In Appreciation of Homer’s Educators

I am a member of the board of directors for Kachemak Bay Broadcasting (KBBI) here in Homer. Every week, the station runs a segment from a community member highlighting something good happening around us.

Last week, I took to the airwaves to express my gratitude to the teachers of our local schools. I don’t hide the fact that I think our elementary schools are outstanding. This Covid lockdown has highlighted to me just how much educators and volunteers do for local kids and how exceptional the public schools in Homer are.

Here’s a transcript of my KBBI Segment:

I’m here today to express my appreciation and immense gratitude to the educators and all of the support staff at Paul Banks and West Homer Elementary Schools.

In a mere 10 days, these schools completely retooled and redesigned learning for the rest of the school year. What began as a simple needs survey sent out to all school families ballooned into an entire chain of caring that in my opinion, is world class.

In this process of retooling learning on our end at home, I’ve learned more about an educator’s worth than ever before. The two teachers I work with – Catherine Hayworth and Jennifer Olson – have shown me that education is so much more than what it was in my day. 

Long gone (and thankfully so) are the days of kids sitting in rows, ploughing through worksheets and top-down lectures. What’s going on at our schools right now is an impressive collaboration between families and teachers (and the staff who support them).

In our Paul Banks classroom, the day starts with a class-wide Zoom meeting that is as much about framing the day’s learning as it is about giving little students a chance to connect and share. Simple games and themes keep kids chatting and interacting with each other and looking forward to what’s in store for the day. Lessons and stories not only teach math and reading, they also connect kids to the natural world in their back yards. It’s great way to get kids safely outside.

Zoom is a different dynamic for sure – from a teacher’s home straight into ours. We’ve watched poetry lessons taking place in a teacher’s living room, storytime from a teacher’s barnyard in the middle of a drift of piglets, and science lessons from another teacher’s back yard. It’s personal and it’s outstanding.

In our West Homer classroom, morning Zoom meetings are optional but hugely attractive as our classroom teacher brings humour and learning to our living room every day. Small group meetings, one-on-one learning, and daily journaling make sure that our classroom teacher is on top what’s going on personally and academically in her student’s lives. It feels good to have another adult who genuinely appreciates my kid involved during this time of sheltering.

I hear from Principals that staff at both schools are putting in longer hours than they ever were. There’s one-on-one tutoring taking place, weekly check-ins with parents, kitchen teams preparing meals for kids who need them, PE and Art classes being delivered online, and lunchtime story times for kids to enjoy. Even the cleaning teams are working hard to make sure that schools are safe and clean for the staff who are there (and for the inevitable return to school).

The PTAs have stepped up in an incredible way, too. As soon as it was clear that school wasn’t going back, the Paul Banks PTA met with educators and are right now, on the ground, helping families any way they can. You don’t hear much about them, but they’re there, working quietly in the background making sure that Paul Banks families are taken care of.

None of this can happen without the leadership of Principals Eric Pederson and Eric Waltenbaugh. Pederson’s energy and positive attitude set the tone for all of Paul Banks. His weekly videos are personal and inspiring to his little students.

Waltenbaugh’s emotional intelligence is on full display here. He understands where his students and staff are at and delivers thoughtful messages that inspire his kids to keep moving forward.

As a parent, I am incredibly grateful for the team of educators and professionals we have in our schools. I know that having a positive relationship with teachers is critical to a child’s success in school and later in life. These educators have made themselves available to my kids and are as connected as technology allows. They are positive and encouraging, and the stories and lessons they deliver are bright spots in our days.

One of my old teachers used to have a mug on her desk that said, “Hug a Teacher Today.” But I’m asking you to remember that your teacher isn’t doing this alone. They have a whole team of great people supporting their work. So if you see an educator you know out there today, whatever you do, don’t hug them. Use your words and let them know how important they are to the families they serve.

~Sarah

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