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'I will always be present:' Teachers find new ways to connect with students amid pandemic

“The bond between student [and] teacher is not lost in this process; it's just going to look different," Stephanie Williams said.

BENTON, Ark. — We're all doing our best to stay connected from a distance right now. That includes students and teachers who are finishing the school year at home.

While some educators might welcome the idea of working from home, many miss their students and were sad to see Arkansas school buildings close down for the rest of the school year.

Stephanie Williams, a band director and music teacher at Benton Middle School, is doing everything she can to make sure her students are learning – and also trying to make sure they feel loved.

“It's hard because we do what we do because of the kids,” Williams said. “Now that that physical space has been taken away it feels like part of our heart has been taken away too.”

Last week, Benton Middle School teachers created an uplifting video message for students to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” Williams produced the video in hopes of spreading hope during a difficult time.

We miss our Benton Middle School Students! We hope this brings a smile and some joy to them today!! (We do not own the rights to this song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake.)

Posted by Benton Middle School on Monday, April 6, 2020

“We really just wanted to create something that would remind our students that we're there for them, and in a fun way bring a smile to their face, and keep them engaged in that sense – just letting them know that we're present,” she said.

Just like her colleagues around the world, Williams is still getting adjusted to teaching from home. She is trying to teach her students in a new way in a new venue while also caring for a toddler.

“The transition has been interesting, to say the least,” she said with a smile.

She posts assignments for her music students on Google classroom, introduces lessons with silly videos, encourages band students to practice, teaches ukulele lessons on Facebook live and even hosts weekly lunch meetings on Zoom.

“It's just me listening to them be goofy kids and I absolutely love it and adore it,” she said of those lunch meetings. “The bond between student [and] teacher is not lost in this process; it's just going to look different. That bond is still there. We still love each other and respect each other and want to be there for each other and we miss each other terribly.”

Williams said those relationships define her classroom and they won’t be broken by a pandemic.

“To my students: I love y’all and I miss y’all and I cannot wait until the day we come back to school and we're able to see each other and just love on each other like we did before,” Williams said through tears. “I will always be here for y’all and I will always be present even though we are on this online learning curve. I’m always going to be here for y’all in any kind of format I can possibly be.”

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