Digital Learning During a Pandemic
Former Forum Academy English professor Juana Perez tells us about her experience during this difficult and challenging year. Juana was born and raised in the community of Sofre, located in the district of Penonome, Cocle Province. Through many years of effort and sacrifice, she was able to obtain her bachelor’s degree in English. Taking into account her experiences teaching English workshops to children and young adults, with the Peace Corps. Juana decided to enroll in university and pursue a teaching degree in English.
Juana joined the teaching team at Forum Academy following an interview with Profesor Omaira Martinez. “I was thrilled when I got the job to work with this amazing team of docents. I also was able to meet Mr. John and Mrs. Juanita, who encouraged me to continue working at the Academy.” It was there that Juana was able to be part of what she says was an enriching experience that helped her grow as a professional. “The quality of education being offered to the students was admirable, and likewise the workshops offered for docents based on the IB were fundamental. This is what helped us become better teachers, giving us the opportunity to help students guide their own learning.”
“Working in the IB was interesting because it broadened our understanding of the many ways of learning, appreciating different perspectives as well. Sharing my understanding of language with young people from places where it is hard to learn English, filled me with satisfaction because I was able to help them and I could see them improving. Having been part of this marvelous school, and putting in my grain of sand so that the students could be successful at becoming professionals is perhaps the greatest satisfaction.
“When the pandemic hit, I did not think about me. I immediately thought about what we could do to continue offering students quality education until we could safely return to class.” But ultimately the Academy had to close. “It was sad to say goodbye, knowing what was happening. All we could say is that we hoped to God that we would be able to return at some point. We didn’t know everything would change from one day to the next.”
As Juana puts it, the pandemic came to give us a life lesson, and that we should strive to see the silver lining in this situation. Juana says she continues to be determined to not see this as a moment of crisis but as a learning opportunity. Personally, Juana has used this opportunity to keep learning, discovering new ideas and tools that can help her as an educator, walk new paths, pursue business endeavors, and move forward.
The idea to create a virtual workshop to help students continue improving their English competencies came from professors Omaira and Elvia and myself. We wanted to help the students so that they could continue strengthening their English. Many of them had first come to the Academy with a basic level of English. Our hope is to help reinforce and complement their learning in English at the schools they are currently attending via distance learning. Employing a combination of Google Classroom and Whatsapp chats, the workshop was able to register 17 students. A total of13 students were able to complete the workshop.
“This was an incredibly satisfying experience to be able to do this and to have the experience of facilitating the workshop. Together we were able to emphasize how important and advantageous it is to learn an additional language, as well as reinforcing reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension skills.”
As the pandemic has made the digital divide even more evident, Juana has seen firsthand the difficult situation students face, with a lack of access to the internet, cellphone service, devices, and electrical power. “We had to adapt to this situation by combining synchronous and asynchronous learning. This allowed us to give students assignments and then check in with them via Whatsapp.” Realizing that some students, mainly grade 10 students who had just started at the Academy before it closed, had difficulties with English, we created some basic level guidance material for them. Note: Asynchronous Learning allows students to access materials, ask questions, and practice their skills at any time that works for them, Synchronous Learning requires attendance at scheduled meetings or lectures Source: www.schoolology.com
Juana hopes to continue this virtual learning project in the future. “Our goal is to keep offering this option for students to improve their level of English because we know this is an enormous advantage for young people. I want to help them have a brighter future.” She hopes that this effort will help the students we serve continue on the path to becoming professionals and life long learners.