NSU alums cultivate connections between students during pandemic

Two women standing side by side outside

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Two sisters who both teach in the Harrisburg School District found a virtual way to connect their students during the pandemic.

Northern State University alums Ellen Weber and Kaye DesLauriers continued their tradition of connecting Weber’s first grade students with DesLauriers’ high school students by using Zoom.

Weber brainstormed the idea of their pen pal program, which started two years ago. In the past, first graders interacted with creative writing high school students in person. Their project focuses on improving writing skills, reading skills and mentorship for both sets of students as they correspond back and forth, brainstorm questions and responses, share favorites, and learn about each other’s interests.

“Because this was pre-COVID times, the pen pals could meet, complete a poetry activity, and the high schoolers read a book selected by the first-grade pen pal,” said Weber.

After the pandemic hit, the students couldn’t meet in person like they usually did. However, the sisters wanted to keep their students connected by utilizing Zoom.

“This year has felt as though our students have lost so many opportunities and have been told, ‘No we can’t do that this year because of COVID guidelines,’ said Weber. “However, we wanted to make sure that this opportunity wasn’t one more aspect that students had to miss out on, so we put an even more positive spin on it.”

Another positive outcome was that it helped students cultivate more personal connections together. DesLauriers said her high schoolers gained a new, deeper appreciation for personal connections. Weber said it allowed her first graders to connect with older students in the district and have someone to look up to.

“My students are just much more appreciative of the interactions they do have. When they are at school, even with each other, they are glad that they are there,” DesLauriers said. “To interact from building to building is kind of a blessing, because you never know at the drop of the hat, we could be shut down.”

From Warner, DesLauriers graduated in 2012 with a major in English education and a minor in coaching, and Weber graduated in 2018 with a major in elementary education and a minor in reading.

Their Time at Northern         

Both sisters thoroughly enjoyed their time at NSU, especially the small campus atmosphere with big opportunities provided.

For DesLauriers, Northern was one of the most enjoyable educational experiences ever.

“The English classes established a solid base of knowledge, academic resources, and reading variety that I still use to enrich my classes today.”

For Weber, learning from so many amazing teachers both on campus at Northern and in the off-campus experiences set up by the field experience coordinators helped her feel confident in any classroom setting. The field experience office also helped to make sure she was placed in Harrisburg so that she could have more experience in the district she desired to work in upon graduation.

“I’m very grateful that NSU was accommodating in supporting my journey to the Harrisburg School District,” she said.

Their Highlights from Northern

For Weber, meeting new friends, working with so many amazing people, and gaining more experience from working at the Boys and Girls Club in Aberdeen brought many awesome memories. Going with friends to games and working on projects together were also highlights.

DesLauriers met some of her best friends and her husband, Trent, in her time at NSU. She truly enjoyed being a student.

“Maybe not so much the late nights studying and writing all of those English essays,” she joked, “but reflecting now, those tasks weren’t all that bad, after all!”

She also immersed herself in a variety of campus activities, participated in intramural sports, tutored English to exchange students and enjoyed attending the many sporting events.

NSU Family Pride

Both of their parents also attended NSU. Their mom, Michelle (McGraw) Weber, earned her associate degree in office administration. Their dad, Randy Weber, earned his bachelor’s in chemistry with a minor in mathematics while also working as a residence hall director for Jerde Hall. He later returned to Northern, working toward a degree in business administration.

Said DesLauriers, “We have a lot of NSU pride in our family!”

To view the teachers’ pen pal video, click here.

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and, soon, an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $120 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions

Pictured: Ellen Weber, left, and Kaye DesLauriers, right