Wayne@Home Educators Expand Horizons as They Teach Students Outside the Classroom

When Maplewood Elementary teacher A.J. Lentz was offered the opportunity to teach sixth grade online this year, he didn’t hesitate. His wife is a surgical trauma nurse at Eskenazi Hospital. She has been working in the hospital’s COVID-19 units.

“I decided that being a Wayne@Home teacher is something I can do to help prevent spreading COVID to my students, should I accidentally get exposed to it from my wife and her job,” Mr. Lentz said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way school looks all over the world. Schools in MSD Wayne are no exception. Students are learning in one of three different ways this school year: fully in person, with a hybrid schedule (in person and online), or fully online.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade who are learning fully online are part of a program called Wayne@Home. Developed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayne@Home is serving more than four thousand students in MSD Wayne.

Alicia Erwin is the administrator of the programs for grades kindergarten through six. She says being a Wayne@Home teacher brings unique challenges.

“They’re having to plan lessons where we can bring all students together, but also create activities that can be done online or in their consumable textbooks while they meet with small groups or while they support students individually,” Mrs. Erwin said.

Other challenges include making sure students come back online for scheduled meetings, working through technology issues, and partnering with parents to help students develop skills necessary to manage their workload online.

“My big ‘Aha!’ of this entire process is that I realized that I’m asking twelve year olds to do things that many students struggle with during their first year of college,” said Mr. Lentz. “Every day gets a little better, though, and I’ve seen some impressive growth from my class as a whole.”

Debbie Wilson is teaching 24 kindergarten students at home from her classroom at Bridgeport Elementary. Five days a week, she connects with her five and six-year-old students through the computer screen.

“One of the challenges I face is managing microphone interference and background noise during our meetings,” Ms. Wilson said. “During our whole-group meetings, students have to stay muted most of the time so that everyone can hear the instruction. This can be particularly challenging for kindergarten students as they need to talk and move frequently throughout the day.”

But Ms. Wilson is starting to see her students learn and adapt: “A great success so far this year is that students have learned how to mute and unmute themselves independently in our meetings.”

Both Mr. Lentz and Ms. Wilson have taken steps to grow as online teachers.

“I’ve been reading new books and signing up for and participating in various webinars to improve my skills and repertoire of tools,” Mr. Lentz said. “I’ve even signed up for a ten-week online Japanese course to experience what it’s like to be a digital student myself. It has already helped me understand some of the struggles my students are facing.”

Ms. Wilson said the two-month shutdown at the end of the 2019-20 school year helped prepare her for additional virtual teaching.

“I had to learn basic skills to navigate an online learning program,” she said. Over the summer, she attended online learning webinars and joined virtual teacher groups. Currently, she and other Wayne@Home teachers share ideas and learn from each other.

Alicia Erwin says it takes some special attributes to be a successful Wayne@Home teacher.

“I think there needs to be a combination of passion for technology and the drive to do whatever it takes,” she says. “Our classroom sizes are large. We have some classrooms in the 30s, ranging from 30 to 35 students. And so it has to be that mixture of somebody who’s strong in being able to use technology themselves, but also to guide the families.”

Wayne@Home is one of several learning frameworks serving MSD Wayne students this year. For more information on those frameworks, please visit our website at www.wayne.k12.in.us.

The Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township provides multiple pathways to success for more than 16,000 students, preschool through high school. Located on the west side of Indianapolis, MSD Wayne works in partnership with the Wayne Township community to help every learner achieve excellence. To learn more about MSD Wayne, visit www.wayne.k12.in.us, or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/msdwaynetownship/ and Twitter @WayneTwpSchools and @WayneTwpSuper.