Congressional School Blog

COVID Stories: Stefanie Hjalmervik on Teaching Through a Pandemic

Stefanie Hjalmervik, Learning Specialist, talks about teaching during the pandemic lockdown and in person. 

“I’ll never forget that day,” said Stefanie Hjalmervik, Learning Specialist, about March 13 when the pandemic lockdown was announced. “We were standing in the Library and Dr. Gordon said the school would close at the end of the day. I was stunned.” 


Even though she knew it was coming, the reality of the lockdown still caught her by surprise. “I thought, OK, this will be a bit like time at home for snow,” she said. It turned out to be a much different experience. “There was an incredible learning curve for me. My normal teaching methods are all hands-on with heavy use of manipulatives. All of a sudden, I was in a situation where I couldn’t review a student’s work as they were doing it or look over their shoulder to see if they needed any help. I had to find a way to coach students in a totally different way.”

StefanieStefanie Hjalmervik before the pandemic. The use of visual aids and
manipulatives are central to her work as Learning Specialist. 


Mrs. Hjalmervik began researching ways to overcome the teaching obstacles. “I researched best practices and there was a great deal of trial and error as I tested out new tools and methods to find the ones that worked best,” she said. Even her students were trying new things and finding ways to make it work. “I was constantly updating my curriculum and approach to teaching and this continued until the end of May last year. There were lots of late nights.”


Like many teachers during remote learning, Mrs. Hjalmervik held online office hours, and the demand for her time was significant. “Office hours would regularly extend to 6 pm,” she said.
Some students just needed to talk to hear that everything would be OK.”


By September, after teaching Summer Academy classes,” she had found her stride and was ready for the new school year. “Summer Academy helped to reinforce what I had learned about teaching online,” she said. “As long as I had a system and routine, everything was good.”


This confidence and level of organization served her well this year as she took on a heavier workload supporting bimodal students in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2. “There were many bimodal students in my group at the beginning of the year,” she said, “but the numbers have slowly fallen off as students have come back to school. I still have three.” Teaching bimodal has been in addition to her regular Learning Specialist duties. 



Immediately before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020,
Stefanie Hjalmervik collaborated on a Study Skills podcast. 
Listen to the podcast

Congressional students have also had to adapt to the new and changing circumstances due to the pandemic. Mrs. Hjalmervik believes they have taken everything in stride. “There was a high level of anxiety, to begin with,” she said, “especially with the masks, but now they’re used to it. They’ve really learned their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. 


The pandemic has pushed teachers to find new ways to use technology, especially after teaching remotely for so long. “Teachers have learned to bring technology into their classrooms in meaningful ways,” said Mrs. Hjalmervik. “These technologies can have big benefits for some students who need the tools to aid their learning.” 


As for silver linings, Mrs. Hjalmervik has positive takeaways both at work and at home. “The pandemic has forced me to manage my time more than ever,” she said. “I’ve had to think ahead for my students. It also got me doing things I wouldn’t normally do, like build a deck with my husband,” she said proudly showing a picture of the finished product. “I also paid attention to the wildlife outside of my window and spent precious time with my family.




Stefanie Hjalmervik
Learning Specialist
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