Knapik and her students finding the ‘new norm’ while learning remotely

Donald F. Humason Jr. speaks to students at Paper Mill Elementary School in December 2019 as teacher Kathleen Knapik takes notes as part of the Westfield Education to Business Alliance Adopt-a-Classroom project with The Westfield News. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS))

Second graders take on role of journalists for Adopt-A-Classroom assignment

WESTFIELD – For Paper Mill Elementary School teacher Kathleen Knapik, finding some sort of normal while teaching second grade during a pandemic has proved challenging.

“I never thought I’d be worrying about how to support my students and my own children through a global pandemic, but here we are,” she said last week following the announcement that Massachusetts school buildings would remain closed through the 2019-2020 school year. “As parents and teachers, we need to help them find meaning and purpose in this ‘new normal’.”

Knapik said her young students have a good sense of what is happening in the world.

“Even eight-year-olds understand the significant impact that COVID-19 is having on families and communities,” she said. “They miss their friends and they miss school, especially lunch and recess. They’re exploring ways to use technology to learn, which can be both exciting and stressful. They’re disappointed about cancelled birthday parties, baseball seasons, dance recitals, and Scouting activities. They’re being told we must stay home and ‘social distance’ from friends and loved ones, and they’re realizing that even if we follow these new rules, this virus can still sneak around and cause trouble. They’re worried because they sense that their parents are worried.”

Knapik said most families are spending more time together right now, but parents and caregivers have been thrust into a new role of helping their children learn from home.

“Parents have a difficult job these days,” she said. “They’re juggling work and family responsibilities, and yet they’re approaching their new teaching duties with a healthy dose of patience and humor. As for teachers, we’re doing our best to provide instruction, resources, and support for the children who are in our hearts, even if they’re not in our classrooms. “

Knapik and The Westfield News are continuing the Adopt-A-Classroom partnership, a program of the Westfield Education to Business Alliance, during the pandemic.

This is an opportunity for young people to share their point of view and be a part of the documented history of this unusual time.

“The 2K students are lucky to have the support of their writing mentor, Mrs. Tremblay, an editor for The Westfield News,” Knapik said. “Mrs. Tremblay has been a frequent guest in our classroom this year, and now she brightens our Zoom meetings with her enthusiasm and encouragement.”

The students continue to consider what is journalism and the different styles of writing incorporated in journalism, such as op-ed pieces, news and features.

“Mrs. Tremblay and I are hoping to empower students through writing. This is a unique time in history, and it’s important to hear the voices of children now, as we go through it, and later, as we look back on it,” Knapik said. “These second graders are young, but they’re tuned in and they’re insightful.”

The “2K reporters” have contributed a series of articles on the theme of “Community Helpers are now Community Heroes.”  Students conducted interviews with family and friends who are providing essential services during the COVID-19 crisis.  Some of those stories appear in today’s paper and a second set of interviews is planned for future publication.

“They worked hard to develop questions, organize notes, write interesting leads, highlight important details and create strong closing statements,” said Knapik. “They’re proud of crafting catchy headlines which grab the reader’s attention.”

These young journalists have a powerful message:  They believe in heroes because they know heroes.

“At times like this, we all need to celebrate our Community Heroes … and the children who write about them,” Knapik said.


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