Rachel Niewiada: Honored on National TV

MEA member Rachel Niewiada already knew her Grandville Middle School choral music students were wonderful singers, but after she appeared on the ABC television program The View the seven-year teacher now knows they’re incredi­ble actors as well.

Rachel Niewiada

Niewiada says she had no idea several of her students would appear  in taped interviews to talk movingly about her impact on their lives during a segment honoring her on the daytime talk show in December. “They were such great secret keepers!” she said in an interview afterward.

In the segment, after talking with The View hosts Sara Haines and Sunny Hostin about how she has adjusted to teaching during the pandemic, Niewiada was surprised with a video montage of her students sharing touching reflections spliced with images of her at work.

“She’s just been so impactful on my life, and I don’t know what I would do without being in her class,” said one boy identified as Aaron, 13. “You always make people feel happy and positive about themselves. You’re just amazing.”

Like band, art, theater, and physical education, choir class provides an outlet for students when the global pandemic is exacerbating mental health issues for many people, Niewiada said.

“Kids are looking for something that they can cling to, something they can use to express themselves. Getting kids up and moving for stretches and vocalizing and focusing on our breathing helps put everything else at bay, so they kind of forget what they’re worried about.”

Niewiada was distraught last summer when her principal said in-person students might not be allowed to sing because the virus spreads through aerosols. She used a University of Colorado study on performing arts and the coronavirus which said how to mitigate risk—by ensuring adequate air flow and replacement, spacing students more than six feet apart, singing for 30 minutes or less at a time, and masking.

Class moved from the choir room to the auditorium. “I checked with my school’s maintenance department, who put me in touch with the engineer of our middle school auditorium and he was able to check the ACH—which is the air change rate per hour—to make sure it fit with the recommendation from the University of Colorado study.”

Students adapted to the changes although masking requires greater voice projection and more distancing creates a larger “bubble” of space to fill between each of them and the other singers.

Some students found the bigger bubble allowed them to more distinctly hear their own voices— and correct pitch problems—which increased their confidence. Others found it made them more self-conscious and reticent about performing, Niewiada said.

She spends extra class time on sharing good news and fostering conversation among students so they feel less isolated. As in many districts, the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases forced her suburban Grand Rapids district to go virtual for several weeks in November and December.

“The kids and I are super resilient and flexible, so we make it work either way,” Niewiada said.

– Read more about about Niewiada from MEA Voice Online
– See video of her and her students’ appearance on The View

Read more stories from the series, “What it’s Like: COVID Vignettes”:

Karen Moore: secretary with a purpose

Karen Christian: COVID ICU survivor

Jacob Oaster: leader, teacher, innovator

Amy Quiñones: Charting New Waters

A Year for the History Books

COVID-19 Q&A with Paula Herbart

Union Presidents Lead through Unprecendented Crisis

Jill Wheeler: On Books, Kids, and ESP

Gary Mishica: His Work is Hobby, Joy, Passion

Demetrius Wilson: ‘We’ve made it work’

Jackie Lyons: ‘I walked away’

Shana Barnum: ‘It’s heart-wrenching’

Claudia Rodgers: Committed to her Work

Danya Stump: Building Preschool Potential

Tavia Redmond: ‘Let me tell you about tired’

Gillian Lafrate: Student Teaching With a Twist (or two)

Jaycob Yang: Finding a Way in the First Year

Julie Ingison: Bus Driver Weaves Love into Job

Chris DeFraia: Sharing a Rich Resource

Eric Hudson: Playing a Part to Beat the Virus

Sally Purchase: ‘Art is a little bit like a relief’

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