Bluffton Study Buddies

Denny and Jenny Zoom

Online classrooms and community provided during the COVID-19 crisis.

June 2020

When schools closed their doors in Endwell, New York, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Michelle (Nakoneczny ’99) Arron was concerned about keeping her sons engaged in learning. Then she logged onto Facebook and saw a post from her alma mater. Ohio schools had closed as well, and in response, Bluffton quickly developed and promoted a new program called Bluffton Study Buddies. The program allowed Bluffton educator preparation majors to obtain student teaching and field experience hours while providing a service to the wider community. Study Buddies mentored preschool through high school students and provided homework help/educational activities through the videoconferencing platform Zoom. 

“I emailed right away to confirm that my boys could join up with a Study Buddy, and I had a quick response back,” said Arron. “Study Buddies was a very, very helpful resource for our family. My sons Finn and Keane knew every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they needed to get on Zoom for their lessons.”

Arron’s oldest son, 12-year-old Cooper, also logged on for quick help with his coursework.

Finn, who is 9 and in the third grade, worked on English and Language Arts skills with a group of first through third grade boys. With their Study Buddies, Leslie Beasley ’20, an intervention specialist major from Columbus, Ohio, and Robert McMullen-Ruppert ’20, an intervention specialist major from Montpelier, Ohio, the group read the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, “Little House in the Big Woods.” They also worked on comprehension skills through fun activities developed by the Study Buddies such as “Little House” Jeopardy.

“This experience definitely made me think about teaching in a different way. To be a teacher, you have to learn to adjust, and this was the biggest adjustment lesson ever!” explained Beasley, who had been student teaching at Lima North Middle School when schools closed.

“In the classroom, you have to think on your feet. Out of the classroom, I just tried my best to apply those lessons while constantly adjusting and working with the students where they are at.”

To finish their Bluffton student-teaching requirements, educator preparation majors could serve as a Study Buddy, tutor independently or complete online modules on best practices to use in the classroom. The modules covered topics from helping students become independent learners to strategies to use with students who speak English as a second language. They could also continue to help their cooperating teachers, though the work was often limited.

McMullen-Ruppert, who had been student teaching in Chicago through a Bluffton partnership with the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture, completed some of the modules, but he preferred the opportunities provided through Study Buddies.

“One day, I was partnered with a kid who wanted to learn about science. So I looked up the Ohio standards, and I put something together really fast on precipitation,” said McMullen-Rupert. “In the Study Buddies setting, you couldn’t always plan ahead and that was hard, but it was also a lot of fun and it still allowed me to interact with kids.”

From March through May, students logged on to the Study Buddies Zoom page more than 500 times, Zooming in from states including Ohio, New York, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. Some of the students who sought help had no prior connection to Bluffton University and learned about the program through social media shares or news reports.

For Danielle Ray ’20, an intervention specialist and early childhood education major from Convoy, Ohio, being away from the students she had grown close to while student teaching at Bath Elementary School in Lima, Ohio, had been a challenge, but Study Buddies helped her and the kids she interacted with maintain a sense of normalcy.

“There’s a kindergartner who I worked with on subtraction. I had never met her in person, but she was so excited to work with me,” said Ray. “I’m such a hands on person, and this is such a hard time for everyone. I just wanted to give her a hug.”

The program proved that in times of crisis, communities— whether they’re ones you’ve been connected to for decades or just recently learned about, can come together in new and unexpected ways.

“My husband and I are very thankful for the Study Buddy Program and that I was able to see it on Facebook the exact moment when I did,” explained Arron.

“I graduated over 20 years ago, and never would have thought my kids, who are not college aged, would be attending ‘class’ at Bluffton University at this point in their lives. I’m grateful now and will continue to be.”