Editor's Note: School systems faced restructuring their methods when forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools reopening, educators are tasked with creating a safe atmosphere for students while accommodating virtual learning. A few educators were selected to represent their respective school systems in an August series, Educational Excellence. The series will publish throughout the month and will spotlight various educators in various school systems.
VALDOSTA – Originally from Greenville, N.C., Sydney Leger relocated to Valdosta with her husband who is currently in the Air Force.
Leger joined the Scintilla Charter Academy staff for the first time in 2019 and is now teaching fifth-grade science and social studies. She previously taught for two years in North Carolina and three years for the Lowndes County School System.
Q: What prompted you to pursue teaching?
A: "This is one of my favorite questions. When I was young, I never thought about being a teacher. Being a good student was something that I knew I had to be, and while I was in school, I understood that I needed to listen to my teachers and try my best. I always made good grades and was respectful to my teachers. ... While in college, I decided to become a teacher to make the educational experience different for children. I want them to be excited to come to school, never knowing what new activities each day may bring.
"My goal is to make learning come alive for my scholars. They need to have as many hands-on experiences as possible and they need to be able to talk about what they are learning. I teach them in a way that would have motivated me to come to school everyday."
Q: What is the most rewarding about teaching?
A: "By far, the most rewarding part of teaching is connecting with scholars. Seeing their face light up when they are walking down the hallway in the morning is the best part of my day. ... Relationships are key. Teachers can teach their heart out, but without the connection and respect between teacher and student, the student simply won’t unlock their full potential.
"I love pushing scholars' academic performance past what they ever thought they were capable of. One of my class expectations is to accept failure. Kids have to have a certain level of comfort and trust in their teacher before they are OK with failing, learning from those mistakes and becoming a better person because of those mistakes. Knowing that a student trusts me this much and feels a strong, genuine connection is so rewarding."
Q: How significant of an asset are educators to the local community?
A: "Educators are essential. The local community depends on us to guide and teach their children. Our asset is that we have a responsibility to prepare the next generation for life as adults. We have to prepare them for jobs that may not even be in existence, yet. Because of this, we have to guide their thinking. Help them think through problems to find solutions along with giving them skills they can use throughout their lives, like meeting deadlines and staying organized.
"Teachers provide a safe space for all students. Some children don’t have a sense of community and compassion at home. Many of them get these feelings from our classrooms, and our classrooms alone. I take pride that I am in a profession in which I can give children a sense of belonging all while also giving them a quality education."
Q: What was your reaction to the school shutdown in April?
A: "My reaction to the school shutdown in April was shock. ... Everything changed so quickly, and there was such a panic that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students. I wish I had known that March 12 would be our last day together. I would have hugged them longer. I would have listened to their long stories more intently or laughed a little harder at their silly jokes.
"There is such a sense of emptiness when I think of that group of students. We didn’t get our end of the year fun, where we make so many lasting memories. I’ve been able to see a lot of my students from last year in passing since they are in sixth grade at Scintilla. They may be much taller than me now and some of their voices have changed, but there is no denying the love that is still there between us."
Q: How do you foresee altering your teaching methods, if at all, in the current school year due to the pandemic?
A: "Without a doubt, teaching will look different this year. There is more sanitizing than ever before, limiting flow of traffic in the building and no congregating in large groups. At Scintilla, Community Circle is really important every Friday as the school gathers to reflect on our week. We will miss this special time together.
"As a science teacher, I have to think about how to set up science labs. With this comes extra thought into how scholars will handle materials and how they will be able to collaborate safely.
"Another change for me is technology. Usually, I’m not a teacher that pushes heavy technology usage in the classroom. I think too much Chromebook usage can be harmful to their eyes, often causing headaches, and it isn’t a very personable way to teach. However, with COVID-19 in mind, I’ve made a virtual Google Classroom and I’m exposing scholars to programs I would use with them if we were to go virtual at all this year."
Q: What is your hope for the students entering into a school year with significant changes?
A: "My hope is that the students in my classes this year will still look back on our year together and think of the 2020 school year in a positive light. Yes, it will be different, but I want them to think of how we persevered through our challenges. I don’t want them to only remember the masks, or getting their temperature checked each morning. I want them to remember the really awesome erosion lab or how we turned our classroom into the inside of an animal cell.
"I want them to remember the love and excitement they felt when they walked in my classroom and through the halls of Scintilla."
Q: What advice or words of encouragement do you have for other teachers during this time?
A: "My words of encouragement for my fellow teachers during this school year would be to give yourself grace. Remember, not everything is going to go the way we want and we may not get that perfect lesson plan. So much is out of our control. What we can control is how we make the most of every moment we have with our students, whether it be in a Zoom meeting or in person. Remember your 'why.' Why did you choose to become an educator? For the kids."
– Scintilla Charter Academy reopened Aug. 6 in phases starting with kindergarten students with A-L last names. Kindergarteners with last names M-Z returned Aug. 7.
– The remaining grades returned Aug. 10, being divided into two color groups based on last names. The blue group attended school Monday and Tuesday while the red group attended Wednesday and Thursday weekly.
– All grade levels returned together Aug. 24 to a traditional schedule. School dismisses at 1 p.m. on Fridays to allow for deep cleaning and sanitizing.
– Students are not required to wear masks but adults on campus are required to wear them in the hallways.
– More information: (229) 244-5750; scintillacharteracademy.com; and 2171 E. Park Ave.