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Sophomores Teach Chemistry Remotely to Elementary School Students

On the final of classes in this remarkable Virtual Delbarton semester, we pause to commend all Delbarton educators for their resilience, adaptability, creativity and sensitivity. At a time when our students needed them more than ever, Delbarton teachers accepted the challenge and delivered an outstanding distance learning program to our young men. And speaking of creativity, let's conclude our official school year with a story about how two Delbarton colleagues partnered to combine teaching, sharing and learning in one tightly structured, highly entertaining experience that benefited students in not just one but two schools...

With final exams cancelled due to COVID-19, Delbarton science teachers Mrs. Margaret Nevistich and Mrs.Jessica McKeever found a novel way to review basic terms with their sophomore Intro to Chemistry students while helping elementary school teachers disrupt the sameness of distance learning.  During the last few days of classes at Virtual Delbarton, the teachers hosted joint classes with our young men and first, second and third grade students at St. Vincent the Martyr School (SVTM) in Madison, NJ. And, of course, remote learning meant that all students and teachers met virtually online from their homes. 

What inspired this great idea? Nevistich recalls she and McKeever were talking about the challenges of remote schooling. “We thought the students were missing interaction with one another and the more joyful parts that come with ‘real’ school, so we talked about a possible assignment they could do in lieu of a final test." McKeever had successfully conducted a similar assignment with students at her previous school, so the idea came pre-qualified -- and who wouldn’t be inspired by virtual classrooms full of eager, excited and curious first, second and third graders!

Nevistich reached out to several schools in the area and SVMS (Nevistich is a SVTM school parent and member of the education council) responded positively. SVMS Principal Sister Noreen Holly, SC, was quickly on board, and teachers and parents supported the activity too.

During the Zoom-based classes, Delbarton students read – slowly and animatedly, please -- a selection of carefully selected Chemistry ABC books while their Delbarton teacher turned the book pages that appeared on the full screen that was viewed by all.

Boys posed pre-arranged follow-up questions, listened to the answers, then responded in the role of a teacher, again gently coached on how to respond: “If he or she does not give a ‘correct’ answer for one that has a correct answer, you can say something like  ‘Good try on that one! It is ___.’  If he or she gives a ‘correct’ answer, you can say something like ‘Well done! That is correct!’

In Nevistich’s class, the first story The Amazing Adventures of Copper, Mercury and Neon was read by Lucas DePasquale ‘22. His classmates then asked simple questions when prompted by their teacher and the SVTM teacher chose students to respond. The Delbarton sophomores and the younger SVTM students seemed to genuinely enjoy and learn from the interaction.

The exercise, taking place over several school days, also doubled as an introduction to the life of an elementary school educator, another interesting experience for our students who consistently kept their responses positive, upbeat and engaging. The experiment in learning was a hit. 

Will Calder '22 later wrote, "Being able to read stories and see the faces of the second graders showed all of us how much of a positive impact we can have on kids younger than us in today's society. Being separated by a screen didn't stop the second graders from having a fun time listening to story books and asking questions about fun and interesting material. The bridge we created to fill the gap today showed every sophomore and second grader that our actions can make someone's day and that we can remain united despite separation."

Johnny McEvoy '22 wrote, "I thought that the joint class today was fun and it allowed us to spread the things that we learned this year to a younger demographic. I also liked how they weren't talking to their teacher and we weren't talking to ours but rather we were the ones talking to them which I think made the class a lot more enjoyable." Another student, Jake Checchio '22, commented, "I thought the joint class was awesome. It was cool to teach the 2nd graders some broad terms like chemistry. I liked meeting everyone and doing something new during online learning. Overall, this was a great experience and should definitely be continued in the future."

Delbarton thanks Sister Noreen and SVTM teachers Robin Galton, Pam O’Connor, Donna Tracey, Meghan Herbert, Mary Lynn Fetrow and Kate Donald for allowing their classes to participate, and for being such excellent working partners during the process. Thank you too to SVMS parents who agreed to let our students fill in as surrogate teachers during class time that, thanks to distance learning, was conducted in each student’s home. Finally, a salute to our two science teachers, Mrs. Margaret Nevistich and Mrs. Jessica McKeever, for keeping Chemistry class interesting all the way to the end -- and hats off to our young men for their enthusiastic participation in this unique collaboration!