EXPANDING COMMUNITY SERVICE EDUCATION DURING THE PANDEMIC
Last summer, with the coronavirus spreading across Oregon, Erica DeBois was struggling to figure out how she would teach Civics and Community Services at Century High School.
“How am I going to have this work?” DeBois thought about her class, which engages high schoolers in community service projects.
Prior to the pandemic, her class spent time with people in retirement communities, planted native plants in parks, helped at the Oregon Food Bank, and every week, went to elementary schools to help young students with reading and other subjects.
“I jokingly tell my high school students, ‘Nobody likes high school students. They’re all afraid of you. They all think you’re troublemakers. But these elementary kids adore you,’” said Debois, who also teaches United States history and has spent her entire career at Century since it opened in 1997.
She also remains committed to continuing Century students’ relationship with local elementary students.
DeBois knew those connections would be even more important this school year, with school being held remotely and all students hurting for social connections.
DeBois has since expanded the program’s reach — from a distance — in multiple ways.
She coordinated with colleagues at Hillsboro’s Ladd Acres and L.C. Tobias elementary schools to create a pen pal network between the students.
“My kids are loving it right now. They’re getting the letters back, ” DeBois said. “It’s nice for them to be a mentor, even though it’s through paper. It’s not ideal, but it’s doing something to promote a connection and positivity and normalcy in a lot of these kids’ lives.”
Her students have also connected with elementary students digitally, attending remote classes to discuss topics including advice for students about to enter middle school.
DeBois also invited her students to record themselves reading their favorite books out loud, then sent the recordings to younger students.
“They also did little home science lessons or craft lessons that teachers can draw from,” DeBois said. She said the need to adapt the class to the pandemic has allowed her to create more relationships with more teachers and students at more schools.
The value of her class, particularly this year, is apparent for her students, DeBois said.
“It’s giving them some purpose do something outside of themselves,” she said. “I think everybody wants that, and this class has always kind of given them the opportunity to do something for other people. “I feel like if I can hook them into community service, that might be something that they continue for their lives because it does make you feel good.”
While adapting her teaching to the pandemic, DeBois has also worked to support her own kids — a second-grader and a fourth-grader — and a small group of their friends with their academics.
After she noticed that her own kids were struggling with some subjects after distance learning started last school year, DeBois and a few other parents whose kids also had difficulties agreed to create a “learning pod.”
Every other week since then, DeBois has hosted the small group to support the students in English and social studies, while another parent supports them in science and math.
DeBois says she feels lucky to be able to run the learning pod because she knows most parents, including those of one student in the learning pod, don’t have jobs that allow them to provide extra learning support.
Being more involved in her kids’ learning has made one thing clear. “It is hard teaching your own kids,” DeBois said.