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The Inventive Ways One CNM Instructor Found to Build Community During COVID-19

While adjusting her classes and teaching to online methods, Felecia Caton Garcia also created opportunities for students to support each other during difficult times
The Inventive Ways One CNM Instructor Found to Build Community During COVID-19
Felecia Caton Garcia, with former CNM President Kathie Winograd, after winning a Values Champion Award last year.

Apr 02, 2020

As soon as CNM Instructor Felicia Caton Garcia realized all CNM classes were moving online she started re-thinking what her goals would be for the rest of the semester. Teaching, of course, would be one. But she also knew she’d have to find new ways to support students as they navigated this unprecedented event. 

“I asked myself, ‘what are my goals?’ ‘What is my pedagogical approach going forward?’” says Felecia, who teaches American Studies, Chicano/a Studies, and English classes. “And what I realized was that in addition to education, I also had the responsibility to sustain the communities we’d built in class, even if my students were scattered across the city.” 

Here’s what that looked like. First, Felecia decided that she was going to communicate with students via email. She knew some students didn’t have a computer and access to video conferencing so she wanted to ensure everyone could stay up to date, even just on their phone. Next, she decided she’d still assign work, but would be flexible on due dates so students could work at their own pace while adjusting to the changes created by COVID-19. And lastly she mapped out several ways to continue building community at a distance. 

One of the first community building exercises she did was to send out information on healthcare and food resources people could use if they were in need. She also asked students to send in resources they used for emotional support when they’re sad or struggling, so they could be shared with other students. She encouraged them to send links to songs, pieces of art, or pieces of writing that made them feel better, then she curated the list and sent it to the entire class.  

“I wanted to remind people that we still have the community of the classroom,” Felecia says. “I wanted them to know that we’re not alone in this, but instead we’re in it together.” 

In her poetry class, Felecia had students think about the role of the writer during a crisis. She asked them to think about how writers would be affected, but also about how writers could help other people name and deal with their grief and frustration. In her American Studies class, she encouraged students to think about how race, class, gender, and disabilities will shape our understanding of these events, and how existing inequalities might get amplified as a result of the outbreak. 

Finally, as an educator, Felecia started asking herself what happens next. She knew education would be an important tool to help people get through the next couple months and realized that there would be opportunities to learn and grow.

“If I believe that education really allows people to think in new ways and to understand a multiplicity of perspectives, then I have to continue to center that,” she says. “And I’ve realized that the lack of normalcy itself isn’t a bad thing fundamentally. It’s going to give me an opportunity to think about my teaching more critically, and I truly feel like I can take a lot of joy in the ways my students and I are communicating and moving forward.”