From left to right: Amber Ridenour ’06 & ’13, Cassidy Urie ’17, Mike Johnson ’19 and Anna Osborn ’91

“We’re in this together.” It has become a global catchphrase as the world adapts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But its meaning rings especially true for teachers, who continue to serve to their fullest ability. As the majority of states extend school closures for the remainder of the school year, educators have quickly risen to the challenge.

We asked Columbia College alumni who work in education to share their experiences from the front lines. Each story shares a common thread — supporting their communities with compassion — as we all find our way through this most unexpected time.

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A 6th grade math teacher in Columbia, Missouri, Cassidy Urie ’17 continues to keep her students engaged in this new environment.

She mails handwritten notes of encouragement and is delighted to receive messages in return. Zoom meetings have quickly become virtual classrooms, as her students log in to see their peers, share stories and ask questions. Of course, many pets and siblings have made appearances on these Zoom calls, which she says has been an added treat.

“The hardest part for me personally is not seeing my kids again,” says Urie, who earned a master of education from Columbia College in 2017 and has taught in Columbia Public Schools for eight years. “I miss their laughs, their jokes and their silliness. I miss them asking the most random questions during my lesson and seeing the light bulb go off when they understand a concept.”

Above all, Urie advises her students to take care of themselves. Whether it is spending time with family, reading a book, going outside or learning a new hobby, she encourages them to do what makes them happy.

“And always remember that your teachers are here for you,” she says. “We will get through this. Until then, try to keep your head up and find joys in the little things.”

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As a reading specialist for Jefferson Middle School, Anna Osborn ’91 focuses on connectivity. She feels fortunate that her district provide a few days warning prior to the shutdown so that she was able to practice connecting to educational apps and email with her students.

For students, it has become a balancing act to share Wi-Fi with siblings and parents also working from home. “It has not been unusual for a student to tell me that they can’t Zoom at our original time because several family members need to be in meetings at once,” Osborn says. “Teachers are ready and willing to provide accommodations as needed to make sure every student succeeds.”

This unexpected change to the educational system has given parents more responsibility and expanded opportunities to connect with their school districts. While parents offer support through private Facebook groups and parent-teacher associations, administrators recommend families create schedules that work best for them.

Osborn, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Columbia College and a master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, urges families to follow their children’s needs. “If they say they cannot concentrate on a print book, consider another way for them to experience story or to learn material,” she says.

But most importantly, Osborn asks families need to give each other grace. “Spend lots of time loving each other right now. We know this is a tough time for many of our families. We want to help in any ways we can.”

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In the small rural school community of St. Elizabeth, Missouri, the school district has pivoted to distance learning. Without the equipment and technology necessary for all students to meet and learn online, teachers have alternated weekly bus routes to distribute work packets to approximately 267 students across the district, as well as food to families in need.

With a case load that extends the K-12 curriculum, Amber Ridenour ’06 & ’13 has served as a special education teacher at St. Elizabeth for three years. She reminds her students often that she misses them and wish them well.

“I speak to my students throughout the week,” says Ridenour, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Education from Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks. “I encourage them to complete the work independently but to be sure to contact me if they need help.”

Even with an educational background, Ridenour relates to the struggles of parents who have had to oversee school lessons from home. “I let parents and families know that I am here to support them and that they can contact me for assistance with homework or if they just need someone to talk to.”

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Mike Johnson ’19 is the assistant for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment and director of Transportation for Southern Boone County R-1 Schools in Missouri. This being his first year not teaching in the classroom in nearly a decade, he now lends his support to teachers and administrators in working with students.

When the school district announced its closure, Johnson was asked to oversee food service to students in need.

“It’s been a great service our district has provided for our community, with great support from our school board, superintendent and entire staff,” says Johnson, who completed his master in Education at Columbia College in 2019. “It has been an opportunity to provide a little help for families during a very difficult time.”

In partnership with the district’s food service director, breakfast and lunch has been provided to the students and families for any day school would have normally been in session. By mid-April, the district was providing more than 3,000 meals to about 300 children per week.

“Southern Boone has always been a strong community,” Johnson says. “But this has highlighted how many amazing people are a part of this district.”