Van Alstyne teacher brings humor to at-home learning

Joshua Baethge, For the Van Alstyne Leader
Van Alstyne Middle School teacher Amy White is injecting humor into her daily eLearning lessons for students. With the help of green-screen technology, she appears in unusual locales including a coral reef while dressed as a scuba diver or wearing other costumes. [Courtesy photo]

At-home learning has forced teachers to find creative ways to reach students.

One of the most over-the-top examples may be Van Alstyne Middle School teacher Amy White, who is using humor to keep kids engaged.

Sixth graders anxiously watch for her morning Facebook videos where she appears, often in a zany costume, speaking from a green screen-generated locale.

Whether White is riding in on a stick pony, petting a giraffe or snorkeling in a coral reef, students can expect a silly joke followed by a math question.

Those who send her the correct answer may even get a small prize in the mail.

“I want my kids to check Google Classroom every day, so I decided that I’m going to do something stupid every single day,” White said.

The idea started on St. Patrick’s Day. Since many students were upset about missing school that day, she decided to create a video message for them.

After that went well, she asked friend Lisa Harrelson, the assistant principal at Partin Elementary School, to help her film the segments.

“She said, ‘I can do better than that. Come up to the school and we can use the green screen,’” White recalled. “Now I provide the dumb jokes and she does all the technical parts.”

She now films a week’s worth of videos ahead of time.

While she seems to be a natural in front of the camera, White said that performing is a little bit out of her comfort zone.

She has been teaching math for 19 years and does not typically employ digital tools. The current eLearning situation has required some major adjustments.

For now, White is holding off teaching certain concepts like graphs in hopes that she and the students return to the classroom before the end of the school year.

If not, she said she will adapt and teach with the tools she has to work with.

White is quick to point out that all of her colleagues are working to make the at-home learning experience both fun and educational for students.

Sixth grade science teacher Jeni Voris has created a virtual escape room in which kids learn about mass and density.

Reading teacher Lindsey Bovers started an online book club where students meet together via Zoom.

English language arts teacher Debbie Meaders created an online journal where students can record firsthand accounts of what everyone is doing in the community.

“Everyone is just going above and beyond to make it interesting for the kids,” White said.

When at-home learning first began, teachers were regularly working 15-hour days to adjust lesson plans and prepare for the new normal.

Now they are beginning to get into a routine and most students are responding positively.

While the situation is obviously not ideal, White says that students and teachers have remained positive and encouraging throughout the challenging times.

She hopes that any attention she receives will shine a light on all of the great things Van Alstyne ISD is doing.

Many students submitted entries for a district-wide talent show. Sixth graders also submitted pics for a virtual pet show and will host a comedy hour.

“The support that we’ve had as teachers from administrators has been incredible," White said. “It’s been just over-the-top phenomenal and I can’t say enough good things about it.”