Student engagement is key to CCA teacher’s classroom philosophy
Jennifer Kellachow travels once a month from Capital Campus in Harrisburg to provide in-person support to students in Philadelphia.
Teaching cyber school has been “quite the ride” for Jennifer Kellachow. When she came to CCA, Kellachow said, she faced plenty of skepticism from her former brick-and-mortar school colleagues.
Kellachow, who came to CCA in 2015 and teaches out of Capital Campus in Harrisburg, said the teaching structure allows her to help and get to know her students in a way that’s not possible in a traditional school setting.
“I know my kids, and I know their families, and I know what they eat for dinner,’’ she said. “I know what’s going on in their lives, and I can do something about it. I can be the difference for them. It’s amazing what happens when you allow yourself to engage.”
That engagement is reaping results at CCA’s West Philadelphia drop-in center, where Kellachow’s students – all fourth-graders – gather for classes. Once a month, Kellachow travels from her home in Hershey to the center to build the relationships that are central to her teaching philosophy.
Especially for single-parent families or when both parents are working, drop-in centers like the one in West Philadelphia are another way CCA ensures its students receive the learning help they need — and which their brick-and-mortar schools were unable or unwilling to provide.
“I’ve had kids stay in class for two hours to finish a project,” she said. “What fourth-grader does that? I always tell them that real self-esteem comes from doing legitimate hard work and producing something that you’re proud of.”
During her regular visits to the West Philly drop-in center, Kellachow reviews lessons, gets to know her students and instills in them the importance of education to function in life.
Students respond by doing better work and being more attentive. She found that one student who regularly missed class was enduring a distracting medical condition. Now, she texts reminders before class, and the student is not only attending but handing in better work.
Mrs. K, as she is known, has dangled a carrot as an incentive for heightened participation and engagement. If her students perform well, she promises to teach a class live from the West Philadelphia center, so they can show the CCA community what they can do.
As a child, Kellachow dreamed of teaching, but limited job opportunities diverted her toward studies as a physical therapy assistant. At age 30, tragedy jolted her into realizing that “life is too short not to do what you are passionate about.” Her husband died in a plane crash, leaving her with two young children. She returned to school, studying education and eventually earning her master’s degree.
She is poised to earn her certificate in online learning, equipped with the techniques of continuous feedback that keep students engaged. Cyber education, she tells her students, “is not a spectator sport. You’re not watching a football game. You can’t sit on the sidelines. Get on your pads. You’re going in.”
In math class, for instance, she flips the script when students analyze problems for errors and share their results with her. They might also examine a classmate’s work, “professionally and courteously responding about their agreement or disagreement with their methodology.”
“That’s the kind of collaboration we need in 21st-century people,” she said.
Teachers must capture hearts before they can capture brains, Kellachow said, so she structures her work around building relationships.
Kellachow has written CCA summer enrichment programs and is an assistant designer for elementary science as CCA develops edio, its innovative new learning management system. The system allows teachers to create individualized lessons for their students.
When one student’s lack of English skills impeded assessments, Kellachow redesigned the assessment with words that are similar in English and Spanish. Although it took time to create, that custom document is now in edio as a resource for all teachers to use with students.
“CCA has given me opportunities to learn and grow as an educator and develop not only my teaching skills but also my 21st-century skills,” she said. “This has kept me right at the edge of my comfort level, riding that wave, and it’s exciting.”
Anyone can have an impact on one person at a time, “because there’s always a trickle down. You don’t know which one person you’re going to impact positively, and they’re going to go on, and it’s going to spread to the next and the next and the next.”