My school is 100% virtual right now since we serve an extremely vulnerable population. In meetings, people keep asking hopefully, “So, what’s going well?” The answer is resounding silence. Nobody even unmutes, unless they’ve found a good cocktail recipe that’s making the evenings a little easier. Our students have connectivity issues, a lack of supervision, food insecurity, economic instability, health risks, and just about any other problem you can think of. In the grade I teach, around a third of our students are failing every single class.
But in the morass of virtual learning fails, I did something that worked! And I’m going to shout it from the rooftops.
My fourth-grade son has been taking a weekly cooking class via Outschool. We are sent a list of ingredients to purchase before the weekend and then, every Monday at 4:30 p.m., we log him onto my laptop. He spends an hour cooking dinner for our family as a teacher walks him through the steps and answers his questions. His maple and mustard glazed salmon was pretty impressive, I won’t lie. After it ended, I thought, “Hmm. I could do that.”
I asked my students if they’d be interested in a virtual breakfast club, and they were all over it. I created a Google Classroom, titled The Breakfast Club, and watched in amazement as the majority of my seventh graders signed up. Big talk, I thought. We’ll see how many of them actually attend. I did our first class (pancakes, obviously) at 8:00 a.m. on a day they didn’t have to be in a live class.
I expected maybe four kids to show up to our virtual club. I got more than twenty.
And it was spectacular. Kids asked questions like, “We don’t have butter. Can I use milk instead?” Or, “This recipe is for four people, but there are eleven of us here. How many eggs should I use?” My own kids helped, and they had a great time interacting with my students. It was my daughter’s birthday, so the kids in the meeting unmuted to sing to her. Parents and siblings—many of whom I’d taught before—wandered through my students’ kitchens, stealing pancakes and stopping to say hi. I had kids in Breakfast Club who are failing all their classes and never show up for my actual class.
So how, you might ask, does this qualify as a success?
Did the kids who came to Breakfast Club start attending their other classes? I don’t know. We did it right before winter break, so I have no data on that. Did they bring their grades up? Not for my class, no. Did they do more of the asynchronous assignments that day, since they were already up and on the computer? Um, maybe? I don’t know. Haven’t done any analysis.
But man, we had fun. Twenty-three kids ate a healthy (if possibly slightly burned or soupy) breakfast. They interacted with each other in a way that was more natural and with less pressure than the classroom. And I feel like I have a relationship with some students that I was previously disconnected from. In fact, it was so great, we had a special session of the breakfast club two days before Christmas. After all, a breakfast casserole has to sit in the fridge for a day or two before you cook it so the flavors can meld.
Clubs and after school activities are tricky for me in real school, because I’ve had my own kids ages five or under for the past nine years. But right now, while we’re virtual and my kids can be part of it? It’s a great opportunity for me to connect with my students without a whole lot of effort or planning on my part. I mean, we’ve got to eat anyway, right? Might as well make breakfast with a couple of dozen twelve-year-olds.
I can’t recommend a breakfast club highly enough.
Maybe you’re not a cook, but you’re great at crafting. Or you love movies and could do virtual movie nights. Perhaps cookie decorating contests. Or game sessions. That casual time with students did more for our relationship than sixteen weeks of virtual classes, and I’m looking forward to our next meeting.
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