Westside teacher uses creativity to keep fifth graders engaged

Posted at 6:59 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 19:59:06-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — If you have a student, you likely know how hard everyone has been working to continue your child's education, especially teachers creating new lesson plans, answering students questions around the clock.

A Westside Community Schools teacher is going the extra mile, or two, literally for her students. She greets them each morning from a different place in the world.

"I have a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ or ‘Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?’ type of philosophy,” said Tami Lafond, a fifth grade teacher at Paddock Road Elementary School. “I greet them from a different historical site. Yesterday was Venice, Italy, last week was the Alaskan ice fields."

She bought some green fabric to use for a green screen.

“I put it up in my living room, my husband is my photographer and my lighting is an old heat lamp I had for my son's toads,” Lafond said.

She used to be a travel agent and thought it would be fun to take her students around the world as a part of her morning greetings.

“They’re all places you can still visit and experience,” Lafond said. “So it kind of brings the world a little bit closer and sparks some interest.”

Like all Westside students, Lafond's students already had iPads and were used to using the learning app Seesaw. The district helped everyone get internet access at home.

“Students who are doing the required learning each day and getting in extra reading time will be most prepared for the '20-'21 school year,” Dr. Greg Betts, Director of Elementary Teaching and Learning, said. “The thing about this school year is we were already able to complete three out of four quarters. The students I’m most worried about are not engaging with us, not doing their work and are more susceptible to falling behind.”

The district streamlined the process for teachers by giving them an outline for what they should be teaching.

“Here’s the expectations for the lessons and content we want you to deliver and you still have the autonomy to deliver lessons how you feel best to engage your students,” Dr. Betts said.

They've tried to make the lessons student directed.

“It helped level the playing field of who is at home to help me? Versus I know this, I can do this, I can be a little more responsible for my own learning,” Betts said.

But they recognize, the social aspect is one of the best parts of school.

“Not being able to see them has probably been the hardest,” he said. “Especially for some students who school is their safest and best place to be and I know that weighs heavily on some of the hearts of teachers.”

Ms. Lafond is working hard to be there for her students when they need her.

“So we’re actually working with students it seems 24/7,” Lafond said. “You wake up, you’re working with students, you stop and eat lunch, come back working with kids, stop and eat dinner, come back you’re working with kids and families just to help alleviate some of that stress they’re having as families.”

She is confident all of her students will be ready for sixth grade next yet. Dr. Betts said Westside’s philosophy is to not hold kids back to repeat a grade. They hope everyone is keeping up with the required studies now, but will have support available to help those who may have fallen behind in this last quarter.

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