Graphic of students holding discussionOne of the challenges of teaching virtually is making connections with students. Saunders Middle School has developed an opportunity for teachers, counselors, and administrators to talk with students and get to know them in a fun way.

Assistant Principal Steve Webb stated, "This is all about socializing and building positive relationships among student peers and especially getting to know and building a positive relationship with a staff member."

Every Thursday from 2:35 to 3 p.m., Saunders Middle hosts "Let's Talk," an interactive Zoom discussion. Staff choose topics like Xbox versus Playstation, how great are Pop-Tarts, and what is the worst song you ever heard for discussion. Each week a few questions are available, hosted in its own Zoom room. Students sign up for the question they want to discuss and join that Zoom room. The rooms are kept small, so all students have a chance to talk. If one room is full, the student may select another room.

The idea for "Let's Talk" came from the Advisory Block Committee including Kenneth Harkins, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Saunders. The committee recognized the need for more socialization between the students. They wanted to give students an opportunity to simply talk to each other. Some of them have not talked to friends since March.

Harkins shared, "The pandemic and virtual learning can make you feel isolated, but if you had a topic you are interested in and know other people would be there to talk to, it gives you a chance to connect."

The feedback from students and staff has been overwhelming. Teachers have reported being able to connect with students on a deeper level. Students are enjoying the social aspect of seeing each other and meeting new friends. Students in the Korean Popular Music room have started an email group to stay in touch with each other. While the Zoom meetings are designed to only go for 25 minutes, most teachers end up staying on longer because the students are engaged so much in the conversation. The response has been so positive that other schools are reaching out to Saunder's staff to emulate the program in their schools.