That’s how we innovate
Study Buddies provide online classrooms and community during COVID-19 crisis
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, Bluffton University. Ohio schools had closed as well, and in response, Bluffton quickly developed and promoted a new program called Bluffton Study Buddies.
The program allows Bluffton educator preparation majors to obtain student teaching and field experience hours while providing a service to the wider community. Study Buddies mentor preschool through high school students and provide 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 has been a very, very helpful resource for our family. My sons Finn and Keane know every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they need to get on Zoom for their lessons.”
Arron’s oldest son, 12-year-old Cooper, has also gotten on for quick help with his coursework.
Finn, who is 9 and in the third grade, is working 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 is reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, “Little House in the Big Woods.” They are also working on comprehension skills through fun activities developed by the Study Buddies such as “Little House” Jeopardy.
“This experience has definitely made me think about teaching in a different way. To be a teacher, you have to learn to adjust, and this has been 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. Now, out of the classroom, I’m just trying my best to apply those lessons while constantly adjusting and working with the students where they are at, and right now, they’re online.”
To finish their Bluffton student-teaching requirements, educator preparation majors can serve as a Study Buddy, tutor independently or complete online modules on best practices to use in the classroom. The modules cover topics from helping students become independent learners to strategies to use with students who speak English as a second language. They can also continue helping their cooperating teachers, though the work is often limited.
McMullen-Ruppert, who had been student teaching in Chicago through a Bluffton partnership with the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture, is completing some of the modules, but he prefers the opportunities provided through Study Buddies.
“The other 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 this setting, you can’t always plan ahead and that can be hard, but it’s also a lot of fun and it still allows me to interact with kids.”
In its first 10 days, students, from preschoolers to teenagers, have logged on to the Study Buddies Zoom page more than 130 times with kids logging on from multiple states including Ohio, New York, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. Some of the students logging on have 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 has been a challenge, but Study Buddies is helping her and the kids she’s interacting with maintain a sense of normalcy.
“There’s a kindergartner who I’ve been working with on subtraction. I’ve never met her in person, but she’s 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 want to give her a hug.”
The program proves that in times of crisis communities, whether they’re ones you’ve been connected to for decades or have just learned about recently, 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 time. I’m grateful now and will be for a while.”