How to Connect Virtual and In-Person Students

By Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis

How to Connect Virtual and In-Person StudentsTwo years ago, we learned to search for unique student needs in our schools.

Last year, we learned to reach students learning virtually.

This year, we are figuring out how to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person students.

We sometimes fall short, but we always walk away from the year knowing we did our very best!

With the year 2021 attempting to show up its predecessor in terms of challenges, I am hesitant to give it any credit. However, if there is anything I can say about the weirdness we have found in a socially distant and severely sterile COVID world, it is that time is also running on a unique path. My students have returned to school, so we are physically operational, but with only half our students learning in-person. We are holding parent/IEP/504 meetings on Zoom. We have half our beloved teachers in the virtual setting. This arrangement has made a significant difference in the feel of the day and the way I construct my goals and projects.

Groups, classroom visits, pop-up lessons, collaboration, check-ins, and individualized counseling are standard fare for school counseling programs. But 2021 has also allowed me to return to some of the more time-consuming tasks that first brought me into the school counseling field. This year I have been able to spend more time on tailoring an intentional plan for building community that I can implement as we “hurry up and wait” on developing executive functioning skills.

Ticking Clock

I am in awe that the school year is almost over already. I’ve spent a year feeling stalked by a ticking clock reminding me how fast time is flying. Because I rotate with my students, I have specific rapport goals that I like to establish before the end of sixth grade. This allows me to set a precedent that will help us identify high school program interests in seventh grade, which then paves the way for prepping the transition to high school in eighth grade.

Like most other educators, I have had to create a sliding scale of my goals and signals of progress this year. Data collection in the school and district has been interrupted by safety standards and home instruction, causing a lack of organizational chores for me. With so many unknowns, we have had to hold on some decision-making that would normally be taking place throughout the year. Because of this, my time and tasks have become undeniably student-focused.

One of the goals I have had this year is finding a way to bridge my in-person students with my virtual students. I realize that not every virtual student will be able to connect with a peer. But if I can implement just a couple of small activities to bring students together, my hope is that any solidarity created will affect the entire grade level! Or so I will tell myself—and then commit to being content with whatever good effect we get.

Girl Groups

I have a group coming up that I am excited about. Every year I try to do a girl group of some sort. In this group, we talk about how awesome women are and how powerful our voices can be.

I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use some extra tools for dealing with stress and pressure this year! I also feel that bridging the gap between virtual and face-to-face students with this group provides a perfect opportunity for empathy building that we would never have had without COVID.

To get started with the 2021 girl group, I needed to figure out what I was going to do and how. As I worked through logistics, my goals got bigger and bigger and bigger, until I needed to call in some assistance for materials and space! This year, I’ve been inspired by a newly published guided journal titled Dream Up Now. I love how it can really teach students how to express their feelings by journaling.

What: girl group using Dream Up Now guided journal

  • Ensure each participant can keep the book and materials.
  • Explore funding sources (school allocations for student-focused activities, DonorsChoose, and so on).
  • Depending on funding, procure materials for students to use for journaling.

Who: mix of in-person and virtual girls from my caseload

  • Identify students who are not receiving other interventions.
  • Reach out to parents for invitations.
  • Create a student group with prospective participants.

When: during lunch and free time

  • Decide on a day each week to meet based on school-wide activities.
  • Check in with teachers to allow students to miss extra time.
  • Create passes for face-to-face students to be excused from lunch.

Where: in a classroom with appropriate spacing

  • Discuss options with security and administration.
  • Ensure there is an interactive whiteboard that can broadcast virtual students while face-to-face students eat.
  • Create a Zoom room for virtual participants.


  • Create passes for in-person students.
  • Create a permission slip on Google Docs for all students.
  • Gather all materials.

In the end, I was lucky enough to have a DonorsChoose grant fully funded! I got enough materials for ten in-person students and ten virtual students: the book Dream Up Now, a pencil pouch, colored markers and pens, empowering stickers, and a plain carry-along journal. I love the look on my students’ faces when I can tell them the materials are theirs! Now I am working on piecing through the lessons (which, for a counselor, is a game plan that doesn’t look like a game plan).

This week was our first meeting for our girl group. There were some hiccups and a few missing kids, but we still had fun, and I think over time we will all get the hang of what we are doing! It is certainly a challenge to wrangle the virtual students and make all the arrangements for the in-person students, but it really is heartwarming to see them all get to share in the experience of sixth grade.

I Get To

The hardest part of gratitude is learning that appreciating something does not mean it has been without challenge. By saying that some things are working out better this year than in previous years, I am not seeking to dismiss the many obstacles we have faced both together and separately. However, I am choosing to focus on what I feel lucky to get to do, despite the struggle it might have taken to get there or the mistakes that may have been made. I get to work with amazing kids. I get to watch teachers create magic. I get to connect with kids. I get to help kids make connections with each other to grow and learn from. I get to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person students so that they are able to build empathy and make friendships during this isolating time. I get to be a school counselor.

Stephanie Filio, author of Responding to Student TraumaStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

Responding to Student TraumaStephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.

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