Students ranging from kindergarten to FHSU seniors benefit from Hays Rotary Club grant

Feature-Rotary grant

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. --To foster curiosity and wonder.

That was the goal of the Hays Rotary Club and Fort Hays State University's Teacher Education Department when they partnered with Hays USD 489 in a recent science initiative.

Thanks to a grant written by Rotary Club member Dr. Lorie Cook-Benjamin, associate professor of teacher education at FHSU, elementary students in several classrooms around the city will get the use of microscopic lenses to take photos.

The Rotary Foundation matching District Grant of $1,440 provided the purchase of 204 macro lenses that clip onto devices such as tablets and smart phones to allow students to take magnified photos of very small items.

"This is a synergistic benefit to all involved," said Dr. Teresa Woods, assistant professor of teacher education at FHSU. "This is our gesture of thanks to our (district) teachers who are helping to train our students."

FHSU's Teacher Education Department long has placed its students in local and area schools as interns. And there have been numerous after-school programs featuring science activities.

However, this is the first year of placing interns in the classroom specifically in charge of a science curriculum.

"I believe it's good to actually be in the classroom face to face and see how they do science in the classroom," Woods said, "because that's what they will be asked to do as teachers."

Woods said she was redesigning her internships for elementary school science this year, and Cook-Benjamin, interim executive director of faculty affairs, asked how she could help.

"We tried to think of something that could be a perk for the elementary school science classes," Woods said, "something that would spark the students' imagination and enhance our partnership with the school district. It's a partnership we value highly."

Woods joined Rotary Club members and FHSU elementary education majors in presenting the first group of macro lenses to a kindergarten class at Roosevelt Elementary School earlier this week. Woods also handed out a bag of lenses to each of the FHSU students who are interning at other Hays schools and were in attendance for the Roosevelt presentation.

Roosevelt kindergarten teacher Heidi Wamser seemed as excited as her students to receive the new learning tools.

"Sorry, we get excited in kindergarten," Wamser said, flashing a big smile as she asked her students to show their appreciation with a silent cheer.

"I remember when student teachers would come into our classrooms when I was young," said Wamser, a Hays native who attended Hays schools and is a product of FHSU's Teacher Education program.

Now in her 17th year as an elementary school teacher in the local school district, Harper-Wamser said. "I have Fort Hays State interns come into my classroom all the time. They are a great addition."

Wamser's current FHSU science intern, Alyssa McCandless, also was excited about the macro lenses.

"I love my internship; I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," said McCandless, a Hutchinson senior.

McCandless said her favorite grades to teach are third and fourth but that she enjoys all elementary school levels, including kindergarten.

"I love working with this age. I like seeing their lightbulb moment when they get it," she said. "Kindergartners definitely keep you on your toes."

So, too, does Wamser, who said she puts her interns in charge of a group of students from the first day they walk into her classroom.

"I tell them that no one is going to give you what to teach when you are a teacher," Wamser said. "So I want them to get the hang of it right away. I put them in charge of the lesson plan and behavior, everything."

McCandless said she appreciates that approach.

"The mentor teachers can't hold your hand forever," she said. "Here, if you make a mistake, the mentor teacher can backtrack and see what points you might have missed teaching. It's perfect.

"Mrs. Wamser is a great teacher to be under," McCandless added. "She's always giving me constructive feedback that is going to help so much when I get out and teach."

McCandless stayed close to home and attended Hutchinson Community College her first year out of high school.

But at the urging of her parents, both Fort Hays State graduates, she checked out FHSU's Teacher Education program -- and is glad she did.

"On my visit to Fort Hays State, they were so warm and welcoming," McCandless said. "Now, with all these opportunities I'm getting, it's turned out great."

Shanna Dinkel, assistant superintendent of Hays USD 489, said "it's wonderful to be in a community where the civic organizations like the Rotary Club make education a priority. They are always willing to support education."

Dinkel has held a multitude of positions in her 20-plus years in the district, ranging from classroom teacher to several interim administrative jobs to her current position. So she is well aware of the benefits of forming partnerships with organizations outside the school district.

"The grant opportunities from civic organizations, especially when budgets are tight, are great," she said. "They keep finding opportunities for our students in a variety of ways."

Dinkel echoed those sentiments about Fort Hays State, from where she earned her building and district leadership endorsements.

"It's such a positive thing for the district to be able to partner with FHSU in so many areas, whether it be internships or student teaching or after-school programs," Dinkel said. "The College of Education is wonderful to work with as far as what our needs are, and in the end, all our students benefit from it."

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