By Dr. Curtis Varnell
While students are home enjoying or enduring the summer vacation, area teachers are busy getting ready for the new school year. Staff are busy preparing the grounds and buses for the start-up of what appears to be the most usual year of education ever offered in the U.S. Masks, regulations, and social distancing will be the new norm in schools and teachers are preparing new and unique ways to provide them instruction.
Teachers are required from thirty-six to sixty hours of professional training each year. Most area teachers receive the bulk of that instruction from the Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative (GFESC) at Branch. Daily, dozens of teachers attend classes held at the center or at one of the twenty plus districts serviced by the cooperative.
This summer, many teachers are participating in the RISE reading program which provides reading instructional skills to all teachers; k-12. RISE teaches reading skill and development across the curriculum and assists in raising the ability of kids to read with understanding. Additional instruction for teachers is offered in every subject area as well as computer skills and technology needed to teach in the new world of digital learning.
With the covid virus, many of the classes as GFESC are offered digitally to teachers using Zoom and other programs that allow teachers and instructors to conduct classes from their home.
There is still room for the face to face instruction and even field trips. On July 14, twenty-three area social studies and science teachers meet at Coleman Crystal mine in Jessieville and searched for quartz crystals and other minerals. Visiting the rock shop allowed teachers to investigate rock and mineral samples from around the world. Most of the teachers came back dirty from the red clay but with bags of crystals to share with their students.
After lunch, the teachers visited the Hot Springs national park and toured the area with geologist and historian Dr. Curtis Varnell of GFESC. A unique area, teachers discovered what caused the hot springs as they hiked the promenade area. Later, they visited the Arlington hotel, site of escapades from people as diverse as Babe Ruth and Al Capone. A few of the many historical bath houses were open. Franklin Roosevelt and others once bathed in the hot waters seeking relief from various ailments.
On July 21, several teachers will be visiting Paris for an historical tour of the coal miner’s museum, old 2522, and even the Eifel Tower Park. They will later meet at Varnell Media downtown and develop and exchange lessons that involve the students in interactive hands-on study of local and state history.
As the summer winds down, most of the workshops will center on the nuts and bolts of teaching students in the age of the pandemic. How to maintain social distance, how to clean and disinfect buses and classrooms, how to keep kids apart in the hallways, and what to do if a student or teacher becomes sick. Teachers are always learning, always busy, and always adapting to a changing educational world. This year is even busier!