ZELAND – As the 2020-21 school year approaches, Zeeland educator Cati Vila had never worked as a mentor for online students. That hasn’t stopped her from excelling and receiving statewide recognition for her work.
Vila was recently named Michigan Virtual’s Mentor of the Year for “Outstanding Performance in Online Learning and Support”.
The transition to the online role happened because Vila was recovering from knee surgery, which would make her unable to stand and walk in a classroom like a teacher usually would.
Despite some initial adjustments and challenges, the role turned out to be where Vila thrived.
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“At first it was hard, it was difficult,” she said. “The teachers are all so used to this immediate feedback from the students, seeing their smiling faces every day.
“I was so happy with my district that they were able to find me a job like this. In fact, I will continue to do this next year for Zeeland, and then we’ll see what happens after that. I really enjoyed this type of work, I think it really suits me.
Zeeland Superintendent Brandi-Lyn Mendham praised Vila’s work in a district newsletter.
“Cati is a phenomenal teacher and colleague. She has a heart and a passion for her students and our community as well, ”she said. “We are more than proud of her for being recognized as Michigan’s Virtual Mentor of the Year and think she is a shining example of what we hoped for as a mentor for our students.”
The most important aspect of being a mentor, Vila said, is providing support, and not just in academics.
“Above all, the most important part is to support the students in their virtual learning. I worked mainly with middle school students, who were all new to virtual learning, ”she said. “My job was to be there for them, support them and communicate with them throughout the week. ”
As a certified teacher, Vila was more than ready to help the students with their work. But she also had to teach the students things like how to communicate electronically and be there as a listening ear.
“(The students) had to learn to write e-mails, to correspond with a computer,” Vila said. “I was also just there sometimes to talk. They were alone, many of us were alone. They knew they could call me, email me, zoom in with me, whatever they needed.
Vila used several tools to replicate a classroom experience for their students, including setting up a Google classroom for students to help keep them motivated and on track. She also organized weekly Zoom meetings for each grade level to give students the opportunity not only to study together, but also to interact socially.