Golden Apple

Westfield teacher uses pandemic e-learning to foster friendships

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — Students and teachers everywhere will remember school in spring of 2020: buildings closed, no field trips, remote class activities and a lot of e-learning. However, students of Ms. Darcy Kelley say they’ll remember the friendships they built and maintained all while staying at home.

Ms. Kelley is a 4th grade teacher at Shamrock Springs Elementary in Westfield Washington Schools. She was nominated by a student for April’s Golden Apple Award because she understands that for 4th graders, school isn’t just about class. It’s about friends.

“Every Tuesday and Thursday we have a Zoom meeting,” explained Grace Bierwagen, a 4th grader in Ms. Kelley’s class. “And they’re themed. We’ll have pajama day or beach day, crazy hair day.”

In those meetings, Ms. Kelley takes the time for each student to share what he or she has done that week. Parents say the kids get a chance to share activities, get excited with one another and feel connected.

“They’re classmates, and she’s kept that going for them,” said Kelly Brown, mother of Max, a student in Ms. Kelley’s class. “I feel like he’s excelling with his learning because of it.”

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“We can still connect with them and hear about what they’ve been doing,” raved Grace Bierwagen.

Parents and students also praised her for her creativity, saying even on Zoom, she’s managing to maintain several of the classic “4th-grade projects” happening for her students, including a wax museum assignment where students dress up and act the part of a famous Hoosier.

Before the pandemic changed her classroom set-up, Ms. Kelley was praised as a Golden Apple-worthy teacher anyway.

“I’ve just seen a big difference in Grace’s demeanor when she comes home from school,” said Karyl Bierwagen, Grace’s mom.

“This teacher to me really has made a difference with Max and I really don’t know how I can thank her enough,” said Brown. “I can’t say enough about her.”

“She’s always positive about stuff,” added Max Brown. “I would love to have her again as a teacher.”

“Her life’s goal basically is to treat everyone as kind as possible,” said Grace.

Taking into account the stay-at-home order and social distancing, our Golden Apple Team had to get especially creative to surprise Ms. Kelley. So we enlisted the help of Rob Hedges, the principal at Shamrock Springs Elementary.

Mr. Hedges smoothly asked Ms. Kelley if he could “sit-in” on one of her Zoom meetings and record it for “administrative purposes.” On the day of the Zoom class, our WISH-TV Golden Apple team along with sponsor Bailey & Wood Financial Group, were ready in front of Ms. Kelley’s home to pull off a one-of-a-kind surprise.

“I’ve got a special guest here,” came Mr. Hedges’ voice from his Zoom avatar. He switched the camera on, and News 8’s Brenna Donnelly’s face appeared inside the virtual classroom.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” said Donnelly, “I’m crashing your Zoom call today to tell Ms. Darcy Kelley that she is such an amazing teacher that she has won our WISH-TV Golden Apple Award.”

Thanks to the screen recording, we can see all the students cheer simultaneously and Ms. Kelley’s hands fly to her face in surprise.

“I need Ms. Kelley to do something for me,” said Donnelly, pointing off-camera to a Golden Apple team member. “I’m going to need you to answer your door.”

Ms. Kelley jumped as she heard a real knock on her front door. When she came outside, our whole team and two video cameras greeted her from her front lawn.

Bailey Wood and Kelsey Shidler held up a jumbo-sized $500 check and a shiny Golden Apple trophy near the front walkway.

“[It’s for] the amazing work you do for the students especially during this hard time. You’re still being an amazing teacher and really inspiring your students and we just want to tell you thank you,” said Wood.

“I’m overwhelmed! I don’t even know what to say I mean, it’s all about them,” Kelley said turning to the open laptop near her porch with her students watching on Zoom. “It’s all about you guys and I love you all and miss you so much.”

Kelley watched her nomination video from her own cell phone via YouTube. Watch it in the video player below.

“They deserve their education and fourth grade experience to continue so I want to do what I can to make this time easier and more enjoyable for them because I know it’s tough for them too,” said Kelley.

If you know a teacher deserving of next month’s Golden Apple Award, be sure to nominate them and explain what they’re doing that’s making a difference in central Indiana.

To watch other Golden Apple surprises, view the full list here.

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