my fellow candidates allows us to keep students engaged and productive while not in the classroom setting.”
— Patrice Canty, Junior, Elementary Education
“I am incredibly inspired by the efforts of my peers and Loyola community who have been working to provide resources to CPS teachers and beyond. In such uncertain times it is vital that we offer services or help in ways that we reasonably can from a distance. Personally, it has helped me to feel more connected to my colleagues and to feel as though the skills I have learned in the education program at Loyola can be used during a time that otherwise feels overwhelming.”
Audrey DeHaan, Junior, Elementary Education
“As a senior education major, I feel a natural disconnect from the profession because I am not in the schools every day, interacting with my students. Through the Loyola C.A.R.E.S. initiative, my peers and I are able to make a direct impact on students within the Loyola community. We are not only supporting students during this time, but also the teachers that were expected to reinvent what receiving an education looks like for students during this pandemic. This immersive experience is strengthening my understanding of what it means to be a teacher in service of social justice and that is something that I will forever be grateful for.”
Caroline Niepsuj, Senior, Elementary Education and Special Education
“Giving back during a time like this has shown me even more of what it means to be an educator. One main thing I have learned is how crucial it is to be able to accommodate your students, especially during trying times. Whether it is a matter of making new lesson plans for students who may not have the resources they need to do some of the tasks or offering as much support and acknowledgement as you can, educators value education, along with the well-being of their students, so much. Giving back and helping during such a stressful time for many has given me all the reassurance I need to know that this is what I love to do.”
Greta Heider, Freshman, Elementary Education

Our compassionate response

In the unprecedented upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Loyola has responded with care, compassion, and concern for the well-being and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. Visit our coronavirus response site to learn more about our efforts and the latest updates on our university.