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 Donorschoose.org, 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 fiancé. 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 www.allieseducation.blogspot.com.