Crystal Lake teacher finds creative way to communicate with students amid school closure

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When Crystal Lake Central High School choir director Kimberly Scherrer’s students found out they would be out of school for a while because of the coronavirus outbreak, they had the same concerns most music students would have.

They wondered if they still would have a concert, and how they would prepare for it.

But the overwhelming concern from students, Scherrer said, was that they weren't going to see each other.

Scherrer sees most of her students for one class period a day, and some for two. Around the time it was announced that schools would close, Scherrer had been spending hours after school every day, from 3 to 9 p.m., with students involved in the "Fiddler on the Roof" musical, which ended up being canceled.

"They're missing that connection," Scherrer said. "They're not used to being away from each other."

So Scherrer started "Chai Tea Chats" to fill the void and communicate with students in an online format.

Scherrer posts her "Chai Tea Chat" videos to a program called Flipgrid. The videos aren't always about music. Sometimes Scherrer talks about what students can do to care for themselves, and she also used a chat to explain to students what e-learning is.

Through Flipgrid, Scherrer also has put out prompts for her students to follow. One was to introduce themselves to the choir in a new way, such as by taking a picture of their house or showing other students their pets and siblings.

She encouraged students to be creative.

"Do an accent, rap it, sing it, however you want to be you, and I'm going to share these videos," Scherrer said.

The "Chai Tea Chat" name comes from an inside joke she and her students have about the drink Scherrer usually had on her piano when they'd come into class.

"They'll be like, 'Oh, she's caffeinating today! ... Is this your first one or second one?'" Scherrer said. "We always laugh about my chai tea, so I said, 'How about this: How about I post every day a Chai Tea Chat, and I'll let you know what's going on in my world that day, and I'll give you some helpful tools and hints.'"

Students have gotten creative, Scherrer said. One made a video in her kitchen on how to make chai tea from scratch.

They've also been practicing their music and singing for each other.

"It's been great to see students putting themselves out there," Scherrer said.

Scherrer also has a segment of her chats where she encourages students to try something new or think a little differently about their day.

"In the beginning I talked about the importance of maintaining ... a schedule where you are showering every day and getting up and getting dressed, and how to manage your time," Scherrer said.

Sometimes Scherrer shares a song or musical artist who is offering free online concerts her students can listen to.

"I want to make sure that my students have access to all of these listening opportunities now that we're experiencing art together in a different way," Scherrer said.

Scherrer said now that e-learning is set to begin, she'll move to a different format, where she will have students complete theory work, tell them about what they are rehearsing that day and provide rehearsal recordings.

"But to fill that gap, right now I'm really focused on the social and emotional well-being of our students," Scherrer said Monday.

She said that even during e-learning, she will continue to post things to help students' social and emotional growth.

The response from students, and even their families, has been great, she said.

"I've heard that families are viewing them all together, students are scheduling time on social media to watch them together," she said. "They can laugh and talk about what they're seeing, and that's really inspired me to continue every day."

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