When a problem presents itself, the solution might just be the one that gets tossed out as an offhand impossibility. And going the extra mile to solve the problem might end up being 2,000 miles. That is the true story of how Nicky DeBoer, who lives in Byron Center, Mich., came to be the nonresident band teacher at Sunnyside Christian High School in Sunnyside, Wash.
Dean Wagenaar, the high school’s principal and a member of Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church, had trouble securing a qualified band teacher a number of years ago. DeBoer, who had taught at the school previously, was in town for a summer holiday. When her former principal invited her to return to teach, DeBoer jokingly suggested she “could teach via Skype,” the over-the-Internet video and voice call application. Wagenaar held onto that thought. Two weeks before the school year began, he called DeBoer and offered her a remote position. By the start of the school year, they had purchased the necessary computer equipment and done some classroom Skype test runs and were ready to go. That was in 2016.
Today the arrangement is pretty seamless. DeBoer, who is a member of Covenant United Reformed Church in Byron Center, conducts her band class remotely every day. “It is like any other band class,” DeBoer said,” except that I am projected on a large screen in the classroom.”
John Prins, 17, who plays trombone, agrees. “The Skype experience is almost identical to having a teacher in the classroom. She sees and hears us just as well, except that she is not physically there.”
“Skype has allowed me to continue playing in band,” Prins added.
Former student Alyssa Martin had a similar experience, adding that DeBoer herself was a key factor in the success of the program. “She is enthusiastic about music, interested in our lives, and patient and cooperative with the technology,” Martin said.
DeBoer credits the students. “They are all highly motivated to succeed and do their very best during class. There have been days when the Internet was down and we had class via a phone call.” DeBoer said that even on those days the students are attentive and focused. An adult supervisor provides the personal presence in the classroom, also monitoring what DeBoer might not be able to notice.
Twice a year DeBoer spends a week at the school in preparation for the annual concerts. During that week, she and the students are able to schedule extra classes and rehearsal time together. “It might seem awkward,” said Wagenaar, “but it has flowered into an excellent option for the school.”
Parents are grateful that their children are able to participate in a band program. Other staff are also supportive of their off-site and out-of-sight colleague.
In 30 years of teaching and administrating, Wagenaar knows well the challenges of finding qualified teachers who share a Reformed worldview and are dedicated to Christ-centered teaching. “We need to be creative and resourceful.”