Rachel Fiest, of Mount Gilead, has spent 20 years teaching kindergarteners via online learning through Ohio Connections Academy (OCA.) She has taught students in Morrow County and throughout Ohio.
She chuckled as she recalled what online learning was like in 2003 when she began teaching at OCA.
“When I first started, teaching online was very different. There were just basic computers,” Fiest said. “We had to call students and talk on the phone. Now we can communicate face to face in classes and individually. Online learning has come a long way.”
Mark Rickel, vice president of Lesic and Camper Communications, said his firm works with OCA, which is a state-certified public online charter school serving Ohio students in grades K-12.
Rickel said it is estimated Fiest has worked with more than 700 students and their families over the 20 years she has taught kindergarten with OCA. He appreciates her enthusiasm for online learning and how students learn to work independently at their own pace.
Fiest said the thing she has enjoyed the most about online teaching is the close relationships she’s developed with students and their families throughout the years. She has class lessons two to three times a week with 20 to 25 in the class, and she speaks with each child individually once a month.
In the beginning, she encourages parents to help children with technology and by mid-year, the 5-year-olds are navigating the computer alone.
She said some of the children are home schooled and their parents want them to have access to an experienced teacher. She has also had children from military families and families who have a business where they are travelling, or for some reason aren’t able to attend public school.
While Fiest has 20 to 25 students in class sessions for learning activities and stories, she now has 47 who are enrolled in kindergarten. Some of the students and their parents aren’t as engaged, or schedules don’t allow them to attend class sessions. Once a month, she makes it a point to meet one on one to see how they are doing individually.
In the live class lessons, Fiest asks the children to be respectful, kind and engaged. Children can raise their hands with a smiley face emoji if they have a question or want to answer a question.
“We’re all learning, not laughing at others, I tell them,” said Fiest, adding she who hopes they carry the message home and beyond.
One thing she enjoys about her job is seeing children gain independence as they develop technology skills. She also likes working with the child and their parents as they find a good work space and work on a schedule.
“One of the best things our school offers families is flexibility,” Fiest said. “It allows me to help meet my students’ individual needs and get to know them on a more personal level. Each student learns differently, and our program allows us to adjust and help each student learn in their own way, at their own pace.”
Fiest is enthusiastic about the many resources offered by OCA in school classes and family engagement activities. This month, OCA is offering trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art and the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. At various times of the year, they have picnics at a park.
Fiest said the OCA curriculum team is aligned with state standards and cited Epic Online, Starfall.com, Reading Eggs, and Math Sheets as additional resources. The OCA is free for children of Ohio residents.
Fiest holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and kindergarten certification from Ashland University. She said she began her career in daycare and taught kindergarten for two years in the classroom before beginning with OCA in 2003. She said the online teaching experience has been very natural for her.
For more information about Ohio Connections Academy, visit www.ohioconnectionsacademy.com.
Alberta Stojkovic is a correspondent for The Morrow County Sentinel.