NEWBERRY ‒ A Newberry teacher received a coveted award and a $500 grant recently for her exemplary work in educating her students using Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Newberry High School Spanish teacher Grisell Santiago was awarded the My Virtual Learning Success Story grant by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), Atlanta. 

This grant recognizes high school teachers who, when presented with a tough situation and through the trials and tribulations of virtual learning, came out successful.  Santiago was one of five educators, and the only one in Florida, who was selected to be awarded this grant and recognition.

Santiago was faced with trying to make sure that all students were able to complete the various tasks online for her class such as speaking, presenting, listening, reading and writing in Spanish.  In Zoom break rooms, students were able to work in groups and talk to each other in Spanish, helping them with not feeling alone or feeling that they were not able to make friends during the shutdown.  

Santiago also worked with her students from the Hispanic Honor Society to assist her with tutorial sessions after school to help students via Zoom who needed extra practice or were having internet issues during class time.  This was successful and doing tutorials gave the students the opportunity to also earn community service hours for their graduation requirement.

With the students in advanced level courses, Santiago created an online bilingual newspaper, celebrating different activities each month and things they learned in the classroom.  This also helped students in the lower levels express themselves by publishing poems, essays and art.  They had originally started the newspaper only for the Spanish classes, but when they decided to share it with the whole school, it was a success.  

Topics covered culture and education, including Hispanic food, dances, festivals, music and literature.  They also used the newspaper to celebrate the graduating class of 2021 by having student-conducted interviews with seniors talking about their experiences during the year.

Making the changes to virtual learning gave Santiago the opportunity to seek other outlets to celebrate students and help them have a way to express themselves.

“The switch to virtual learning has been a challenge for students and educators, but it has also opened up new possibilities for creativity and innovation in teaching and learning,” said NSHSS Director of Scholarships and Communications Karen Kane.  “NSHSS wanted to celebrate those success stories of educators pushing past the difficulties to create rich, new, and engaging experiences.”

Kane said that Santiago was able to quickly use the virtual learning environment to help her Spanish language students share how they were feeling while practicing the required skills, and from that simple exercise grew a bilingual newspaper that eventually involved the whole school.  

“Submissions of art, poems and articles on Hispanic food, music, and literature from all grades provided a forum for self-expression at a time when social connections were scarce,” said Kane.  “The popular project is continuing even though in-person classes have resumed and the grant from NSHSS will hopefully help it grow.”

Co-founded by Claes Nobel and James Lewis, NSHSS is the premier international honors and scholarship program.  It offers a lifetime of benefits, pairing the highest performing students worldwide with high school and college scholarships, events, connections, internships and career opportunities that begin in high school and carry on through college and careers.  

For more information about NSHSS and their program, visit NSHSS.

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