Thinking outside the classroom

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Stephanie Raines, who owns The Well 4:14 coffee shop, shows that the #LiftUpBolivar movement has moved past schools and kids.


“Good morning, Bolivar Liberators,” says a voice familiar to Bolivar High School students via cell phone video broadcast on Facebook Live. 

High school principal David Geurin, clad in a ball cap and coat, runs through his morning announcements. In the background, not Geurin’s office, but an open field. 

R-1, like every other district in Polk County, has closed through at least Monday, April 6, amid concerns with spreading the new coronavirus. 

But the principal, speaking remotely, is carrying on with some of the same patterns and routines that make up typical school days for his students. 

“We're trying to think of ways to maintain some normalcy and provide some connection to school,” Geurin tells the BH-FP. “We miss our students and want to serve them as best we can even while the school closures are happening.”

In school districts across the county, educators and administrators are working from outside their classrooms to make sure those valuable lessons, routines and patterns aren’t put to the wayside while students are out of class. 

In addition to meals, most districts have either sent home packets or worked to sharpen their students’ skills via digital lessons and resources. 

Pleasant Hope Middle School principal Lance Gallamore says the district has used a combined paper and digital approach, keeping in mind that some families may not have consistent internet access. 

“We miss our students,” he says. “And I know some parents are still trying to navigate through what their students have brought home.”

Becoming teachers can be confusing and intimidating for parents, Halfway Elementary reading and math teacher Jessie Gray says. 

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Halfway Elementary School student Ruth Anna dresses as a railroad worker like her dad. Across the county, schools have shared home dress-up day challenges to keep students engaged with their teachers and classmates.

Gray and colleague Sarah Horn started a Facebook group, titled “Resource Gals — How Can We Help YOU?,” to work with parents from all districts who have now become their children’s educators. 

“We didn't want them to suffer for not being at school,” Gray says. “There are a lot of resources that companies are putting out for free, and as a parent, I could see how it could be overwhelming. Our idea was to create a space that we could share our favorite resources to lessen the pressure of teaching on parents of teaching kids at home.”

On Tuesday, March 17, Gray posted in the group soliciting questions from parents who might need help finding video examples for problems their students are trying to solve. 

There are also links to live reading sessions from authors and drawing lessons from illustrators. 

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Halfway Public Schools student Avery works on her math homework at home. 


“As this goes on, we’ll have to work as a community to keep our students’ spirits up,” she says. 

It takes just a short drive through town to see Bolivar’s community has jumped into that effort.

In a March 17 YouTube video shared by the school district, BHS teacher Amber Dlugosh encouraged her community to “lift up Bolivar” with yard and window signs and other decor. 

“I believe that I live in an amazing community,” Dlugosh says in the video. “And, at the high school, we really value lifting others up. So I want to challenge all of us in this town, even though we have to keep our social distance, to do just that.”

The creations are being shared on social media under the hashtag #LiftUpBolivar. 

“I believe that we can blanket this town with encouragement,” she says. 

Dlugosh isn’t the only teacher using social media to keep her students engaged and encouraged. 

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A #LiftUpBolivar sign is displayed in the window of Little Liberators Daycare on Monday, March 23. 

Marion C. Early choir teacher Malinda Boone’s solution — a daily choir challenge posted each day to Facebook — encourages students to share songs with specific criteria in the title. The Sunday, March 22, challenge called for songs with colors in the title. 

On Monday, March 23, Boone asked for numbers. 

“It’s easy stuff,” she says. “We’re not looking for things that are too involved. I just wanted my K-12 students thinking about new music and not sitting on the couch.”

Boone says she’s received several replies and videos of her students performing the songs they found. 

“I have the opportunity with this to expose them to different types of music,” she says. “How many kindergarteners have listened to the Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine?’ They’re hearing new songs.”

The activities also go hand-in-hand with what other teachers in the district are working on, she says. 

“It’s proven if you can sing or dance about something, you're going to remember it,” she says. “I’ve also heard from other teachers before that they’ve noticed their kids focus better when they come back from music class.”

MCE librarian Beverly McMasters tells the BH-FP on Monday she plans to hand out books to her students when the district passes out meals Tuesday. 

McMasters recorded a video telling students she missed them and reminding them of her plans to distribute books. 

“(I’m) looking so forward to seeing kids on Tuesday,” she told the BH-FP. 

Boone says it’s those unique, creative endeavors that remind students their teachers miss them and love seeing them learn.

“What we’re doing while we’re out definitely looks different, because remotely I can't teach the same skills I could if we’re face to face,” she says. “We’ve got to think outside of the box and be creative for our students.”

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