Vine Middle Hosts
"Virtual Boost Camp"

Posted by JOSH FLORY on 7/22/2020

Transportation U, a KCS program that trains new bus drivers for Knox County Schools, recently celebrated its first class of graduates. In this picture, trainer Doug Romig (left) stands with (L to R) Anita King, Bonnie Gillespie and Cheyenne Rickman.
Melody Hawkins, an 8th-grade science teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, was director of the school's Virtual Boost Camp this summer.  

As Knox County Schools gears up to offer virtual learning for many students across the district, one middle school gained some valuable experience over the summer.

In June, Vine Middle Magnet School hosted a "Virtual Boost Camp" for nearly two dozen incoming 6th-grade students. Besides helping students get acquainted with the expectations of middle school, the camp also aimed to offset some of the lost learning from the spring closure; to offer social and emotional support; and to provide students with familiar faces at their new school. The camp was funded by a TeacherPreneur grant from the Knox Education Foundation (formerly the Great Schools Partnership.)

“At Vine, we realize that relationships are a huge determining factor in a student feeling like they belong,” said 8th-grade science teacher Melody Hawkins, the camp’s director. “And when students feel like they belong in their classroom and their school, then they are more motivated to try hard things and to interact with productive struggle.”

The virtual camp took place over a two-week period, with students working on Chromebooks for 90 minutes each day. Students were organized into small groups, and spent each day of the week working online with a different teacher.

Hawkins said one recurring theme for teachers was how to provide helpful feedback in a virtual setting, where it’s harder to make eye contact. In addition, she said the project highlighted the fact that there will be occasional technology challenges that teachers will need to manage.

As an example, Hawkins said Vine teachers “were rock stars” when it came to helping students rejoin a class if they had lost connectivity.

“Once the student got back in, teachers were great at making sure they did a quick review, ‘This is what we covered, this is what you missed,’ or they would lean on another student to review material,” she said. “And that created that camaraderie and that group mentality.”

When Knox County Schools reopens on Aug. 17, students will have the option of returning to in-person, on-campus instruction or enrolling in a virtual learning program. The deadline to enroll in the virtual program is 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22.

For teachers and administrators who are providing instruction in the virtual setting, one point of emphasis will be how to build relationships with their students.

Kalie Bearden, a math interventionist at Vine who participated in this summer’s boot camp, said she planned some icebreaker activities designed to get students talking, including games like “Two Truths and a Lie” and a game in which students had to answer questions such as “Who’s your favorite villain?”, or “What’s the strangest word you know?”

After playing those games, Bearden said, “I feel like I already have some conversation starters  … and we already have some kind of connection. They’re going to remember that I have guinea pigs and that my dog, Mia, sat in my lap through the whole lesson, and things like that.”

And for all the differences between online and in-person instruction, some things stay the same.

“I just think it’s really important for us to figure out ways to be creative and stay in touch with our kids no matter whether they’re virtual or in the school building,” said Bearden. “I think most teachers would agree that one of the keys to successful teaching is building relationships, so we can’t forget that when we go into the virtual world.”