We are grateful for the opportunity to speak with Joretta Crabbe, a preschool teacher at The Church in the Highlands in White Plains, NY. COVID-19 transformed the preschool experience for her 21 four-year-olds, but Joretta stepped up to the plate to create innovative and engaging opportunities for her students.
Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us, Joretta! We wish the best of luck to your students starting kindergarten and hope your upcoming school year runs smoothly!
Just five days after the Early Childhood Center at The Church in the Highlands closed due to COVID-19, Joretta Crabbe’s preschool class went virtual. Having never taught virtually, Joretta was determined to give her students the best experience possible and “try as many different ways to connect with the kids as we could.”
When the virtual preschool classes began, “the kids were really confused about what was going on.” Parents and teachers explained it to their kids. “There’s a virus in the air and we have to keep each other safe. We can smile and be friendly, but we have to keep a distance.”
It’s still Miss Joretta
Joretta lives in the same neighborhood as many of the kids, so she had to remind them not to run over and hug her when they saw her on walks. However, the students “all adapted so well” and learned to keep socially distanced. When safe, Crabbe would slightly pull down her mask, so the children could see that it was really ‘Miss Joretta’ beneath the mask!
Rather than keeping 21 four-year-olds on Zoom all day, Joretta and her co-teachers taught morning sessions Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Joretta immediately realized something. “My kitchen is not a classroom and all the materials I was used to having were at school.” To adapt, Joretta and her co-teachers tried their best to keep to the usual class routine. They continued to do the welcome song, circle time, singing, dancing, yoga, and teaching the Letter of the Week.
While all twenty-one students attended the first several zooms, nearly half of the class was unable to continue because their parents were busy working from home. Twelve students continued for the last two months of the school year and many parents were able to sit beside their children during class to prevent distractions.
Keeping kids engaged in a virtual preschool
Keeping young children engaged on Zoom is no easy feat. Joretta found that singing, dancing, and interactive games like Bingo were the best ways to keep them engaged. The most important things were keeping the class together as well as possible and making it fun. Joretta and her colleagues found ways to maneuver multiple teachers in the virtual classroom by having one teacher serve as the lead teacher each week. Doing this enabled the class to run smoothly with less confusion for the children.
For Joretta, the hardest part of virtual teaching was compiling the weekly activity packet. “We filled it with activities involving the letter of the week, book and video recommendations, and art activities,” says Joretta. This packet essentially covered “everything that we would normally do in the classroom.” Creating it added an additional ten hours of work outside of the virtual classroom sessions. Each Sunday, Joretta and her co-teachers sent the weekly packet home to families so the children had optional activities. The teachers tried to balance with activities that “weren’t too hard on parents, but not too easy for the kids.” The parents of busier families whose children couldn’t attend Zoom classes “definitely appreciated having those packets.”
To further accommodate the class, especially those kids no longer attending Zoom sessions, Joretta held 1-1 Facetime appointments every Thursday. The children signed up for a ten minute slot and connected with Joretta and her co-teachers. “Lots of kids who didn’t come on the Zooms chose this option.” The teachers and the class also planned regular ‘car parades’ for students’ birthdays outside of their homes. The most special ‘parade,’ however, was the one the entire class did for Joretta. With twenty-one cars lined up, every single kid threw cards and flowers. “I could not stop crying.”
Even with several Zoom classes a week and 1-1 sessions, Joretta still wanted to do more for her children. After the second week of virtual learning, she started a YouTube channel and posted videos for her students. With her daughter home from college to help edit and perfect the videos, Joretta let her creative juices flow. She says she prefers not using a script “because the kids are used to seeing me [be myself].”
Joretta is a YouTube star
Joretta’s videos touched on three main categories: Letter of the Week, science experiments, and songs. Some of her favorite Letters of the Week videos include riding a unicycle around her neighborhood for ‘U’ and doing splatter painting for ‘S.’ In one video, Joretta conducted an experiment where she attempted to walk across cartons of eggs. “I never practice any of the experiments before the video because that’s how it was in the classroom. I always like to tell the children that anything can happen!” Unsurprisingly, her YouTube channel was a hit with both children and parents. Joretta explains, “some parents would send me the most amazing messages after these videos. They said, “The entire family is sitting around watching these videos!”
Looking forward to the fall, Joretta says she “definitely will keep making videos no matter what. Maybe two per month for the kids to watch at home.” It’s unclear if the school will hold in-person classes. New regulations dictate the school can only have sixteen children per class. For now, Joretta plans to keep the students in masks and socially distanced, but that may prove extremely difficult because the kids are so young.
For her virtual preschool graduates, Joretta and her colleagues held a virtual graduation, gave out awards, and played a slideshow. The teachers went above and beyond. Following the ceremony, they drove to every child’s house with a basket of gifts and mementos from the classroom. Later this summer, the class plans to have one “last hoorah” with a COVID safe reunion outside the school.
Best of luck in kindergarten, The Church in the Highlands Class of 2020!