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Westminster student teachers reach across the digital divide

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Posted on Monday, April 27, 2020

Westminster College School of Education student teachers are responding to COVID-19 mandates by sharing lessons with their students in an array of online formats.

When Pennsylvania schools closed in March in order to stop the spread of the COVID-19, teachers quickly moved their instruction online. Fourteen student teachers from Westminster College—partnering with Farrell, Neshannock, Sharon, Wilmington and West Middlesex school districts—are helping to develop engaging ways to connect with K-12 students using classroom-designed technology formats like Google Classrooms, Remind, Seesaw and ClassDojo.

Didi Kumalo, a first-grade student teacher at Farrell Elementary School in Farrell, is working closely with her cooperating teacher, Megan Greene, and creating YouTube learning videos with Read Aloud lessons and designing spring scavenger hunts for her students.

Her videos—often featuring her puppet named Albert—are posted each Monday on ClassDojo, an educational technology app that connects teachers and students and their families.

“I want my students to feel a connection to school, their teacher and me through my videos,” said Kumalo, a senior from Bethlehem, Pa. “While their lives are disrupted, I want to maintain our learning community.”

To view one of Kumalo’s videos, please click here.

Assigned to Sharon City School District, Maggie Manolis has been incorporating technology-based instruction in her work with middle and high school science students. In cooperating teacher Erin Borowicz’s seventh grade science class, Manolis connects with students by using Instagram to post science-based questions and riddles. Manolis and Borowicz have created at-home STEM challenges, as well, giving students hands-on science learning at home. Challenges include developing a Rube Goldberg device, building stable towers with household objects, constructing a bridge and developing a TikTok video explaining something learned this academic year.

“The participation for the challenges and science questions have increased every time. It has given students meaningful at-home science to engage with and it allows us to continue to build the classroom learning community,” said Manolis, a senior from Jeannette, Pa.

Additionally, Manolis is working at the high school level with cooperating teacher Margaret Steen and her 11th and 12th grade Biology II and AP Biology students. Manolis is helping facilitate Google Meet sessions so complex concepts can be discussed and investigated collaboratively.

Ashley Stubbs, a second-grade student teacher at Luther Low Elementary School in West Middlesex, regularly talks with her cooperating teacher, Lindsay Buxton M’03. In collaboration with Buxton, Stubbs helped establish an online classroom presence using the student engagement platform Seesaw.

Through Seesaw, Stubbs shares videos of herself reading to her students. She recently completed a science unit focused on animal homes in various habitats.

Stubbs says while there’s no substitute to interacting face-to-face with students, she hopes her videos will help her students feel connected.

“When all of our days are beginning to feel the same, seeing a familiar face and knowing someone is still thinking of you might make all the difference,” said Stubbs, 2019 Westminster graduate from Greenville, Pa., seeking her post-baccalaureate certification. “I am glad I can still make a difference in my students’ lives.”

To view one of Stubbs’ videos, please click here.

Working with Brandy Rush’s kindergarten class at Farrell Elementary School, Janelle Fox—a senior education major from Ellwood City—developed individualized online storytelling for students through ClassDojo. To personalize the experience for the students, Fox elected to dedicate a story each week to one of her students.

“I was inspired to do this after Ms. Rush called me to tell me that one of our students had a breakdown about how much they missed school and how much they enjoyed hearing my voice on the videos,” said Fox.

Like all Westminster student teachers, Kumalo, Manolis, Stubbs and Fox meet weekly with other student teachers and their Westminster supervisors. Dr. Charlene Klassen Endrizzi, professor of education at Westminster, uses Zoom to connect with her student teachers to share struggles and successes and plan upcoming learning opportunities.

Some of the struggles student teachers face during this unprecedented time of remote instruction center around technology. Families in rural communities—like those here in Western Pennsylvania—tend to lag behind urban communities regarding their access to broadband services, ownership of home computers or even smartphones, said Klassen Endrizzi, professor of education at Westminster.

“Our student teachers inspire me each day, by meeting COVID-19 challenges with energy and compassion,” said Klassen Endrizzi.

Other college supervisors working closely with K-12th grade student teachers and cooperating teachers include Dr. Sararose Lynch, associate professor of mathematics education; Dr. Amy Camardese, professor of education; and Cynthia Clarke.

For more information, contact Klassen Endrizzi at 724-946-7189 or

Pictured above from left are Didi Kumalo, Ashley Stubbs and Maggie Manolis