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Learning's a Gas

In a trying year, educators find new ways to keep kids smiling

Emma Ginder posing

From The Ichabod - Spring 2021
By Chris Marshall

Keeping a class of 20 third graders on the same page is hard enough when they’re all learning in a confined physical space. Scatter them across town into their “home offices” for weeks at a time, and the task immediately takes on an added degree of difficulty.

Four months into an academic year when schools experimented with every combination of in-person and online learning, Emma Ginder, b ed ’17, a teacher at Indian Hills Elementary School in Topeka, was looking for a way to pep up a group of 9-year-olds mired in another full day of screen time.

So what magic did Ginder pull from her bag of tricks to lift students’ spirits? A fart noise.

In a video clip that went viral on local and national news websites, Ginder asked her class to get out their textbooks, then she hit play on the unmistakable sound of passed gas. After a slight pause, laughter filled the Zoom.

“I tend to be laid back and make a fool of myself in front of the kids,” Ginder said. “We were coming back from lunch and I played the sound to see what I’d get. Their reactions are what make the video so good. Laughter from kids is contagious.”

The break was a welcome one. At the time, all classes for grades 3-6 were remote, which means students were logging on from 9:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. every weekday.

“The days were long and exhausting,” Ginder said, “and I wanted to spice things up to get them going for the last half of the day.”

No profession was fully prepared for the twists and turns created by COVID-19, but Ginder said as a teacher, many of the lessons she learned from Washburn University’s education department apply to any circumstance.

“I saw the difference it makes having professors who knew my name and actually cared and wanted to see success in their students,” Ginder said.

Chelsea Artzer, b ed ’11, also found ways to deal with COVID-19 curveballs. After five years as a fifth-grade teacher and two years as an instructional coach at Farley Elementary School in Topeka, Artzer was hired in 2020 as assistant principal of Whitson Elementary School in Topeka. Moving to a new position in a new district takes some adjusting on its own, and the pandemic brought additional waves of change.

Chelsea Artzer posing

“I missed out on some of the fun experiences of a typical year, but what I learned in exchange of that is more valuable,” Artzer said. “One silver lining is I realized you can still have an impact on the kids, regardless if you’re in a brick-and-mortar building or not; even if you’re in the living room of your own home.”

Whitson also had stretches of in-person and online learning and reduced maximum class sizes to 15 students to help meet social-distance protocols. Artzer said Washburn helped prepare her for handling obstacles on the fly.

“Looking back, I’m grateful for my Washburn education, and especially the education department,” Artzer said. “They were very intentional in teaching us that you never know what you’re going to be faced with as educators, so learn to roll with it. Find ways to adapt and support the students because the kids are the number one priority.”

Children are always top of mind for educators, but sometimes their actions make an impression beyond the classroom, as Ginder learned when her sound effect drew widespread positive feedback.

“It started out so lighthearted, and I feel silly saying this, but with the amount of people who have reached out to me, it’s so much more than a fart,” Ginder said. “A woman messaged me that she lost her job during COVID and got divorced, and her kids were at her ex-husband’s house that night. She was getting ready to end her life, but she said when she saw the video, ‘The laughter brought me back to reality. I can’t leave my kids, my boys. I can’t end my life.’ It gives me goosebumps. Even with how hard a year it was, children’s laughter makes a meaningful impact.”

Fortunately, that laughter was gradually restored to the school hallways. Most schools resumed in-person learning full time before the academic year ended. Even as schools return to normalcy and ditch Zoom for good, students won’t soon forget the example set by teachers in a year unlike any other.

“I continue to be impressed with every single educator in the state,” Artzer said. “The situation was obviously not ideal, but they stepped up and learned new ways of teaching, connecting with kids, putting in tireless hours to support them, academically and socially. It’s just another reminder of how important the education system is for kids.”

The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions

 

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