Above and Beyond the Classroom

by Tom Akers correspondent

Above and Beyond the Classroom: Teaching during a pandemic.

Lisa Miller - Cambridge High Counselor

“I just want to say I am proud of all of them” summarizes Cambridge High School Counselor Lisa Miller’s outlook on teaching during a pandemic. Miller is a 1986 graduate of AlWood High School. She received her Bachelor's Degree from Northern Illinois University and her Masters in School Counseling from Western Illinois University.

Miller has been teaching for twenty two years, twenty of them at Cambridge High School originally as a PE/Health teacher and now as the school counselor. She has also coached, “pretty much everything except golf and football” including high school volleyball, basketball, and track. She also has served as the student council and S.A.L.T. sponsor.

Typically school counselors are incredibly busy in the spring and when the pandemic hit Miller was in the midst of one of her most critical times. The first hurdle was meeting the needs of the thirty plus graduating seniors, “Providing college and career information is usually best hands on, but I was able to get all of the career resources in one easy to access resource with the help of many different college, military, trades, and volunteer agency recruiters.” This online resource is still available for students at www.district227.org.

Her second challenge was scheduling returning students for the upcoming school year. “Scheduling is usually a big puzzle for each student to review grad requirements and courses. Converting all of this to a digital format and communicating with each individual student was challenging at times, but I was impressed with how well all students adapted to the changes and it was almost more efficient!”

The third and probably most vital challenge for Miller was the anxiety her students were feeling during the pandemic. She worked online to provide both the students and staff members with as much support as possible. “Self care, stress, and a variety of other mental health issues are always there in a normal year, but during a pandemic all of these issues were much more prevalent, we had to get creative with some of the delivery. I was able to do so with the help of my Students Advisory and Leadership Team students who helped with an email Wellness Campaign for students during the pandemic and then when in person they resumed hosting fun activities for students and staff. I also developed a virtual Self-Care room in the virtual counseling office.

Her work with all of the staff and students has paid off as she successfully helped to navigate the graduating seniors through the process, a feat Miller lists as one of her favorite moments during the pandemic. “I'm proud to hear when they secure that interview, are awarded a scholarship, or get accepted to their college choice. We are right there with them through the process and my heart is so full when they succeed.”

While Miller has managed to navigate so many staff and students through the uncharted waters of the pandemic, on a personal level the past year has impacted her personally. “My role in my family has changed this year with the loss of my mom at the start of the pandemic and now I have shifted more focus on protecting my dad from exposure. I've always had a close relationship with my family, but the pandemic has created an even stronger bond. I am a big hugger though and this six feet is super hard at times!”

It is this level of resilience, a quality Miller works to teach her students that she wants parents to know most about her work as a school counselor. “Throughout all of the adjustments that have been made, it never ceases to amaze me how resilient our students are. They have adapted to everything we have thrown out and rolled with it. The school day looks a lot different, but even with all of the changes, for their cooperation and efforts!”

Lana Stahl McDonough- Cambridge Kindergarten

“I have had to learn to pause, take a deep breath, and take the challenges as they come!” One of the ways Cambridge Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Lana Stahl McDonough uses to get through the challenges of teaching during the pandemic.

McDonough is a graduate of Cambridge High School. She went on to receive her Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education Degree from St. Ambrose University and has been teaching for seventeen years. Ms. Lana as heer students call her, taught at Alwood Elementary for two and a half years then directed and taught at my own preschool, "Lana's Little School" for ten years while running the Birth to Five Program for Alwood Elementary School during that time. She then came home and taught PreK and Kindergarten at Cambridge Elementary for the past 10 years.

Using technology was the first hurdle Ms. Lana had to overcome at the beginning of the pandemic. Teaching five year olds online was something she had never dreamed of, “I have had to go outside my own comfort zone and learn new things associated with technology. I have been blessed with a co-teacher who has been extremely easy to collaborate with and many parents who have risen to the challenge.”

One of the biggest parts of kindergarten is the social side of things, a difficult thing to teach using a computer screen or keeping five year olds six feet apart. “Interaction is a huge component of a Kindergarten environment. We are taught that children learn best through play and interaction. However, play has looked much different than the norm this year. We have been challenged to come up with ways for the kids to interact while still social distancing but we’ve managed to overcome this hurdle and the kids are happy to be with each other.”

The closure of the schools throughout the spring last year was hard for Ms. Lana but it also led her to one of her favorite moments in the past year, “when we were able to get most of the kids back in school for in person learning. Even though we were wearing masks, you could see the smiles in their eyes. It was great to see the excitement and hear the laughter back in the classroom!”

Family is very important to Ms. Lana, being a Cambridge native she has a large family nearby whom she has worried about since last March. “It is hard when you are worried about your own family and their health, as well as your students and their families. I am a very social person and enjoy getting together with family and friends, so it has been hard not to gather.”

It is, however, her desire to return to normalcy which Ms. Lana wants parents to know. “I know that it hasn't been easy for parents not to be able to be involved in our classroom setting. I am so accustomed to having parent volunteers and parents coming in and out of our classroom for special activities and holidays. I just want parents to know that I am doing everything I can to make the kids feel safe and loved while in my classroom. It is so important for the kids to love and want to come to school!”

Her wish for 2021? “Health and Happiness!”