Youth Hunger For Connection Served Up By Online Expanded Learning Opportunities
With the music pumping and blue disco lights flashing (well…in one kid’s room, at least) students and instructors from Tacoma Arts Live’s Hip-Hop Movement class moved together, via webcam, through the steps of a routine they had just learned.
“I’m panting like my dog.” one of the students said, coming closer to the screen as they finished the routine, “Do you want to see my dog?”
“Sure, you can show us your dog,” replied Ariel Advincula, one of the class’s instructors.
As the student picked up her computer and moved to a spot where a small chihuahua came into view, another student in the class remarked, “I have a dog too, it’s a pitbull.”
“We recognize how hungry young people are to engage with each other right now.”
That student then grabbed a photo of the dog off a nightstand in her room and held it closer to the camera so everyone could see. Ariel took a moment to ask the students about their other pets, then she and her co-instructor shared a bit about pets they had as well. The whole conversation probably lasted about two minutes, and then they got right back into practicing their routine.
In most classes, detouring to a conversation about pets may seem like a distraction, but in this hip-hop dance class, and others like it being offered through Tacoma Whole Child’s new Online Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO), those detour conversations are actually a vital part of the objective.
“We recognize how hungry young people are to engage with each other right now,” said Megan Smedsrud, GTCF Whole Child Senior Program Officer. “With schools under tremendous pressure to keep kids learning, there isn’t as much time for play. There is no recess, there is no lunch time. Students are missing those spaces where they can just be silly and goofy together.”
“since everyone is learning from home right now it’s fun to be able to give them an opportunity to share things from there that are important to them.”
Creating a space for students to actively engage with each other through their screens has been one of the primary goals as Tacoma Whole Child partners transitioned from providing in-person Expanded Learning Opportunities at school sites to an online platform this fall.
“One of the new things we added is a 15-minute SEL (social emotional learning) Spotlight with fun activities that help build community,” explained Venalin Aguilar, Whole Child Site Director. The first spotlight activity was a scavenger hunt where students had a set amount of time to look around their home and find a handful of items that represented them. Once they were back in front of their computers, each student shared about their items, then together as a group they all reflected on similarities they shared even though all their individual items were unique.
“They definitely love to show things from home, which is not usually something that is encouraged at school. But since everyone is learning from home right now it’s fun to be able to give them an opportunity to share things from there that are important to them.”
“The number one thing I hope for our students is that they feel a sense of belonging, and know they have a safety net of caring adults to support them…”
In addition to the new SEL Spotlight activities, Whole Child ELO partners adapted in-person signature practices like Zone Check-ins, Warm Greetings, and Community Circles to maximize engagement. Students now use a customized Google Form to complete their Zone Check-in before the class starts. The form features images that illustrate the different Zones of Regulation, and invites the students to identify which zone they are in. Students can also check a box to indicate if they want an adult to follow up with them one-on-one to talk more about how they are feeling. There are virtual rooms for each zone with interactive activities that students can participate in if they need to take a break from their class to calm down.
“We did a lot of planning and work around SEL last year, but it seems like it’s ten times more important with everything going on now,” Megan explained. “The number one thing I hope for our students is that they feel a sense of belonging, and know they have a safety net of caring adults to support them, even if we can’t be together in person.”
If that means taking a quick break from a dance lesson to talk about pets, then it’s all worth it in the end.