New program aimed at building library of virtual field trips, class speakers, readings
Dr. Aerial Liese envisions helping college, elementary students
FARMINGTON — Clad in his customary black robe, Judge Bill Liese stood behind the bench in his Farmington Municipal Courtroom on Sept. 3 and directed his gaze to the video camera that his wife, Dr. Aerial Liese, was pointing at him. He was attempting to describe for his intended audience, a group of elementary schoolchildren, why he was dressed in that "silly" outfit.
The judge explained that it was for the same reason that police officers wear a distinctive uniform — when someone needs help, they need to be able to recognize the person who can provide it to them. He said the same principle of recognition applies in the courtroom.
"You ought to be able to tell who's in charge," he said. "The judge is."
The judge was being filmed for a "virtual field trip" organized by his wife, an instructor for San Juan College's teacher education program. Later this year, the video will be edited and shown to local schoolchildren who are prevented from visiting such locations themselves because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making virtual field trips a reality
Aerial Liese came up with the idea to develop a collection of virtual field trips, guest speaker presentations and community readings after returning to the classroom this semester as a third-grade teacher Kirtland Elementary School. She said it had become apparent to her that many of the teacher education students at the college were having trouble fulfilling their practicum requirements with most of the state's public school students still learning from home, eliminating student teaching opportunities.
So she developed the idea of having the college students help shoot and craft the video presentations she envisions. Liese saw her idea as a way to address two issues — school children would benefit from the exposure to new people, ideas and locations, and San Juan College teacher education students would be offered an alternative means of meeting those practicum requirements.
"This is available to anyone who would like to use this as their practicum," Liese said, explaining that the program likely would not be up and running until the spring semester.
That hasn't prevented Liese from getting a jump on things. As evidenced by the video she shot of her husband, she already has a handful of presentations lined up to serve as examples of what she wants to see from the college's teacher ed students.
A team effort
With Liese's assistance, the students will shoot the videos, and edit them to ensure they are developmentally appropriate and aligned with a school's standards and curriculum. She said they also would be produced to be interactive and engaging for students.
Alexis Esslinger, director of teacher education at San Juan College, said when Liese presented the idea to her, she quickly saw the value in it.
"I think she has a great idea," Esslinger said. "The truth is, we have a lot of elementary education students who are having trouble meeting their practicums. … During Covid, we are a little less able to support them going into the classroom."
Esslinger said the program could provide a pathway toward a new partnership that offers a much-needed alternative for some of her students.
"If this allows our students to be trained, that's wonderful," she said.
Another supporter of the idea is Kirtland Elementary School Principal Jay Boushee, who said his school already was considering the idea of building a library of virtual readings for its students when Liese floated the proposal for a more comprehensive program that includes field trips and guest speakers.
Boushee said his school has never done anything like the virtual readings program before, but when he learned via Facebook that some schools on the East Coast were trying it, he thought it was a great idea. With the help of assistant principal Nikki Atencio, he asked his teachers to compile a list of stories they would like to have read to their students.
Boushee wasn't sure how that request would be received.
"I thought there would be some resistance to it," he said.
To his surprise, his teachers seemed very enthused about the proposal, submitting a list of 30 titles to him within a few days. Considering his entire faculty consists of only 32 members, that was an overwhelming response, he said.
"I thought, 'That's pretty good,'" he said.
The idea is that parents, community members and local officials will volunteer or be recruited to be videotaped reading a story from the list submitted by teachers. After the videos and edited and processed, they will be uploaded into the school's Google Classroom account, and teachers can access and screen them for their students whenever they need them.
Members of the community can take part
Boushee said he welcomes people from all walks of life who are interested in volunteering to do a reading, and he said the settings could be varied to make them more interesting — perhaps with an interesting natural landscape or a work environment that would be intriguing to children.
He especially welcomes readers who speak Navajo or Spanish so some of the videos could be used for cultural heritage classes.
Boushee said with students scheduled to return to the classroom at his school on Sept. 14, that week would be a great time for folks to reach out to him or his staff about taking part.
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"I expect an overwhelming response," Boushee said. "I think I'm going to have more people (volunteering) than stories."
Liese is enthusiastic about the readings component of her program, but she envisions widening it to include other offerings. She said field trips and classroom presentations by guest speakers play an important role in broadening the horizons of young students, but neither can be carried out safely in the midst of a pandemic.
So she wants to make sure students have access to the next best thing. The virtual field trips would not be limited to the usual sites, such as cultural or educational institutions, but could include visits to restaurants, bakeries, auto shops or even construction projects — anything that might spark the imagination or interest of a young viewer, she said.
New ways of getting students engaged
Liese recalled with great fondness how much she enjoyed classroom presentations by guest speakers when she was a young student, especially the days when mothers or fathers came in to talk about their job. She believes today's students will find sessions like that just as engaging, even if they aren't conducted in person.
"Those could all be interesting things if you edited them correctly," she said.
Liese plans to limit the videos to 20 minutes or less so they don't strain the attention span of their target audience. The videos would be downloaded to a YouTube channel, and teachers would be able to access them in their virtual classrooms.
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If all goes well, a sizable library of stories, field trips and presentations could be developed and used year after year. Boushee envisions those materials being created and traded by districts not just throughout San Juan County, but around the country.
"Imagine if a school district in South Dakota did a virtual field trip on Mount Rushmore," he said. "And someone here could do one on Shiprock or Aztec Ruins. That would allow kids to be exposed to something most of them are never going to have the chance to see."
Anyone interested in volunteering for the program can contact Liese online at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.