Eastern Shore educators get creative to meet students’ needs despite rural challenges during pandemic

Virginia

EASTERN SHORE, Va. (WAVY) – Staying connected during the pandemic has never been more important, especially for students.

However, that’s not always easy for those living in rural areas.

It’s a challenge educators on the Eastern Shore dealt with over the last year as learning from home became the norm.

About half of students in Northampton County faced barriers to broadband access.

Schools stepped in to provide internet service but teachers there — and in Accomack County — stepped up and got creative to make sure no student was left behind.

Teachers tell 10 On Your Side schools are more than just a place of learning in rural communities like the Eastern Shore.

“It’s the fiber of our community. It’s where kids come in, adults come in to get fed in a lot of ways — social and emotional ways,” said Katie Pittman, a special education teacher at Kiptopeke Elementary School.

When the pandemic abruptly forced schools to transition to remote learning, there were some significant growing pains — about 50% of students in Northampton County don’t have internet access at home.

School officials worked hard to provide laptops and hot spots for families, but internet access wasn’t the only issue.

“Some of their strongest relationships are here at school and then it just stopped. That was really difficult for students and families,” Pittman said.

Pittman and her colleagues started brainstorming.

“We would meet with other teachers in the building and come up with lists of families that we either hadn’t heard from or families who had lots of students in the house,” she said.

The teachers made home visits, delivering supplies, learning materials, meals, clothes and more.

“We brought stuffed animals, we brought blankets — anything that would remind them of their classroom so that way they felt like they could kind of create their own classroom in their house,” Pittman said.

Pittman said the home visits helped students push ahead during an unusual time and kept families informed.

“Our students’ faces, when we would show up in their yard and watch them light up, I mean that’s why we do this,” she said.

Further up the highway at Arcadia High School in Accomack County, math teacher Baiju Nambiarvettil was also brainstorming.

“My main concern as the teacher was how to reach these students,” Nambiarvettil said.

He ended up creating a mobile app to make sure students had everything at their fingertips.

The app sends push notifications with important information. It also allows students to connect with a guidance counselor if needed.

“You schedule an appointment through the app and ask permission and then they approve it. Once you get the approval through the app, you can go in,” Nambiarvettil said.

More than 700 in the Arcadia High School community have downloaded the app. It’s been so successful, we’re told other schools in the county are looking to do the same.

“I’m super excited. I’m happy about it and grateful I got this chance,” Nambiarvettil said.

The last year has been a been a wild ride, but these teachers say they’d do it again for their students, without hesitation.

“It is our responsibility as educators, especially in a rural community,” Pittman said.

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