Despite the Pandemic: Beating COVID-19 through the Generosity of Others

During an unprecedented pandemic, an educational technology specialist has emerged as one of the most critical jobs to have in Atlanta Public Schools. As many around the globe are working from home, schools shifted to virtual learning to help keep students and employees safe. Transitioning a district of 50,000 students from in-person instruction to virtual learning would be arduous, but possible with a strong team.

Elizabeth Freeman, who is affectionately known as Lynn, is a member of APS’ Instructional Technology team. They are a group of experts, now placed at the forefront of APS’ quest to ensure every educator is well prepared to teach students virtually.

When Lynn discovered her role would be vital to the District’s success, she was committed to ensuring that her schools would be more than ready for the first day of school. On July 20, her team began the journey, but just as she settled into her key role, Lynn suddenly fell ill.

“I got sick so fast,” said Lynn in a Zoom interview, as she sat at home detailing all she could recall about the world’s greatest fear: COVID-19. “I went to the doctor twice before I finally drove myself to the emergency room. I had several treatments that were supposed to work, and I kept thinking, I am going to get better, but I never did. When I parked my car outside of the ER, I could hardly walk into the hospital because my oxygen level was so low. The nurses had to come and help me in to the building. I was placed on the COVID-19 wing, and immediately hooked on oxygen. I cannot remember the first five days of my hospital stay.”

After several days in the hospital, Lynn feared for her own life. As she battled COVID-19, Lynn’s team members not only expressed concern by checking in on her health status daily, but also completed her tasks to ensure schools received continued support.

“As a COVID-19 patient, you are in total isolation. There is no outside contact. My nurses entered the room in hazmat suits. It felt so unreal,” Lynn explained.

Her coronavirus battle in the hospital lasted for eight days. The recovery process was even longer, so Lynn was relieved to find that her team had stepped in to help.

“My fellow teammates had all picked up my workload. They had done all of the back end work. When I was finally able to return to virtual work, I only needed to build relationships with my schools. My entire department is such a crucial component; 2/5 of our integrated approach was brand new. It was the most overwhelming feeling to know that when I finally saw the light of day, my team had carried me. I had everything that I needed to move forward. They even sat in on my first couple of trainings to help lead if necessary because talking after COVID-19 was taxing,” she shared.

Lynn was surrounded by a village that she remains grateful for today. Despite the pandemic and the condition of her health, Lynn’s job continued without a gap in service.

“For my life to just continue after being sick, you realize that relationships are most important. From co-workers to family, having a team that supports you, is the greatest lesson I learned.” Lynn expressed.

What matters to Lynn is the moral support she received. Moving forward, she wants her APS colleagues to know that building a solid team matters. Relationship building is vital to success.

In March 2020, APS teachers and staff began working in a virtual space, but would transition to some teachers working from their classrooms at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. So, the virtual reopening in August 2020 placed an increased emphasis on Lynn’s work. When she jumped back into Day One preparation, she felt her team’s work prepared the teachers for the support they needed.

“They trusted us with the skills that they needed to be successful. They feel comfortable. When we go back to face-to-face learning, we’ll have very skilled educators who can add technology integration into their instruction. This will no doubt prepare our students for college and career,” Lynn said.

The District plans to phase in students in January 2021.

Lynn’s story is a reminder of how kindness can create generosity amongst others. She has given, so during her time of need, many have given back to her. Despite the Pandemic, Lynn has a second chance at life and a crew of supporters to be thankful for.

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