Staying connected while staying apart

Technology helps friends, classmates continue interactions By Lania Rocha

Sylvia, Andrea and Trevor Reidel teach American Sign Language to friends and classmates using Facebook Live. Courtesy photo

Sylvia, Andrea and Trevor Reidel teach American Sign Language to friends and classmates using Facebook Live. Courtesy photo

SWARTZ CREEK — The coronavirus may be keeping us apart, but technology is keeping us connected.

Area residents are turning to online platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live and YouTube to shake off the sense of isolation by sharing tutorials, reading books, and otherwise interacting.

Michele Bielby, the STEM coordinator for the Swartz Creek Community Schools, has been making STEM videos from home and sending them out for teachers to attach to Google Classrooms.

MaDonna Kelley, a fourth-grade teacher, meets with her students daily on Zoom.

Andrea Reidel and her children, 13-year-old Trevor and 10-year-old Sylvia, used Facebook Live last week to teach American Sign Language. Forty to 45 people tuned in to the 30-minute instruction.

“We taught very basic signs like ‘milk,’ ‘mom,’ ‘school,’ ‘outside,’” Reidel said. “I was really surprised and not expecting the number (of viewers).”

Sign language is the best way to teach babies to communicate, said Reidel, who is deaf. Although Trevor and Sylvia can hear, their first language was sign language, which they began learning at 9 months old.

The tutorial was just for fun, but Reidel said the knowledge could come in handy some day. It’s also useful for communicating under water or through windows, she said.

“I am a strong believer that schools should teach sign language,” she said.

Lisa Burns, a teacher in the Corunna Public Schools, uses Zoom to connect with the children in her class.

“I had eight of the 15 students attend,” Burns said. “They were all excited to see each other. Every time a new friend joined the group, their faces lit up. They all stayed in front of their devices the whole time.”

Each child had a chance to share what they’ve been doing at home.

“That was a nice way for the children to get ideas of things they could be doing,” Burns said. “Some painted Easter eggs, or made volcanoes with vinegar and baking soda. One child showed all the artwork she has been making.”

With Zoom, the presenter is able to mute everyone and unmute them when it is their turn to speak.

“We used a thumbs up signal when someone wanted to talk,” Burns said. “I would then turn their microphone on. They did surprisingly well with that. Some were shy at first, but then opened up toward the end. I could tell a couple of them were sad because online is not the way they want to learn and be with their friends.”

Jessica Jewell, like most who work in the school system, has missed her students since the schools were shut down. To help maintain a connection, she’s been reading books and posting the videos on YouTube.

“I miss the kids so much, I decided to do what I love best and read to them the only way I can right now,” she said. “I miss sharing a love of reading. You can really connect just by talking about books.”

Jewell started off reading, “The Lion Inside,” and also has read “Night, Night Sleep Tight,” “Aunt Nancy” and “Old Man Trouble.”

“I like reading unique or lesser-known titles to introduce authors and stories they might not have heard before,” Jewell said.

She also is encouraging the kids to keep reading.

“Books can make us laugh and feel connected to one another,” she said. “You can escape inside a book and explore anything. Read about something that interests you: sports, flowers, cars, dancing … there’s something for everyone inside books.”

Jeanne Jackson is a Cub Scout pack leader, and she’s been keeping her pack meetings going via the internet.

“Before the quarantine, I left bags of supplies on the porches of each scout,” Jackson said. “We’ve made rubber band bracelets, a kaleidoscope, and bug jars. I showed them how ineffective we sometimes are when we wash our hands and sang a hand-washing song using the scout law. We took a virtual ‘museum’ tour of my son’s antique collection.”

Jackson said it’s tough not being able to interact with the scouts in person, but technology provides some comfort in remote connection.