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How ODA’s Most Experienced Educators Have Transitioned to Virtual Learning

Reflecting on their long tenure in education, faculty who are celebrating milestone achievements of 20, 30, and 35 years of service to Out-of-Door reflect on their careers at ODA and the shift to online learning. This week, we hear from Mrs. Martha Gulácsy, Mrs. Laura Murphy, and Dr. Linda Vasilaki from the Siesta Key campus.
Dr. Linda Vasilaki was hired in the mid-80s by Mr. Gordon Davis. When she first signed on, there were no music teachers on the staff to compare notes with, so she drew upon her previous teaching experience in the Grand Rapids Michigan public schools for methods of reaching and inspiring her students.

“I joined the ODA faculty in 1984 and brought 50 violins of all different sizes with me. I started tucking violins under childrens’ chins and they loved it! The program took off from there. A few years later, we started a pilot visual and performing arts program called “Encore” and by word of mouth, that program grew until we had a waiting list, eventually merging with the Prime Time program. Music, drama, and dance faculty came from all over the community to teach after school and on weekends. Students from many different schools participated, and in some ways it was a recruiting tool, as many of the students eventually enrolled at ODA.”

The current COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent pivot to online learning has brought out Dr. Vasilaki’s penchant for flexibility, creativity, and ability to adapt. “Since remote teaching began, I learned how to make iMovies so that I could incorporate videos in a new way during our virtual teaching experiences. This has turned out to be a great incentive for students to practice and put finishing touches on their performances as they prepare to video themselves and share their polished pieces. I also challenged myself to arrange and perform a Beethoven piece in five parts, learning how to use a program to record, sync, and refine it. Some of our students are using this technology and many are already savvy, so I thought it was important to understand the process so I could help students who are newer to the process. It is hard and very time consuming, but also very rewarding, and a great new way to share their music.”

Before teaching at Out-of-Door, Mrs. Martha Gulácsy, born in Nicosia, Cyprus, taught in American International schools in Africa and South America, as well as starting up a Parents Co-op in Nigeria. She moved from Caracas, Venezuela to Sarasota in 1999, and began working at ODA as a fourth grade English teacher. After her first handful of years, Mrs. Gulácsy moved to fifth grade and also began teaching chorus.

In her classroom, students have always been challenged to master or surpass the expectations for the next grade level. Mrs. Gulácsy gives her students a strong foundation, and teaches them to learn how to express themselves and communicate effectively both orally and through their writing. Over the past twenty years, she has seen the use of technology and social media progressively become more prevalent in the classroom. Now,  with remote learning firmly in place at ODA, she has proudly watched her students quickly adapt to their new learning platform as she transitions to teaching in the new world of virtual education.

“While there have been a tremendous amount of changes since I first started at Out-of-Door, all have been for the betterment of the school and faculty. Our technology team is advanced, and how lucky we are that all of our students have been provided an iPad! We have all been afforded the opportunity of cutting-edge software which allows us to provide as close a level to in-person teaching as we can have. Although challenging at first, with the resources that have been made available to me, I am evolving into an online teacher.”

Thirty-year veteran Mrs. Laura Murphy has held almost every position on the Siesta Key campus during her tenure. Originally hired in 1989 as a first grade teacher after teaching in Ilbadan, Nigeria, she has been a first-hand witness to the enormous changes to both the physical campus and the growth of the student body over the past three decades.

“[When I was hired] the three-story building had just been completed; the Old Library was where the Dining Hall is now; there were basketball courts where the pre-K/kindergarten parking is now, and there were no fences around the campus. The school was just beginning to take off. Within a few years we had well over 450 students on the Siesta Key Campus.”

When she looks back on her career at ODA which has included teaching, Head of Lower School, and her current position as Director of Admissions & Alumni Relations, she marvels at the path it has taken. “When I came to Out-of-Door, I planned to teach for the rest of my career. What was unexpected was to have the Head of School at ODA and the Head of School at my alma mater in Princeton, NJ, [both concurrently] offer me positions in Admissions,” she explains. After 18 years in Admissions, she is an expert at working with prospective families, which provided the foundation for the recent change to working with families remotely.

“As we’ve transitioned to a virtual setting, I’ve learned that you can still develop relationships through virtual conversations,” Mrs. Murphy said. While the in-person conversations are the preferred method and she misses being able to share our breathtaking campus with prospective families, she has found ways to use technology to support Admissions applicants remotely.

“I was ecstatic to learn that I can offer admissions testing to young students using the Zoom platform. With several years of experience administering these tests, I can translate the interactive elements through a live virtual experience,” she said. This isn’t something she would have taken on in her early years, but this new platform will now allow her to test families moving in from out of state or internationally.

“Just like today, the ODA community is what attracted me to ODA and what has kept me here. I was all-in from the beginning,” she says.
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The Out-of-Door Academy

LOWER SCHOOL |  Historic Siesta Key Campus  |  Pre-K – Grade 5
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