Sioux City teachers connect to students with cutout likenesses
Featured image: Sophia Gonzalez holds a cutout of her second-grade teacher from Liberty Elementary School. Photo by Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal.
Second-grader Sophie Gonzalez hasn’t attended classes at Liberty Elementary School for nine weeks, but she still has her teacher with her often when reading or doing math problems.Granted, it is an 8-inch paper cutout with the Bitmoji-styled likeness of teacher Haylee Twillman. But Gonzalez said it is great getting that to cart around at home in the days since schooling was cut short with little notice, due to a pandemic that has impacted so many facets of daily life.
“I’ve played Legos with it. I’ve done math problems with it, kayaking. Also, I’ve played outside with it,” Gonzalez said.
“When I got it, I felt very happy. It is like my teacher is always with me when I have it,” she added.
The teachers’ cutouts concept is modeled on the children’s book “Flat Stanley.” Flat Stanley is a paper-thin character who squeezes through tiny places, and in the Liberty School conception, in which about half the teachers took part, cutouts that look like the instructors were made, so they can easily go on learning adventures with the children.
Allison Burns and Erin Mitchell were the Liberty teachers who got the flat teacher cutouts project going in the building, and second-grade teacher Haylee Twillman delved into it, giving cutouts to all 21 of her students a few weeks ago. Some teachers jazzed up their Bimoji likenesses, such as a female instructor who students know likes baseball, so she wears Red Sox garb.
She pulled out her phone to show two pictures from a second-grade pupil, who had Flat Twillman on the counter as he baked treats in the kitchen and on a table as the family had a board game night.
“We tried to make them small enough, so (pupils) could take it and do things,” Twillman said. “It has been a fun project and cool to see what they do.”
Iowa K-12 school districts instruct pupils for roughly 36 weeks each year, but the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic during this school year means students will only get 26 weeks of in-building instruction.
An announcement by Gov. Kim Reynolds led Iowa districts to begin calling off classes on March 16. Sioux City district students have since been able to use online learningresources, although they will miss more than 25 percent of the year’s coursework. Those online options are available primarily to middle and high school students, but Liberty elementary students have been getting packets of learning opportunities every two weeks.
Some students come to the school office to get those packets, but four times now Twillman has taken packets to the homes of the students while maintaining social distancing.
“Most of them are still in their pajamas at 3 o’clock (p.m.). They wave at me from the windows,” Twillman said. She hopes the students keep reading and doing other tasks on their own, but also understands some may not.
“My biggest thing is to make connections with them … I would rather be in school,” Twillman said. She has had some conversations with the young students about COVID-19, which has killed 22 people in Woodbury County as of Wednesday. Additionally, MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center and UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s are providing care for a combined 81 COVID-19 patients.
Twillman said “most of them seem like they get that there is a sickness going around,” but that it is a “confusing” time for them.
Of the coronavirus, Gonzalez said, “It really doesn’t make me happy, because we don’t get to be in school. I don’t like wearing masks.”
Twillman said she hopes the pupils feel assurance by having the Flat Teachers. Coincidentally, she is in her first year as a teacher, after graduating from Morningside College in Sioux City.
“School is probably going to look differently for a long time,” Twillman said.