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Professor John Romig partners with students to help parents during global health crisis

For Professor John Romig, it all began with a simple question, posted on Facebook and directed at parents of elementary age kids who suddenly found themselves cast in the role of educators by the Covid-19 global health crisis.

“Need activities for your kids at home?”

The response was overwhelming, and provided Dr. Romig with a unique opportunity for his own students at UTA.

Dr. Romig teaches a course for his future special educators on how to teach reading and writing to students with disabilities. It’s a course that he believes is one of the most important that a special educator takes in college. The course has a strong field-based component, as nearly all the assignments require a real classroom as part of the students’ field experience.

“Over spring break, I started receiving notifications that local school districts were closing,” said Dr. Romig. “I was going to have to completely restructure my course and rethink the assignments. While restructuring, I didn’t want to completely give up on my students getting practical experience teaching reading. Being able to teach reading is a foundational, core skill for all special educators.”

As he prepared for the new reality in his own classes, Dr. Romig became aware of another educational situation developing. His own social media feeds were full of parents who suddenly found themselves home schooling their own children while struggling to maintain all their other responsibilities at the same time.

“I wondered if I could try to help these parents while giving my students the practical experience they need.”

When he posted his question to parents to see if they needed help providing activities for their homebound children, Dr. Romig explained that he had students who needed practice teaching reading skills. He asked parents if they were interested in having their first-fifth grade kids participate in a thirty-minute virtual reading program twice a week.

“The response on social media was overwhelming!” said Dr. Romig. “Teachers from all over the country shared my posts, and it soon reached far beyond my personal networks. I had dozens of parents respond. Many of the parents were parents of children with disabilities who were scared that their child would lose the specialized instruction they receive in schools and would fall even farther behind their peers. Others wanted to support future teachers learn to be better readers. Some thought the interaction with other people would be a good social-emotional support for their children.”

Romig found a great deal of support for friends, colleagues and even strangers who shared his posts on Facebook and Twitter and encouraged others to participate. He has received intervention materials from reading researchers to use in the program. The participating families have been receptive and excited about the program.

Most of all, Dr. Romig’s students have embraced the project with flexibility and a willingness and enthusiasm to make the best of a very challenging situation.

“When I told my students about the program, they were equally excited,” said Dr. Romig. “They looked at the program as a service – them doing their part to make this situation better for as many people as they could. Reading their responses to my emails and talking to them about the program in our virtual class sessions, I was really honored to be working with such a great group of future teachers.”

 

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