Pirate News: Teacher-student connection stays strong even at a distance.

May 8, 2020

– Photo by Emma Weesies

Pirate News: Teacher-student connection stays strong even at a distance.

Pirate News is a service of Hart Public Schools in cooperation with Oceana County Press.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Despite the challenges of distance learning due to the statewide closure of school buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hart High School science teacher Amy Weesies maintains a strong connection with her students.

Weesies, affectionately called “Wee” by her students, uses her resourcefulness, energy and humor to maintain the strong bond she developed with students in the classroom.

– Photo by Emma Weesies

Wee teaches biology, Advanced Placement (AP) bio, and human anatomy and physiology — traditionally the more hands-on classes high school students take. The 22-year teaching veteran has taught at Hart for eight years.

With her daughter Emma as her videographer, Wee takes her students on brief field trips outdoors. Emma, who is a Hart High School junior, films the mini lessons called, “Into the Woods with Wee.”

Wee uses the local landscape to teach students about moss, dune grass, lichens and other things we find growing in the Oceana outdoors. She recently posted a segment about plant self-defense mechanisms, such as thorns, during which her dog Scout decided to “video bomb” the lesson.

“Leaf it up to a Lab to mess with a science geek,” she said on her post of the video. “FYI: I only do one take to keep it real each week. Here’s to plants and thorns.”

“I’m goofy,” Wee said. “I just like them to have fun while they’re learning.”

She often ventures out into the woodland on a four-wheeler, hauling her dry erase board, binder and other teaching tools.

“She has great energy,” said Hart High School Principal Brandon Bruce. “She has a great way of looking at different ways to engage kids. She has their engagement and is able to maintain it. Her teaching is top-notch, and she does a phenomenal job.”

During normal classroom instruction, Wee has frequent outdoor lessons. “She uses the outdoors as much as possible. It gets kids active,” Bruce said.

Since the school closure occurred two months ago, Bruce has been routinely meeting with his department heads including Wee, who chairs the science department. “We’re seeing a decline in engagement overall. We’re trying everything possible to keep kids engaged.”

That everyday teacher-student connection was suddenly “taken away,” Bruce said.

Google Hangout sessions are a useful tool Hart teachers are using to maintain student connections. Discussions are not just focused on academics. Kids and teachers discuss life in general, particularly the hardships they face amidst the pandemic.

Wee has a strong following with her Google Hangout sessions, because the kids feel so comfortable talking to her. “Kudos to Amy for her out-of-the-box thinking while keeping things the same,” Bruce said.

“The goal of discussion is not necessarily its curriculum importance but it’s having something important to them to talk about,” said Wee who conducts hangout sessions twice a week.

She continues to host her “Fire Friday” lesson each week like she did when kids were still in the classrooms. The lessons are demonstrations that show the flammable qualities of various materials. By continuing this tradition, it gives the students a sense of normalcy during unprecedented times. “The kids love it,” said Wee.

“It’s kind of freeing to keep them learning,” she said. “I’m so proud of all the teachers for continuing to find ways to connect, because we all lost our classrooms.”

Wee truly cares about her students, who she affectionately calls her “kids,” and wants to ensure they are doing well during this crisis.

Despite the many technological tools that keep students and teachers connected, lack of WiFi availability is a big issue particularly in rural areas. “I believe it’s over 50 percent in Oceana County,” she said. Paper packets of schoolwork are routinely distributed to students who do not have WiFi.

Despite the challenges, Wee carries on and keeps the kids smiling and laughing.

“It’s about making sure they’re healthy and safe and providing a little comic relief at the same time.”

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