Thursday, February 25, 2021
By Claudia Zequeira
When service learning opportunities diminished for her Introduction to the Teaching Profession students as a result of the pandemic, Paula DaSilva, professor, education, did not skip a beat.
Quickly, and beginning last summer, Paula rose to the occasion by relying on her professional network and personal connections to create a virtual summer program that enabled some of her education students to earn their required 15 field experience hours.
“I thought, why don’t we develop a program that will help students complete their hours, while also helping families that were not expecting to have their children at home during the summer?” she said. “I also wanted to help families engage students in a meaningful manner and make sure we were still having fun.”
To accomplish the task, Paula, who began teaching at Valencia in 2016, paired up Valencia students with families of elementary age children. The goal? To help Valencia students gain firsthand experience in the virtual classroom while learning to adapt to a completely new teaching environment.
In addition, the summer program sought to help children who suddenly saw most of their summer activities shut down due to the pandemic and whose parents wished to keep them engaged in enrichment activities as they themselves worked from home.
“Equally important for me is that my students who are future teachers have the opportunity to be challenged and to sort of be in the moment of these challenges and figure out solutions,” said Paula, adding that these teaching methods will prove invaluable as virtual teaching gains prevalence as a mode of instruction.
To develop an appropriate curriculum, Valencia students scheduled a time to meet children’s families via Zoom to ask about their academic backgrounds as well as about areas they wanted their children to work on and then created activities tailored to their specific needs.
Jordan, one of the summer program students, playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” using the water xylophone he created after a lesson on pitch and tone.
Over the course of six weeks, Paula’s students met twice a week with the children assigned to them and once a week as a group to develop and plan. Toward the end of the program, they were tasked with creating an engaging lesson, to be delivered virtually. They also had to communicate with parents ahead of time to alert them of the materials that would be needed for the activity they prepared.
Paula also enlisted the help of colleagues, such as Jefferson Crutchield, international technical support specialist, who developed hands-on STEM activities, including one where students build their own solar oven and another in which they collected leaves around their neighborhood to use in an experiment related to photosynthesis.
A father and daughter engaged with guest speaker Jefferson Crutchfield’s hands-on lesson on Photosynthesis.
Another applied activity involved using GPS as a tool, which allowed children to safely explore and share general information about their neighborhoods.
“It really offered those young children an opportunity to feel closer at a time when that was really challenging because they were being asked to stay home,” said Paula.
Students also produced a digital journal, which they used to share the activities they created.
Paula said she was encouraged by her students’ feedback (many of them completed more service learning hours than their course required), so much so she decided to offer the virtual summer program again in summer 2021. She and her students are also in the process of creating a new Children’s Virtual Reading Festival for children and families, to be held at the end of March 2021.
The festival’s goal will be two-fold: to accommodate service learning opportunities shortages and to work around Valencia students’ busy schedules. Students will meet for four days, Tuesday through Friday for two hours in the afternoon and will offer fun and educational book-based activities to children of different ages.
Paula, who admitted she loves creating programming for students and co-advises for Valencia’s Future Educators Club (VFE) as well as serving on the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County’s Board, said that while the pandemic has undoubtedly presented challenges, it has also brought forth immense opportunities for creativity and collaboration.
“If I thought I needed to do all this alone, it might be super scary,” she said. “But I think when you’ve got people that are really talented and willing to collaborate, it’s just sort of about bringing those different pieces of the puzzle together. There’s no place to work like Valencia, in terms of collaboration.”
Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.