TSBVI Short-Term Programs: Connections Despite Separation
Authors: Cheryl L. Austin, Short-Term Programs Teacher
Keywords: Short-Term Programs, STP, COVID-19, pandemic, remote learning, Zoom, Google Classroom, social skills, access technology, self-determination
Listen to the Article
On March 11, 2020, TSBVI Short-Term Programs teachers gathered off-campus at an annual retreat to plan the calendar of classes for the 2020-2021 school year. Spring Break began two days later, and shortly thereafter, the landscape changed as the COVID-19 pandemic became a widespread reality. Faced with the need to accept and embrace a fully remote model, the group employed creativity and flexibility to modify existing classes and to also develop new offerings to meet student needs and foster meaningful connections across the State of Texas.
Here are a few of the innovative classes offered by Short-Term Programs during 2020-2021:
Fall and Spring Book Clubs (Grades 6-8)
Before COVID-19, STP Book Clubs were solely asynchronous classes. This year, the Book Clubs included a “live” component. In the Fall 2020 semester, students met online twice, once at the start of the class to review course expectations and for an introduction to the book chosen for the book study, A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel. They met again at the end of the course for a “Question & Answer” session with the book’s author. In the weeks between, students responded to discussion questions and polls within a Google Classroom and received feedback from the instructor. The Spring 2021 class is following a similar format and reading A Blind Guide to Normal by the same author. This time, however, there are more frequent Zoom meetings to discuss the book several chapters at a time, a request made by the students for even more significant interaction.
Focus on Low Vision Series (Grades 6-8, 9-12)
With the intent to serve students with low vision whose needs and interests might not be addressed in other programs, this afterschool series was created with a focus on access technology, self-determination, and social connections with like peers. Two groups, co-facilitated by three vision professionals who have low vision themselves, meet by Zoom monthly. The groups address high-interest topics within areas of the expanded core curriculum such as recreation and leisure, social interaction, and independent living skills, to name just a few. Approximately 20 students now participate regularly in the low vision series and have begun to develop a very supportive community.
Caption: STP students practiced cooking skills remotely during COVID-19.
Winter Social (Grades 1-12)
A total of 30 students joined together in Zoom on a Saturday in December 2020 to celebrate the winter season. Students were assigned to breakout rooms, arranged by grade and facilitated by instructional staff, and engaged in a variety of social skills and self-determination lessons and games. Activities included interactive icebreakers and conversation games, trivia, sensory (sound) experiences, and dance parties with songs requested in advance, all with the primary objective of creating social connections.
Writer’s Workshop Series (Grades 6-8)
The Writer’s Workshop series provides students with instruction on the writing process, elements of writing, and peer editing and revision. The class focuses on fictional writing. Starting in February 2021, students met remotely once a month to review a highlighted topic and worked collaboratively to gather feedback on their writing. In between the live sessions, students had access to online content through a Google Classroom for lessons on writing, including character and setting development, writing effective story introductions, and descriptive language.
The common thread and inspiration for all of these classes can be summed up in one word: connection. While not the same as in-person experiences on TSBVI’s campus, what we have heard repeatedly is a desire for increased interaction. Since social opportunities are limited in most communities, a virtual connection has been an important tool for engagement. TSBVI Short-Term Programs quickly pivoted during COVID and adapted its regular mode of instructional delivery to successfully answer that call, serving more students in our great state in 2020-2021 than in a typical school year.
For more information on TSBVI’s Short-Term Programs (and an awesome video!), see https://www.tsbvi.edu/short-term-programs .