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SOCIAL DISTANCE LEARNING: Keeping Students Engaged In Time Of Caronavirus!

Social Distance learning: Music and dance schools, Science Center and others keep kids virtually engaged in time of coronavirus

Cleveland Ballet Conservatory

The Cleveland Ballet Conservatory is one of many dance schools offering virtual classes. (Courtesy of Cleveland Ballet Academy)By 

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Students of the Cleveland Ballet Conservatory in North Royalton reported to class this weekend, but not as usual. Lessons took place on iPhones and computers.

More than 50 students in the pre-professional division were given a set of exercises and requirements by instructors and were told to submit time-lapse performance videos of for evaluation.

“We’re calling it our eCurriculum. I had not been planning ahead for this, but knew we had to do something right away when we heard about schools closing,” says owner Kerry Skuderin. “I felt it was a necessity to keep going, for parents and students.

“This is unknown territory, and we don’t know what is to come, but I have three children of my own and I know how much we need normalcy. Plus, the dancers need to keep up their techniques if we are out for, say, eight weeks. And of course, mental health is so important.”

The academy that has 150 students ages 2 to 18 was one of the first extracurricular schools and activity centers in town to switch to virtual lessons during a time of social distancing and coronavirus precautions. But they are far from alone. School orchestras, martial arts academies, the Cleveland Public Library, the Great Lakes Science Center and even the School of Rock are rapidly shifting to temporary virtual lessons.

“It’s important for kids to be moving and doing something during the day,” says Skuderin. “It’s good for brain health, too. … Plus, parents need to know they have support, it’s hard when you are in your house all day with your kids, they may need something to motivate them.”

Madeline Roback, 15, is a student at the school.

“I think that it is really important to continue distance training during this weird time," she says. "Of course, the online classes aren’t truly allowing for the same level and depth of in-studio work, but something is better than nothing, particularly since the pandemic and ban on public gatherings and the like are ongoing indefinitely. … While the situation surrounding this is beyond devastating, some good is coming out of it.”

Shelly Norehad, owner of three Cleveland School of Rock locations, thought about her students and staff while making the decision to switch to app-based classes as of Wednesday.

School of Rock

The School of Rock is going online, temporarily. (Louie Novotny)

“All of my teachers are working musicians, and they have all had their gigs canceled,” she says. “One of my biggest priorities is keeping these guys working and getting paid.”

Norehad and her staff have come up with an interactive plan that will be safe for both students and teachers. Each will download the Zoom app, and parents will get an email inviting them to “attend.” Student will be put in a “waiting room” and when it is time for the lesson, it will take place live — virtually.

“I didn’t want to shut down. I think kids need engagement,” says Norehad. “Once we figure out the lessons, we may add some kind of extra things, ways kids can interact in a group. We want to help kids keep up their skills and stay engaged. … A lot of the kids, this is their main social outlet. I do not want to take that away.”

Several area schools and venues are reaching out to the general public, not just current students, with free virtual classes.

Shaker Square-based Cleveland City Dance is continuing with online classes for current students, plus adding free virtual activities for the general public beginning this week on their Facebook page and website:

“It’s about community; we’re embedded in this community,” says executive and artistic director Courtney Laves-Mearini. “We have been since 1965. This is a way for us to give a little back to people. We know it’s a struggle for parents coming up with things to do all day at home.”

Cleveland Inner City Ballet also announced a free Virtual Online Ballet Instruction Program over the weekend.

“We want to keep your little ones moving over the next three weeks as they are off from school. We will be offering fun and engaging ballet instruction and tutorials you can practice in the privacy of your own home,” says the group’s Facebook page. Lessons will be available via Facebook or their website,

The Great Lakes Science Center has announced a wide-ranging educational initiative called Curiosity Corner Live. It’s a free web-based series encompassing a STEM curriculum and programming.

“The shift is critical for the Science Center to continue to serve its mission,” says a news release. Curiosity Corner Live is reached via the Science Center’s YouTube channel, with new content posted every weekday at 10:30 a.m., including experiments children can do at home and content filmed at the center. The first video was posted Friday, and a second lesson was posted Monday. It began with a reminder to wash your hands, and a was followed by an engineering boat-building design challenge.

“Great Lakes Science Center’s commitment to being a community-focused, STEM education organization has never been more necessary. All of us here at the Science Center have been so motivated by this opportunity to ensure families, educators and students have a daily source for STEM engagement,” says Science Center President and CEO Kirsten Ellenbogen.

Denyse Lipka-Carbonell was an art teacher in the Cleveland schools for 20 years. She now runs a painting business called Artist at Heart. On Friday, she suggested the idea of free online art classes on her Facebook page, since “everybody was freaking out about what they were going to do, and parents were concerned about their kids being home.” By Monday, she had 21,000 followers — up from 2,000.

She taught her first streaming class at noon Monday, teaching kids (and a few adults) how to make a heart into a shamrock and to paint a Lake Erie sunset, using whatever materials they have on hand.

“Art can calm you and make you feel better,” she says of her motivation. “It’s a great way to express yourself, more about the process and the product.”

She says many parents have asked about paying her, "but I asked them to pay it forward. Send the art to a nursing home or fire station. We’re all in this together.”

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