SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Throughout the borough, South Plainfield teachers have converted their offices, dining room tables, corners of their basements, and even their kitchens into virtual classrooms.  For Sandy Doyon, a first grade teacher at Kennedy School, remote learning is something she has never experienced – until now – in her more than 25 years as a teacher. 

“We have never worked like this before,” said Doyon, “For our little ones – and for us – it’s a lot of work and most of them need their parents to help them. It is not something they can do on their own. They are doing such a wonderful job… [and] the parents have been amazing, too.”

A lifelong resident of the borough, Doyon has taught first grade at Kennedy for most of her career and her classroom is filled with all the necessary teaching tools. “There are a lot of great online resources, but I miss having the books to read myself to the class, the manipulatives for hands on learning, and the ability to just grab something whenever I need it,” said Doyon, noting that since virtual learning began three weeks ago, she, like most South Plainfield teachers and their students are learning to work with what they have.

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“It is such a different experience than what we are all used to and we can’t say to the parent ‘you have to do this’ because what if they don’t have something [at home] and they can’t go out and buy it and then the kids are upset,” said Doyon. “Sometimes you have to change things up and improvise. Each day, we are trying to makes things different and that goes for us as teachers, too. Sometimes you need to find different ways to do things to keep yourself sane.”

During the second week of teaching from home, Doyon put a class roster, complete with student photos, up on a whiteboard – the perks of having a husband who owns a furniture store. It stands in the middle of her kitchen and, so far, she has used it to teach lessons on graphs and letter sounds and blends. She has also ordered a teaching clock from Amazon for a lesson on telling time and has utilized her refrigerator for a lesson on compound words.

This week, Doyon mailed letters to each of her students and included paper for them to write her back and a picture for them to color, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to mail it back. She plans to hang the photos in her kitchen classroom. Additionally, last Friday, Doyon baked cupcakes for one of her students and threw a virtual birthday party for him. ‘Together’ the class sang “Happy Birthday” and helped the young student blow out his candles.

“He was supposed to have a big party and, of course, they had to cancel it, so I was trying to figure out a way to still make it special for him,” she said. “He was so excited.”

For Doyon, it’s all about figuring out what works and, in the end, making the best out of an unprecedented situation. “Every day is a new adventure and it’s really whatever works that day and it changes every day,” said Doyon, adding that she and her colleagues are constantly ‘meeting,’ looking, and sharing ideas of different things to do.

“We are, like everyone else, doing what we can, and we have such great colleague support and Principal Kevin Hajduk has been amazing… It’s a challenge but everyone is stepping up.”

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