From classroom to computer to neighborhood rounds, Caryn Raming has learned to go with the flow since COVID-19 upended the world of education for students and teachers alike – and where online learning is the new norm.
Raming, a 1991 graduate of Western Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree in studio art, works as a teaching assistant for Jackson County Public Schools. She also is a student, working on her bachelor of science degree in education at WCU to become an art education teacher.
But these days—like for thousands of educators across the country— her job as a first-grade TA has changed. With her young students at home instead of in the classroom, Raming spends her time writing personal notes to her students and finding fun facts, games and coloring sheets to include in the homework packets she helps assemble for delivery to each student by school bus every Tuesday. It’s a far cry from the days she would greet her students each morning as they arrived at class or help them with their math or reading.
“Of course, it’s very, very different. You have to rely on the parents to keep up with whatever we have,” she said. “And we’re really limited in what is allowed to be sent home. We can’t rely on the parents to teach all the new material. It’s overwhelming to them, especially if they have more than one child in the house.”
Raming also rides a school bus each Monday through Thursday morning to help deliver school lunches to children. Students get double meals on Thursdays, because the buses don’t run on Fridays. The children are always happy to see her, whether the bus stops at their house or at a central location.
“I don’t have any students from my own class on the route, but there are other first graders from other classes, some older kids,” she said. “I'm getting to know their names and hopefully they’re seeing me as someone who cares about them and not the angry disciplinarian in the gym.”
Raming’s students aren’t the only ones who have had to adapt to a new learning style. Raming now attends WCU through her online classes at home. Her daughter, Holland, is a junior at Smoky Mountain High School and another daughter, Racheal, is a junior at WCU, where she also serves as an orientation counselor. Raming’s son, Nathan, graduated from WCU in 2018, as did his now wife, Taryn. Raming’s husband, Brian Raming, a 1992 WCU alumnus, teaches in the university’s health sciences department. That’s a lot of online learning. Any computer issues? No, everyone’s covered. And like a typical mom, she uses a hand-me-down computer from her children.
“I use one that is really old, but it works and it lets me do what I need to do,” she said.
But that’s not the case for some of her first graders, Raming said. Not all of them have a computer in the home, or even enough food. She said she prays every day for her students and the teachers because of the upheaval and economic factors the coronavirus has inflicted on so many families.
“I can’t imagine how they’re doing what they do, with no paychecks coming in,” she said. “It’s very humbling to deliver the food to them and to not know if that’s all they’re going to get every day, that the school meal might be their only meal. With all of this up-side down mess, I just can’t fathom how they’re managing. I’m thankful that my husband and I are getting paid.”