It’s Friday morning in Cerissa Brown’s Pre-K class. There’s music playing softly in the background as students arrive and take out their journals. It’s an intentionally low-key start to the day, giving children the opportunity to say "Hi!" to teachers and friends or join in more slowly as they finish breakfast.
When it’s time for morning meeting, Ms. Brown greets each student in the class one by one then assistant teacher Keonie Rogers leads the group in the Friday song with everyone, children and teachers, standing up to dance. After announcements, the Friday "monster drawing" begins.
Victoria is the first to take a turn. She wants the monster to have a mouth.
"Is the monster happy or sad?" asks Ms. Brown.
"Happy," says Victoria. So Ms. Brown starts by drawing a smile.
Next it’s Addy’s turn. She wants the monster to have a head.
"What shape? Circle, square, rectangle, triangle?" asks Ms. Brown.
"Circle," says Addy.
Then Arely wants the monster to have a nose.
"How many?" asks Ms. Brown.
"Three!" says Arely.
And Yolanda wants eyes.
"Should they be open or closed?" asks Ms. Brown.
"Open," says Yolanda.
While the monster takes form on paper, the activity encompasses feelings, shapes, numbers, and parts of the body. There’s giggling and excitement as the students instruct their teacher. Finally, it’s time to settle on a name. The children decide to call this week’s monster, Rainbow Unicorn.
"Online Pre-K is possible, you just have to think of what children need and bring that to them no matter what the platform," explains Ms. Brown, a Capital City Pre-K founding teacher. "So we bring the silliness, the energy, the dancing, the singing, the imaginative play, and the stories. In other words, we invite children to play through the screen."
The structure of the Pre-K virtual classroom closely mirrors the structure of a physical class day partly to provide continuity for returning students, and partly to establish a routine so the transition is easier when distance learning ends.
In addition to providing engaging content, teachers are intent on connecting their students to one another.
"We’ve started sharing and the sharing is called ‘All the Pieces of Me.’ Children share photos of themselves, their family, their virtual workspace (which is neat), their favorite animal, color, and food," says Evelin Alvarado, another Pre-K lead teacher and Capital City alumna Class of 2013. "It’s an opportunity not only for students to share about themselves, but to learn about the other students in the class. A sense of community is building through this sharing."
Like Ms. Brown, she makes sure to give children time to "chat" to one another across the screen. "We encourage the students to be in gallery view and if they see someone they want to say goodbye to at the end of the day, to unmute and say, ‘Goodbye.’ We saw a student do it and then began encouraging it for all the kiddos."
Every day in Pre-K ends with story time. As she’s reading, the teacher leans into the camera to amplify a moment in the story, and stops to ask questions after each page. The children are enthralled.
"The fact that we’re able to offer this type of support for children and their families is great for all parties involved. It’s hard for everyone, but we are really in this together. We have to be. Everyone working together for the good of the group. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," says Ms. Brown.