During her online classes this fall, Proximity Learning middle school teacher Jennifer Hardgrave noticed abnormal behavior in one of her students. Amongst the boxes of student faces on her screen in Zoom, one of them stood out with how she was consistently squinting each class.
“As a teacher [you] notice things, and I had privately sent her a chat and asked her if she could see or did she wear glasses,” Hardgrave said. “She had broken her glasses and said that her parents would not be able to afford to get them fixed.”
Soon after, Hardgrave reached out to Proximity Learning’s support team to see if the school she taught at had a Lions Club in their local area. She said the Lions Club had often helped students get their eyes checked and, if needed, obtain a pair of glasses. By reaching out, Hardgrave confirmed there was one in their area and her student was able to get new glasses.
“Her demeanor and the way she participates [has changed] because she was struggling getting her work done on time,” Hardgrave said. “Who wouldn't if you can't see to do your work? That would be a struggle. So her whole demeanor, academia and everything has changed.”
She’s not the only student Hardgrave has gone above and beyond to help succeed. Even though she’s not physically there in the classroom, she ensures that she’s always available to meet with her students one-on-one during their lunch periods or after school if they need help. She also strives to be flexible with what her students need, such as by listening to what timeframes they need for projects.
“I think, as a teacher, that is just what we do,” Hardgrave said. “We're here to walk the extra mile with kids.”
Going above and beyond is second nature for Hardgrave due to her passion for education that has burned strong since she was a kid. She’s never doubted that teaching was what she was meant to do.
“It's a calling,” Hardgrave said. “When I was in first grade, I received a chalkboard from Santa Claus. I started teaching my stuffed animals, and ever since I've known I wanted to be a teacher. It was something that was deep within and it's something I've always wanted to do.”
Additionally, Hardgrave ensures that her lessons not only develop her students as learners but as people.
“I want to develop the writer in them instead of just check[ing] off a list [that] they can write a five-paragraph paper,” Hardgrave said. “The way I teach them how to edit and write is a little bit out of the box, but it also develops the person within them and them as a writer.”
Hardgrave decided to become a teacher for Proximity Learning due to her desire for a flexible work environment that would allow her to set up a classroom anywhere she wants to be. But, she is still able to teach and interact with her students face-to-face no differently than when she was in the brick-and-mortar classroom.
“The platform in which education is delivered to the students is the best I've ever seen because there's an interactive teacher, because we're there and the kids aren't doing lessons delivered to them,” Hardgrave said.
Unfortunately, not all online learning platforms are as successful for students as Proximity Learning is. Hardgrave said she tried to help one of her friend’s kids with their asynchronous online schooling, but even she couldn’t figure out how to find the homework or get in contact with the teacher.
“It's very difficult to shuffle through,” Hardgrave said. “I looked at it and helped one of our friend's kids and I was like, ‘This is a nightmare compared to what we're doing.’ It showed me that what we're doing works and it's right for kids.”
By connecting with her students face-to-face every day during class, Hardgrave said online teaching is no different from teaching in front of a physical classroom. Each day when she logs into Zoom, she can laugh and have fun with her students while providing them with guidance that makes a difference in their lives.
“People think that it's so different from teaching in a brick-and-mortar school, but there's so many similarities that if you're a teacher, you're a teacher,” Hardgrave said. “We still do so many things that are alike. I think Proximity Learning is the top, delivers the best in virtual learning and is really doing the best job and changing the pendulum shift out there of how we deliver education.”