As teachers, parents and students continue to adjust to the new normal of distance learning, modifications are being made and technology has become the main source of communication and connection.
For non-traditional classes, this could present some challenges but Southern Preparatory Academy director of aviation studies Jacob Norotsky found a way to keep his students engaged with learning while also retaining personal connections.
“Aviation is an industry and a culture that requires you to be connected,” Norotsky said. “As soon as a student doesn’t feel connected anymore, they put their studies on the back burner and focus on core classes, so their work starts to hurt and their grades take a hit.”
Norotsky’s focus is designing his teaching style to retain the bond created between he and his students and between the students and one another.
“I teach every day at the same time we would normally hold the class period with online video conferences,” Norotsky said. “The students log in and I have office hours 30 minutes before classes start. I make it a point to use that time for a relaxed atmosphere.”
Students have the opportunity to catch up, make small talk, put their dogs on camera and preserve that camaraderie.
“By having that time before class where kids see you as a human, drinking a cup of coffee, lets them know when it’s time to do something they’re doing it because we have that connection,” Norotsky said. “Plus on video conference they see me and I see them for that visual connection. They know every day for five days a week they’ll see each other.”
The added benefit to this routine is if a student does not log in to class, it prompts Norotsky to check in and make sure everything is OK.
“Everyone wants to get on and reconnect, hang out with one another,” he said. “If someone is not there, there’s a reason.”
By honing in on that missing student, Norotsky can provide one-on-one attention for whatever the issue may be — whether problems at home or guilt for missing schoolwork — and help get the student back on track.
“Getting left behind puts them in a pickle, so if I can catch them that day or next day, I can get them back on track,” Norotsky said.
The majority of learning at this point is building on the foundation Norotsky has created throughout the first half of the semester.
“We’re fortunate this occurred when it did because a lot of the roots had been taught, so I’ve been able to build on those,” he said.
Students in the aviation course also have a drone segment, so Norotsky’s been trying to incorporate that into his teaching method with remote sessions. He drives across the Southeast once a week to a student’s house with a drone and holds one-on-one instruction.
“The boys love it because they get to use their drones,” Norotsky said. “I’m outside and stay socially distant.”
Parents getting to meet the teacher and interact in this personalized environment is also beneficial.
“It’s very important that the parents, as they’re more in the equation than ever before, know they have our support,” Norotsky said. “There has to be a connection between the parents and students and more than, ‘I know your teacher’s name.’ This way we can talk together and come up with a plan to keep students on track.”
This same element applies throughout the school when three days a week, Southern Prep hosts Operation Connection. A teacher, a coach and a member of the military department get together online at 9 a.m. and students can log in to ask questions, talk about their lives and get an academic, athletic and military perspective.
“Yes, parents are being challenged but kids are being challenged by it too,” Norotsky said. “A lot of these students have grown exponentially at school. Now they have to go back home and deal with the challenges they had before coming to school.”
As a private military academy, students at Southern Prep often come to the school with disciplinary issues or other challenges and the curriculum teaches life skills as well as academics.
“We’re seeing our success continue to grow because the boys are able to go back into the real world with those lifelines they know to reach out to and stay in contact,” Norotsky said. “Students are reaching out to us and talking instead of trying to take on situations at home. Education wise, it’s important for kids at home still walking through life with the support of teachers and that’s what our guys are doing. We’re working through life with them.”