Saturday, May 7, 2011


Story by Ian McManis
Photos by Jay Yocis
Twenty young students sit, eager and attentive around an illuminated whiteboard, as their teacher recites rhyming passages from the digital projector. The youthful voices respond energetically, forming childish chord of excitement.
One student taps the board, prompting two virtual dice to roll across the screen in an addition equation. When asked for the answer, hands shoot into the air, fingers fluttering in enthusiasm. A girl is chosen and stands by the board, reciting the corresponding rhyme: “four plus four equals eight, that’s great!” She taps the board once more, and a third die spins to reveal the answer, illuminating her elated face.
The first graders at Winton Hills Academy take turns at the new interactive projector to practice their addition, while their teacher, ‘Miss Hansen’ aka Allie Hansen, assists. Hansen is a fourth year teacher education student in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) planning to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education this June 2011.
When Hansen requested an urban placement for her last student teaching assignment, she landed at Winton Hills Academy, a Cincinnati Public School located a few miles north of downtown Cincinnati. As Hansen arrived for class the first day, she noticed her students did not have the technology to broaden their learning experience, or even some of the most basic school supplies on hand.
Meeting the needs of a classroom through the social media village
She thought immediately to create a project request on, a website that connects classrooms in need to donors. Almost immediately, she raised $300 to provide basic educational supplies for her students. But as her experience grew, so did her passion for her students.
With a little fundraising money coming in, Hansen started a blog to document her experience. She wanted to do something big for her classroom and students, and thought social media would be effective in getting the word out. With much time and effort, Hansen raised $5,000 to purchase her classroom a Mimio interactive projector to give her students the exposure to technology.
“At first, I couldn’t help but to try to improve these children’s educational experience.” Hansen says, “I fundraised to allow them their first time experiencing paints, crafts, technology and good supplies to learn with. But then it became about how I could meet the basic needs of these kids.”
As it started to get cold, Hansen noticed many of her first graders walking to school without coats, hats or gloves. She learned that a large majority of them didn’t have the proper clothing, so she started a community-wide coat drive. She opened the drive up to other students throughout the school, and even to the families of students. The coat drive grew to include hats and gloves, and even pillows and blankets.
Hansen shares one student’s story, many more of which are featured on her blog: “I first had the idea to ask for blankets and pillows when I discovered one of my students walks several miles to school from a homeless shelter downtown.”
By December, Hansen knew many of her students on a personal level. She had gone above and beyond her role as a student teacher, and her cause had attracted enough local attention for the department store Kohls to donate a Christmas package for her students – Dr. Seuss books with matching stuffed animals.
Teaching experience offers a time to experiment, test your own style
With her placement at Winton Hills, Hansen used her creativity to complement her own personal teaching style, and advises all student teachers to try the same.

“The reason the education program at UC works so well is because I get to see hands-on how the things I learn are applied, and have the freedom to play with it,” says Hansen. “The teaching placements make all of the difference.”
“Take as many risks as you can and get out of your comfort zone. This is the time to make mistakes because you have your mentor teacher, your college professors, and your supervisor to keep you on the right track.” Hansen says, “Miss Wagner really let me do anything I want, but was always there to help me.”
Jennifer Wagner, 21-year veteran of Cincinnati schools, has never had a student teacher quite like Hansen. “Allie brings such an energy and excitement to be here,” Wagner says. “The kids and parents just love her, and she will definitely be missed.”
Wagner was able to see the effects of Hansen’s work inside and outside of the classroom throughout the year. The faculty at Winton Hills Academy had never witnessed this kind of effort from a student teacher before, and they were grateful for the impact that Hansen could bring to the school.
“When she asked if she could start a website for donations, the principal and faculty were very supportive,” Wagner said, “she got us the Mimio, and we were all impressed. She simply went above and beyond. She invested so much of herself into these kids, and did things that not many people would.”
Hansen finished her placement at Winton Hills Academy in March, and plans to return home to Colorado after graduation with her fiancĂ©. She hopes to work at an urban school in Denver and bring her experiences of improving not only her students’ education, but also affecting their lives.
Hansen still comes back and visits her students as a volunteer tutor as she finishes her degree. Her compassion for her students will serve as a new benchmark at Winton Hills Academy.
For more stories about her teaching experiences as ‘Miss Hansen’ and the initiatives that she brought to her classroom visit her blog at

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

First graders invade UC!

I already know that it will be more or less impossible to accurately describe what my children experienced yesterday while visiting the University of Cincinnati.
As the children walked into the classroom they knew they were in for a treat by the way I was bouncing up and down with excitement.
We arrived on campus around 9:00 AM at the Rec Center Circle. The children exited the bus staring up at the large buildings towering overhead. We started the day with a tour of the Rec center, snaking our long line of 50 first graders around the machines and students working out. When we had seen the whole facility the children got to play on the basketball courts. We rotated between basketball, volleyball, and corn hole stations. I think several children were experiencing stimulation overload because my typical busybodies were fairly calm and attentive. ☺
This next part had me nervous. We were going to walk up “Main Street”, the middle of campus, during one of the busiest times of the day- lunchtime! Here I was leading a long stream of students up the middle of the path as I received funny looks from UC students and faculty alike. At one point we were walking next to a young women, one of my students asked “Miss Hansen who is that?” (Assuming I know everyone at my school) I responded with “she is probably a UC student, why don’t you ask her what she is studying”. My student and this young woman had a nice conversation about what it meant to study Communication and why she had to go to class. I was proud that he felt comfortable and confident enough to ask questions and maintain a conversation (one point to Miss Hansen!).
We had the opportunity to eat lunch in the Annie Laws Conference Room located in the Teacher’s College thanks to some of my contacts. The children got to sit in “giant” black leather swivel chairs and feel like they were worth a million bucks! During lunch we had several visitors including the Dean of CECH! I was so proud to show off my students!!
After lunch we talked about how people get to college and why it is so important. I asked several students why they wanted to go to college,” I wanna fix butterflies… can you do that at college?” “I’m gonna be a police” This was a great opportunity to talk about the different degrees UC offers and possible career paths.
Then the part we had all been waiting for… we got to meet “real” football players!! As the children entered the team meeting room their eyes filled with excitement. There were at least fifteen 6’4”, 280 pound, players high-fiving the students as they came in. The children looked tiny sitting in chairs meant for bodies several times their size. The players introduced themselves and then the Head of Player Development gave some basic rules for our gathering.
* Must raise your hand and be called on to speak
* Must say your first and last name before talking
* Must speak with a loud and confident voice
I loved him! He had such authority in his voice, I was jealous!
We watched the 2010 Year Highlight video, which included a lot of gruesome tackles for the children to “oo” and “ahh”. After the video the students got to ask the players questions. These included “what is your number”, “do you live with your mom”, “does it hurt when they land on you”, and “is college hard”?
It was incredible to watch their faces, as if they were in the presences of true celebrities, staring open jawed and without blinking, they were more attentive than I had ever seen before.
To finish off our perfect day, the students and football players convened on the field; the boys played catch while the girls learned cheers from the cheerleaders. It was truly an unforgettable moment.
I would like to think I changed lives that day. That I exposed them to something they might have never seen before. The goal was to show them that there is more to life than what they see everyday. It is my hope that the children left with an excitement towards college, towards staying in school and towards exceeding low expectations.
I know it is unrealistic to say that, because of this experience, all 50 first graders will stay in school and graduate college. A handful of girls are likely to become pregnant before the age of 18, boys will find that gang members respect them more than teachers, and the students with behavior problems will be tagged “ unable to learn”. Before they know it their unfortunate choices will have chosen their future.
I want my students to leave this year knowing that they can do more in life than what society tells them they are capable of. I want them to know that when no one else does, I believe in them. I want them to know I loved them and that they changed my life more than they could ever know.

- A Thrilled Miss Hansen