Three minutes before show time, Erin Higgins checks her props once more.
Large plastic hand. Pointer stick. Full cup of coffee.
With a minute left, Higgins sets up the camera, adjusts the angle and takes a deep breath. She hits some keys on her laptop, and her kindergarten room at Clinton Elementary School erupts in sound.
“Good morning, darlings,’’ Higgins said, dancing a little two-step in front of her laptop camera. “Who's ready to rock and learn today?’’
One by one, she said hello to all 20 students on the screen and she unmutes them so they can reply to her. Higgins encourages them to say good morning to each other.
“Why did the chicken go to outer space?’’ Higgins asks, and giggles erupt as each kindergartner tries to answer correctly. “To get to the moon,’’ Higgins said, with more giggles coming out of her laptop.
Each of the Clinton Elementary grades - kindergarten through fifth - includes one class of students learning fully remote this year. Other students do a hybrid schedule of two days in the building and three days learning at home.
Along with Higgins, the Clinton virtual team includes Samantha DiPietro (first), Alexandra Roy (third), Cheryl Cosentino (fourth) and Paige Culver (fifth). Anna Femia taught the first few months of second grade as a long-term substitute.
By far, the teachers said, they miss seeing their students in person. “We look forward to their supply pickup once a month,’’ Culver said.
Unlike when all New York state schools went remote only in mid-March to finish the 2019-20 year, these students never have met in school in person. Still, they have become friends and united as a class, the teachers said.
“We start with a 9 a.m. meeting,’’ Roy said, “and by 8:45 the majority of kids are checked in ready to go. They want to talk to each other. They come early and want to stay later,’’ she said.
The virtual team teachers meet a couple of times a week over lunch to review and plan, sharing strategies common to most teachers (“Some kids like to talk, others are shy.”) and unique to their situation (“His dog is so cute it distracts everybody.’’)
All of them said that support has been invaluable, but for Femia she said having those mentors made her first teaching experience a positive one. “They encouraged and...