Virtual Classroom Survival Guide

Local pre-K teacher partners with others across the country to provide the guide.

by Ahmad Graves-El

Teachers are, arguably, among the most important people on the planet and many of them, like a Neil Young song, have a heart of gold. A majority of them teach from a place of compassion in an effort to impart the kind of knowledge that can help their students become useful and successful members of society.

Like many of us, teachers have been overwhelmed with the sudden changes that were forced upon us because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One local teacher, who has a discernible passion for her profession, joined with several other educators from across the country to help parents, students, and her fellow teachers breathe during these unorthodox times.

Laura Buonadonna, pre-K teacher at Downe Township Elementary, recently co-authored a new book titled Virtual Classroom Survival Guide, in hopes of alleviating the challenges teachers, especially preschool and kindergarten teachers are facing.

“The idea came about,” says Buonadonna, “because for early childhood education … a lot of things that had been online when we first … were shut down with Covid, was a lot of worksheets, which we don’t do that to begin with.

“It’s not developmentally appropriate for preschool or kindergarten to just give them piles of worksheets.”

Buonadonna notes a substantial difference between teaching younger and older students during the pandemic.

“I kind of feel like things out there are more geared toward the older classes,” Buonadonna says. “They all use Google Classroom and you can just put their regular lessons from your textbook online. But our guys, they don’t do any of that. They don’t do Google Classroom. So, what are you going to do with them?”

The wheels on Buonadonna’s problem-solving skills bus began to go round and round: “… I really started thinking about all the things that I normally do in my classroom that are hands-on and I kind of worked backwards,” she explains. “Good teaching is good teaching, so whatever works in my classroom, now how can I make it work virtually?”

The Millville resident began making educational toolkits for her students and parents to use while they were at home.

“We did lots of different activities from art shows to celebrating all my kids’ birthday parties, to just trying to do things to make them feel a little more normal,” says Buonadonna.

The pandemic has made many of us feel out of sorts, but the social-emotional learning aspect of preschoolers and kindergartners has been profoundly impacted.

“That is a huge component of our kids that are home. They don’t understand,” Buonadonna reveals.

“Everybody’s so worried about the high school kids who missed out on their senior year of high school and how horrible it is for them. And it is, it is horrible for them,” she continues.

“But what about the little kids who just don’t understand why the school buses aren’t picking them up anymore. And what happened to their friends? It’s very hard for them to comprehend.”

The process of creating the guide really got rolling when Buonadonna began sharing her ideas, projects, and activities with an educator she greatly admires, Dr. Jean Feldman, on Facebook.

According to her website, drjean.org, Dr. Feldman is a prolific author, member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, among other educational organizations, and has published a number of recordings used by schools throughout the country. These songs are meant to uplift the spirits of children and adults alike.

To Buonadonna’s surprise, Feldman responded. “She messaged me, and she says, ‘Could you put something together? I’d like to share you on my blog and on my Facebook page,’ ” says Buonadonna.

They began corresponding with each other and to the delight of Buonadonna and others, Dr. Feldman participated as a mystery guest in the local teacher’s virtual Mother’s Day event.

“The parents and kids went crazy because she came and sang for them and did activities,” says Buonadonna.

Feldman then asked Buonadonna if she’d like to participate in writing the virtual survival guide for teachers. “And I was like, absolutely!” the preschool teacher exclaims. “She’s just so wonderful. So, to have someone like that reach out and ask for my help on this project was just amazing.”

The Virtual Classroom Survival Guide, which was published on July 15, is chock-full of resources for students, parents, and educators, including:

• Brain breaks for meaningful movement,

• Ideas to enrich school-to-home partnership,

• Social and emotional learning integration ideas,

• Teacher-friendly tips and tricks.

“It really sets you up for your whole year whether you end up being a hybrid-virtual or virtual or even in the classroom,” says Buonadonna. “All these materials [are] just part of what you need as an early childhood educator.”

The first-time author had an enjoyable time during the process of creating and writing the guide. Buonadonna also gave props to co-authors Toni Mullins, a kindergarten teacher from Kentucky, and lecturer Barbara Gruener, along with Dr. Feldman, for attempting to relieve the burdens of educators who are struggling to find ways to best teach their students with the Virtual Classroom Survival Guide

“We were four complete strangers to each other, but we had one common goal. We just wanted to help teachers,” she said. “We wanted them to be able to breathe.”

If Neil Young is still searching for a “heart of gold,” he may find just what he’s looking for if he ever gets to meet Laura Buonadonna, preschool teacher, Downe Township Elementary, Cumberland County, New Jersey. n

For those interested in purchasing the Virtual Classroom Survival Guide ($15) go to teacherspayteachers.com or drjean.org.

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