Alumna teacher fills virtual classroom with love, support
Amanda Neary '06 goes the extra mile for her Hinesburg fourth-graders after COVID-19 disrupts lives and routines
In times of wavering optimism and instability, people are especially reliant on hope. Amanda Neary ‘06, a fourth-grade teacher at Hinesburg Community School and former Saint Michael’s College graduate student, did not allow pandemic-driven hysteria to interfere with her devotion to the classroom. Instead, Neary used this as an opportunity to provide her students with an optimal learning experience and a virtual shoulder to lean on.
“I had such a deeply rich connection to these kids before we went remote. We were a family of learners,” Neary said, discussing the bond she formed with her students. Their relationship allowed for receptive collaboration and communication amidst the challenging transition to virtual education. In order to maintain momentum and ease the burdensome changes for students, patience and consistency were key, according to Neary. “I also felt that emotionally, these kids needed to come to terms with what was happening around them, so I didn’t want to start mandating assignments,” she said.
Although this learning family couldn’t gather physically, Neary met with students daily on Google Meet during an implemented two-week maintenance period, and three times a week for the duration of the academic year. The fourth-grade class engaged in casual discussion, mad-libs, and conversations about current events. She was also available for students and parents during virtual office hours to troubleshoot any difficulties with assignments.
“Peers learn better from other peers,” said Neary, who used virtual learning as a vessel to allow her students to teach each other. Students who were particularly sharp in navigating Google Classroom were paired to work with other classmates and families. “We’d gather on a Google Meet and a student would share his/her screen and teach a classmate how to navigate Classroom,” said Neary, who found it uplifting to witness this initiative by students to teach one another during a time of such uncertainty.
Neary considers herself lucky that the Champlain Valley Union school district was able to provide Chromebook laptops for students from grades 2 through 12. Having used these computers in the classroom, her students were familiar with them, which allowed for a smooth transition into distance learning. However, it concerned her to think about students and parents of other school districts that couldn’t provide technological resources to students. She also felt concern for students who lack stable internet connections at home, which greatly impacts the efficacy of online learning.
Following the global pandemic and just outrage over the widely-publicized killings of Black men and women either by police or in other racist incidents came a powerful national call for racial justice, and Neary foresees mindful approaches to these difficult topics in the classroom. “It is important, and we can’t shy away from these tough topics, but we have to be mindful of our approach and how we may bring things to the table, while not bringing bias to kids,” she said. “We need to just present information and let them come up with their own thoughts.” Neary has always been mindful and purposeful in her classrooms to include diverse forms of literature that represent an array of backgrounds, and said her district is currently filling libraries with inclusive literature for all ages to make information more readily available.
As a third-generation teacher, Neary feels obligated to be a positive influence in students’ lives. “I hope that I can inspire kids to be positive, kind, and supportive of one another,” she said, noting that many students do not have solid role models or consistency in their own lives in a time when the world presents so many weighty challenges — so she strives to be a constant for them, while shining some needed brightness into their lives whenever possible. “When they’re in my classroom, they don’t have to worry. I want them to know that I will always be there for them,” she said.
During their last Google Meet, she and student-families report, there was not one dry eye in the virtual classroom. “The last day of school is always bittersweet, but this year was just different,” Neary said.
The unique bond she formed with students, paired with sudden changes to learning, bred an emotional experience for every member of the learning family. The teacher concluded the school year by providing her students with powerful advice that can apply to all areas of life: “Use your voice, be proud of who you are, and stick up for your friends who need help,” an emotional and tearful Neary told her students. “The more you help others and the more you give, the fuller your bucket would be.”
Although this learning family’s time as a collective has come to an end, her students are reminded of their special place in Neary’s heart, and that she is only one click away.