Whether standing in front of a classroom or diving in the back row of the volleyball court, Heidelberg University early childhood education major Sarah Oney is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of those around her. And now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect educational and co-curricular opportunities for students of all ages, Sarah, her family, and her teammates are presented with new challenges.
In March, then a sophomore, Oney's practical experience at nearby Washington Elementary School was cut short as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine closed schools across the state. Already in her third placement as part of Heidelberg's hands-on teacher education program, Oney never really had a chance to say goodbye to the students with whom she was working.
Oney and her classmates didn't let the stay-at-home orders deter them from gaining invaluable experience. A group of students and professors converted their popular Math Camp -- an immersive, engaging learning opportunity for local children -- into an online experience through Zoom.
"We try to make math more interesting than just following rules," said Oney, a native of North Fairfield. "For the students, it was a nice way to provide learning opportunities during the summer. Some of the students even recognized us from the in-person Math Camps we had done before the pandemic."
Oney comes by her zest for teaching honestly. Her parents, Wendy and Bryan, are middle school educators in the South Central School District. Growing up, she recalls spending snow days with her sister Hannah taking turns "teaching" one another. Hannah begins her career as a teacher this fall in Wooster.
For the Heidelberg volleyball team, Oney was the libero during the 2019 season. In volleyball, the libero provides a constant defensive presence in the back row. In her first year donning the contrasting-colored libero jersey for the Student Princes, Oney averaged 5.17 digs per set and was a second-team All-Ohio Athletic Conference selection -- an honor voted on by the league's coaches.
She sees parallels between the role of teacher and libero.
"A teacher and a libero both have to be vocal leaders," said Oney. "We have to be supportive of everyone around us and provide steady leadership."
As COVID-19 forced the deferment of fall intercollegiate athletic events into 2021, Oney and her teammates are entering the unknown. Gone are the preseason bonding opportunities before classes start. Instead, the upperclassmen will look to find new ways to safely, yet effectively, integrate the 15 newcomers into the program -- a program with four 20-plus win seasons in the past five years.
"This fall is going to be different. But just because it's more spread out doesn't mean that the practices are any less important," said Oney. "We're still going to train hard, still going to work hard and develop that team chemistry."
Oney, like everyone, hopes that tentative spring schedule comes to fruition. All Heidelberg students, staff, and faculty have completed COVID-19 testing in hopes of fostering the safest and healthiest campus environment possible. With proper hygiene and adherence to campus, local, and state guidelines, Oney and all Heidelberg athletes will be back in competition in 2021.
"Just thinking about getting back in front of the fans at Seiberling Gymnasium brings a smile to my face," said Oney, who delighted a raucous crowd with a memorable one-armed diving dig-turned-kill in a thrilling five-set victory over Baldwin Wallace last fall. "Our fans are the best. I hope so much that we'll be able to play in front of them this spring. They do so much to support us."
In the same spirit, she can't wait to get back in a classroom in person, supporting her students, as soon as possible.