News & Events

Responding to a Global Pandemic One Virtual Classroom at a Time

Zoe Zamora
From a traditional learning environment to a distance learning plan, the mission of Fort Bend Christian Academy has been unwavering. Regardless of circumstance, teachers and faculty remained steadfast in equipping students to thrive spiritually, academically, socially, and physically.
FBCA, like the entire education system, redesigned what the classroom would look like in a short period of time. In the wake of COVID-19, teachers adapted to a style of teaching and learning that was different and unprecedented. They worked countless hours, including evenings and weekends, to modify their lesson plans to engage students in ways that were productive and beneficial to them.

“FBCA remains fully committed to providing a robust, high-quality program that equips our students with the critical skills and knowledge base to successfully finish their grade levels, and to continue the excellent progress they have made throughout the year,” said FBCA Head of School, Joshua Gettys. “In all grade levels, our teachers moved forward with the fourth quarter curriculum, using both synchronous and asynchronous methods to effectively engage our students in developmentally and age-appropriate ways. In every class at FBCA, teachers were incorporating live interactive sessions with students into their lesson plans, preserving the special connection between students and teachers that differentiates our school from many other schools around us.”

As the closures extended weeks and eventually the rest of the spring semester, FBCA’s teachers remained the bedrock for distance learning. Teachers provided remote offerings that were comprehensive, engaging, and responsive. Suddenly, everything had to change, but the dedication and hard work of the entire FBCA community rose to the challenge.

There might be uncertainty about what the future will hold, but without a shadow of a doubt, there is a unique spirit and camaraderie among the FBCA community, and these attributes exemplify our extraordinary resilience and courage. Our God reigns today, tomorrow and forever. 

“Although we were not on campus, our school year continued, and great learning experiences were happening on a daily basis.”

Technology In The Virtual Classroom: Thinking Outside The Box

In March 2020, COVID-19 turned the education system upside down. In response, FBCA teachers had to become very creative to stay in touch with their students. Our teachers took technological innovation and daily engagement to a whole new level.

Mrs. Beth Coalson, Upper School Physics Teacher, believes in constant interaction with her students. In addition to live Zoom classes, Coalson used EdPuzzle, an online platform, to create videos of her lessons. This allowed students to type questions back to her to enable smooth conversation for new material.

“ I wanted the students to feel like they were in the classroom with me,” shared Coalson.

For trivia type learning, Coalson used Kahoot, TrivaMaker and Google Classrooms. She wanted to change how students could learn, so she used Google Classrooms to make “escape rooms” for her AP classes. “I set up three individual Google sites. Each site was one room in a three-room, escape room challenge game. I released the first room at a certain time for all. Then as assigned teams, the students had to do three free-response problems in each room, add up the answers to each problem, and type in that “secret code” to see if it unlocked the next room or Google site. If it was the incorrect secret code, then the lock just said ‘try again’ which meant they started looking for their errors and teaching each other as they went. If it was correct, the students received a message that said congratulations and gave them a link for the next room.” Coalson even emailed Starbucks gift cards to the winners!

To ensure that she was getting accurate feedback from her students, Coalson used Google Forms to gather information about how her students felt about the lessons, concepts, and assignments. “I used Google Forms to receive peer feedback on any team activities and to get class reviews for a general sense of how things were going in my classes and what I could do differently.”

Coalson went above and beyond to provide a fun and interactive learning experience for her students.

Forms and feedback are essential to teachers, especially to Middle School English Teacher, Mrs. Linda Wright. One student wrote to her, “I know that social distancing is hard, but I just wanted to let you know that we are all praying for you and cannot wait to see you, even if it’s next year.” Wright embraced the challenge and showed her students that distance learning can allow a fresh new space for creativity.

Another teacher who showed extraordinary care of her students via a virtual classroom is Upper School History Teacher, Mrs. Rachel Webking.

“For World History II, it was important to me to keep as much of a similar format to class as possible,” shared Webking. “I wanted the students to see me and hear me on the screen with the notes like they would in class. Many students need that facial connection with the teacher, so it was important for me to keep that aspect.”

She used Screen-Cast-O-Matic to record lecture videos, Blackbaud for discussion posts and notes and Zoom to continue face-to-face teaching with her students.

“I used Zoom to connect with various students one-on-one. Connecting with my students one-on-one to privately address educational needs has been my favorite aspect of this platform. I also used Zoom to have Coffee Chats once a week to engage informally with everyone and share announcements and answer questions for the week.” Webking was determined to remain on track with her students via these virtual platforms.

Upper School Theology teacher, Mr. Chris Henderson, used a wide variety of technology as well.

While Henderson used Zoom and Google Forms to teach and chat with his students, he also implemented his own website to provide lessons to his students.

“My website contains vast resources for students and parents to prepare for the various papers and discussions each student will encounter in the fulfillment of the requirements for my class,” shared Henderson. “Students had previously been broken into small groups, and each group was responsible for crafting an essay for a given ethical topic of their choice and then defending their essay to me via a Zoom conference.”

Henderson also oversees Middle and Upper School live Chapel technical productions. He employed a whole host of hardware and software solutions, from high-end cameras, SDI switching, audio mixing, matrix routing, broadcast encoding, live stream production, to a vast amount of other established and emerging technologies. Thanks to Henderson, students were able to stay in a routine of experiencing Chapel with their peers and teachers.

With distance learning changing how teachers delivered the material to their students just months before AP testing, the Upper School teachers had to get creative.

Coalson had students requesting more time to review for their AP tests. So, she began reviews via Zoom on Saturdays and in the evenings. With the Whiteboard platform, Coalson hosted mock AP exams and tried to set it up as close to the real environment as possible.

Also, in preparation for May 21 AP testing, Webking used Zoom to get more information out to her 10th-grade students. One of her focuses was on their Document Based Questions, also known as the DBQ. These questions are infamous for their length, causing students to feel fatigued, but Webking was determined to have her students prepared.

Despite the newness of virtual classrooms and distance learning, the teachers and students alike found positivity in the uncertainty. Teachers from all divisions found moments of laughter, insight and amazement alongside their students.

Middle School English, Theology, and Drama teacher, Mrs. Gabrielle Gripon continually checked in with her students and found that her students were going through the ups and downs just like everyone else.

“Weekly, I heard from the students about how much they miss school, each other, their teachers,” shared Gripon. “I kept in contact with them to check on their mental health and pray with them through their anxieties. Our students are dealing with a world where the adults are stressed and don’t always have the answers like they used to.”

Gripon felt blessed to have gotten so much interaction with her students. Her students showed incredible teamwork through breakout sessions via Zoom. They got to discuss worship and novels, not just with Gripon, but also with each other.

First-grade teacher, Mrs. Cheri Maples, wanted to bring familiarity home with her students. “ Distance learning has brought a new dimension to the excitement, joy, and challenge of teaching. My first thought when hearing that we would be teaching from a distance was how to keep the personal connection and feelings of a classroom community.”
Some highlights for Maples’ students were getting to sleep in later and do school in their pajamas! Maples was thankful to have seen their faces every day while also getting to spend time with her dog.
Mrs. Kim Davis, a fourth-grade teacher. also had many highlights in distance learning. Via Zoom, her students presented to her a book about how their lives have changed since the school campus had to close. Davis kept creativity and learning at the forefront of her teaching.

Mr. Carlos Roman, Spanish teacher, saw success in his students’ work via his virtual classroom. Through DuoLingo, Zoom, and other technological platforms, Roman stayed connected with his students and their parents, making sure that the whole family remained involved in his students’ learning. He also saw an outpouring of appreciation from his students and their families.

One FBCA parent shared, “We are so grateful to you for all you have done for Mackenzie! She could not have done it without you!! Thank you for everything you do during this unbelievable time in our lives. We are so thankful to you! Your love for my child shows! You go above and beyond, and you care so much! The greatest thing we ever did was enroll in Fort Bend Christian.”

*This article is from the July 2020 edition of the Fort Bend Christian Academy Magazine