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Teacher Appreciation Week Wrap-Up: See How Educators Are Innovating During COVID-19

With most schools closed through the end of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, teachers have had to act quickly to move academic classes online. But many have also found themselves looking for ways to recreate some other important school experiences—like the end-of-year celebrations that students will miss.

To celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, here are three stories of teachers who have come up with creative ways to mark milestones, connect with students, and keep their classes learning while school buildings are closed.

For more Teacher Appreciation Week stories, see: 

See How 3 Educators Are Helping Students During COVID-19

Stories of Dedication and Creativity

Jeanette Gordon, the dance program director at Whitney M. Young Magnet School in Chicago, honored seniors who would have participated in the end of year dance show—even though the students weren't able to perform. 

"This showcase at the end of the year ... it's the big show that everyone waits for," said Lina Klak, a 12th grader at the school, in an interview. Each year, the seniors in the program do a special tribute dance, and they're all presented with roses. Saturday was supposed to be their closing night.

So that day, Gordon went to every senior's house and dropped off a gift bag. Inside, said Klak, were their purple costumes for the senior tribute, special water bottles from the dance program, and their senior roses. 

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Klak's classmate, Naomi Wu, edited a video of Gordon's trip during the day. At the end, the dance teacher had a message for her students.  

"When I left my last dancer, I got into my car and looked at the clock, and it was exactly 7 o'clock—when the curtain should have been opening for our final seniors' final performance," Gordon said. 

"And then I had time to reflect on my drive home about, just the beauty, and the vastness, and the diversity of our city, and I just feel very grateful for Whitney Young, and for dance, for bringing us together," she said, her voice catching. 

A map route in the video shows Gordon hitting all 34 seniors' houses, driving the length of the city.

"She just helped bring a lot of joy on a day that was a little bit sad," said Klak. "We love her a lot."

Jennifer Hines, a 6th grade teacher for deaf and hard of hearing students at Eissler Elementary in Bakersfield, Calif., said teaching remotely presents unique challenges. 

Hines and her colleagues have had to create some of their own resources to provide spelling and math instruction in American Sign Language, or ASL, she told Bakersfield FOX affiliate KBFX-CD. They've also posted videos designed to teach students' families how to sign. 

Since school shutdowns began, children's book authors and some celebrities have read stories online for students out of school. But these videos aren't an option for her students, Hines said. "They're not in ASL. So we've taken on that challenge to make the videos," she said, interpreting the stories and telling them in sign language. 

"People are helping me learn new technology, and then I can help other people," said Hines.

Bethany Thiele, an art teacher at Brambleton Middle School in Ashburn, Va., has posted online tutorials on her YouTube channel for projects that students can do at home, with items from around their house. 

In one from last month, Thiele demonstrates how to assemble a portrait out of clothing that students might have around the house. Thiele's portrait, of Frida Kahlo, features brightly colored sweaters, t-shirts, and stockings. 

Another video shows how to use a banana—yes, the fruit—as a canvas, by poking holes into the peel. The oxidation that occurs when the peel is punctured turns the skin brown, allowing her to create patterns and drawings.  

"And then, guess what?" Thiele says, in the video. "The best part is, you can still eat your banana."

Image: Jeanette Gordon, the dance program director at Whitney M. Young Magnet School in Chicago, delivers roses to seniors unable to perform in their final dance show on Saturday, May 2. Image and video courtesy of Lina Klak and Naomi Wu.

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