Teachers get creative to end school year virtually with art, exercise and more

  • Long-term physical education substitute teacher Jason Butynski is working on a virtual field day for his students at Newton School, including an egg carrying relay. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Newton School art teacher Stacy Quinn created a virtual art show of her students’ work. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2020 6:38:24 PM

GREENFIELD — We’ve heard many stories about local seniors who won’t be able to participate in a traditional graduation ceremony or didn’t have a prom due to the global pandemic, but what about the younger students who didn’t get to participate in traditional end-of-the-year activities?

Former Greenfield Recorder sports editor, now Newton School long-term physical education substitute Jason Butynski, misses his students and had an idea that he’s following through with all of next week.

“I’m holding a Virtual Field Day: Mr. B’s Blast Off To Summer, so that students have something to finish out the year,” Butynski said.

Donning a T-shirt, shorts, a sweatband and eye black, Butynski released a video trailer earlier this past week giving his students — about 250 of them — an idea of what’s in store for next week.

“Since we went to virtual learning, I’ve been doing daily lessons on my web page,” Butynski said. “I’ve wanted students to stay active by using things they could find around their homes. But I also wanted something a little more special to end the year.”

Butynski said all teachers at Newton School have their own pages on the school’s website. He uses his page daily to give students assignments to keep them moving.

“I thought about all of my students, kindergartners through fourth-graders, stuck at home, not able to be with their friends as the year ends, and I wanted to find a way they could feel like they were part of something bigger,” he said.

Butynski came up with a virtual field day. By the end of the day on Friday, he planned to have mini-videos posted on his web page with instructions for at least the first event that will be held on Monday. He said each will include instructions and modifications so that students can participate in their homes or yards.

“We had a great field day last year,” he said. “I didn’t want them to miss out this year. I wanted to keep with the tradition. It’ll just be done a little differently this time.”

Typically, the school holds a field day in which the entire day is dedicated to activities. Since that can’t happen this year, Butynski said he wanted to keep students busy every day and give them something to look forward to all week.

Butynski said he is encouraging students to post photos and videos of themselves participating. He said the class with the highest participation will be rewarded with a virtual pizza party the following week. Pizzas will be delivered to students’ homes and then they, their families, Butynski and their teacher will gather on Google Meet, have a meal together and chat before school ends for the year.

“This is all voluntary, but I’m encouraging all Newton students to participate and have fun with us,” he said.

Some of the games and activities will include Skee-Ball with a sock ball, a sponge relay and a spoon relay using an egg. He’ll also show students how to participate in a paper airplane KanJam.

“The goal is to keep them active while following proper social distancing guidelines,” he said. “That’s very important. We don’t want kids from different households getting together to do this.”

Butynski said he loves that families have been completing his assignments together and will be participating in the virtual field day together, too.

Art class

Newton School art teacher Stacy Quinn said the year started like any of the others she has taught at the local elementary school.

“We did our daily and weekly lessons and then the school had to close,” Quinn said. “I was collecting the art they had been doing for our art show in May, but obviously that didn’t happen.”

Quinn instead created a virtual art show, taking photos of all of her students’ artwork and creating a Google slideshow and a video to music that can be found on the Newton School website. It features artwork from all 250 students in kindergarten through fourth grade — everything from hearts, fish and flowers to birds, animals and landscapes.

“Normally, each child has anywhere from two to five pieces in our ‘normal’ art show,” she said. “Everyone has at least two in the video.”

Quinn said it has been difficult to teach art online, especially since she wasn’t sure what kind of supplies all of her students had at home.

“So I created new lessons that involved finding objects around the house or outside,” she said. “I’d write up a lesson and put it online, and students and their families would work together to complete the assignments.”

The key was creating simple, but thorough, instructions that were easy to follow, she said. She’s been teaching five days a week since the pandemic began, shutting down the school, and has offered everything from a drawing day to a mystery drawing activity. She said older students also received lessons in art history and more in-depth issues.

Quinn, who has taught at Newton School for the past five years, said she misses her students. Each week she sends them and their families an email just to say “Hi” and to stay in contact. They can also visit her web page on Newton School’s website any time they want to.

“I just want them to be busy and creative, and to enjoy the art show,” she said. “It’s all theirs.”

All of the art has since been returned to students, Quinn said.

Robotics class

Like Quinn, robotics teacher Rachel Cummings said the biggest challenge she has faced is how to teach the subject not knowing what materials students have at home.

“I focused on teaching the elements of design and engineering, instead of building,” she said. “I posted information and assignments on my web page. Students learned more about those and if they had LEGOs, for instance, they could also build.”

She said families have been sending her photos of things some of the students have built and she, in turn, has posted them online.

Cummings plans to make a compilation video of a competition her third- and fourth-graders at Newton School, as well as other students’ projects throughout the district, participated in before the pandemic hit. That will be her end-of-the-year project. Sarah Devine, who coaches robotics teams with Cummings, is helping create the video.

“We’re celebrating a crazy year,” Cummings said. “We did accomplish quite a bit, even though we couldn’t be together.”

Cummings has also provided links to students and their families so they can visit websites that provide information about robotics, coding and other subjects. She said she spent a lot of time teaching problem-solving and teamwork.

“We just all had to do what we could do in the situation we found ourselves in,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time not only teaching, but offering technical support to families and teachers.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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