Early Childhood Students Share How COVID Impacts Learning, Teaching
Majoring in early childhood education, Zaviona Fountain and Jadon Kersey had to fill roles as students and teachers throughout the last few years. That is typical for all who major in education; however, the COVID pandemic added more twists to navigating that journey.
“At the beginning of the semester, I told my students that fall 2020 will look different than any semester we have experienced,” explained Dr. Tsunghui Tu, associate professor and director of the early childhood education technology program. “Even though it seems to be an unpleasant time in our lives, we can use it as a learning opportunity for our personal and professional growth.”
Like most other courses, the early childhood classes moved from face-to-face to remote teaching at Kent State Salem, but the course objectives and expected student outcomes remained the same.
All major courses in the early childhood education technology program include field experience and student teaching requirements where they spend time in actual classroom settings. Because of COVID, these experiences were monitored like never before.
“The students followed the Kent State Flashes Safe Seven, as well as the CDC guidelines and guidelines at their student teaching sites,” Tu explained. “They were informed of the guidelines before student teaching to ensure everyone in our community is safe and healthy.”
Kersey is in her third year of the program and agreed that the pandemic situation required more out of her as a student at Kent State.
“The traditional college experience has changed for just about all of us,” she said. “I was at Kent State Salem three times a week and now I attend all of my classes online. (But) Kent State has been the biggest support system to me during these uncertain times. Not only do my professors constantly check in with me to make sure I am adjusting, but the staff, in general, at Kent State always keeps in touch to make sure I am staying on track – not just with schooling, but with my mental health, too.
Fountain is set to graduate in December with an associate degree in early childhood education technology from the Kent State Salem Campus. Each semester as a student, she was named to the Dean’s List or President’s List, indicating her drive toward success.
Still, the pandemic presented challenges and demands that changed the way she took on her roles as student and student teacher. She related that, as a student, she missed the face-to-face classes and interacting with her peers and instructors, and that adjusting to remote learning was not easy in the beginning.
“I am a very hands-on, in-person learner. That is how I learn and understand material best,” she said. “I have never procrastinated in my life. I truly enjoy learning, getting my homework done on time and working on assignments early. (But), this semester, I have struggled. I began procrastinating when it comes to reading and I really had a hard time trying to make a schedule that I can follow throughout my daily life.”
As a professor and as the program director, Tu approached this semester knowing that she needed to provide extra guidance and support to her students who were headed into schools as student teachers.
“During these unprecedented times, some people may experience anxiety, stress, sadness or fears,” she noted. “I encouraged my student teachers to stay calm and follow the recommendations of the CDC. I also encourage them to be open-minded; be flexible about changes in their student teaching environment; and maintain regular communication with me, their student teaching environments and their university supervisor to discuss any changes or concerns they may have.
“In addition,” Tu continued, “I told them that we will get through this very trying time together as a team and to be respectful, patient and show gratitude, kindness and forgiveness to each other and the people around us.”
Fountain is completing her student teaching requirements at a full-day preschool, where she works with 15 students, ages 4 and 5 years. Three of the students are on the autism spectrum. Off campus, she works as a direct care professional.
“As a direct care professional, I work with individuals with disabilities. … I can relate a lot of the things that I learn at my job to the students I work with, as well. These students are very smart, adorable and it is amazing seeing them grow and develop at such a young age. Each one has touched my heart and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to observe them, work with them and watch them learn new things,” she said.
As with all professions, and most aspects of life, the COVID pandemic changed the student teaching experience in several ways. Initially, the first big change was the need for masks.
“It was challenging wearing a mask with the students. They wear masks and I can’t see their mouths. Sometimes it is hard to tell the emotions they are expressing and it’s often difficult to hear or understand them when they talk,” Fountain explained. “It is also challenging to not be able to comfort students when they are sad because we must try not to touch the students to keep them, and us, safe.”
Kersey finished her student teaching experience this semester, working with a preschool program for children ages 3 to 5 years old.
“It was a bittersweet experience completing my student teaching during this time,” she said. “Although these young children have to adjust to social distancing and mask regulations, they are part of history and that will always be something special. The students have adapted amazingly well, and I am blown away by the positive attitudes and open minds these young children have.”
Fountain noted that her young students also adapted to the pandemic restrictions in the classroom “fairly well,” yet there are still trying times.
“When it comes to wearing masks, the students do a remarkable job. I sometimes feel like I have a harder time wearing mine than they do,” she shared. “However, there are many struggles with students wearing masks, especially now when the weather is changing. Students sneeze in their masks, suck on their masks, cough. I constantly tell them to wash their hands, I have to find new masks for the students, and we must sanitize areas.”
Fountain explained that the students also struggle occasionally with the way the classroom setup is designed and the measures taken to prevent close contact between the children. She explained that during free play, for instance, only two students can play in an area at one time and only students from the same table can play in the same space at the same time.
“They get bored quickly with what they’re playing with and they want to rotate to different play areas, but we have to sanitize everything that is played with, before other students touch it, and it difficult,” she said. “They also want to give hugs and comfort one another when they’re sad. It’s challenging as a teacher to explain that they must keep their hands and feet to themselves, no matter what.”
As a student, Fountain said she understands the frustration created because of the pandemic restrictions and can empathize with the youngsters. She, too, has learned to adapt in the role of a student.
“I learned that at any time, your life can change drastically. Never take the opportunities you have available to you for granted,” she said. “I also learned that it is very important to be open minded about learning with technology. I have never been one to enjoy learning using technology. I did not like how math teachers used iPads in high schools because I always felt that math should be taught with paper and pencil. But (technology) is something I am slowly learning to use properly.”
Fountain’s journey as a student will not end with her graduation this December. She will return to earn her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with her eyes focused on a future as a teacher.
Kersey’s goals are to become a lead teacher in a preschool following graduation. Her student teaching experience – and her experience being a student – taught her more than she expected.
“I learned to not take life for granted,” she said. “These simple day-to-day routines can be taken away from us in a heartbeat. This time also taught me to always choose to be positive and to look on the bright side; to ask, ‘what can I take away from this experience and how can I help someone else have positive mindset?’
“…College is hard and adding a pandemic to the stress of schoolwork is even more challenging. But it is so worth it in the end!”
Cutline A: Zaviona Fountain on a field trip
Cutline B: Zaviona Fountatin
Cutline C: Jadon Kersey in a classroom
Cutline D: Jadon Kersey