“One District, One Book” is how Santa Rosa County is trying to make distance learning easier for students, teachers and parents who are having to adjust quickly to the new norm of online learning.
Animal friends and guest stars from Santa Rosa County, Florida will bring distance learning to life as the school district rolls out a new, tailored distance learning program for elementary students aimed at bringing cohesiveness to the online curriculum.
“One District, One Book” is a new program focusing on one specific curriculum centered around one book. The book, “A Boy Called Bat” by Elana K. Arnold, is about a young boy on the autism spectrum who likes to eat spaghetti and learn about animals.
All 14,211 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in Santa Rosa County received the book at no cost to them. This book will guide students for the rest of the school year in a series of interactive assignments for every grade level.
April Martin, the director of elementary education for the Santa Rosa County School District told the Pensacola News Journal that the departments created work assignments for English Language Arts, Science and Math for each grade level. These “assignments” aren’t your average worksheets. Instead, they include instructional videos featuring local pets and wildlife, cooking activities and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) activities for science that all tie back to the story!
Animal guests, noodle cooking and technology learning
To help bring concepts of the book to life for elementary students, Dr. Karen Barber, the director of federal programs for the school district, will be traveling throughout the county for the next several weeks to shoot videos of guest stars and their furry (or slimy) friends reading certain chapters of the book.
On Friday, she visited the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and had Deputy Clay Smith and his K-9 Dozer read a chapter of the book. Next week, she will go to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge to have animal technician Michelle Pettis read a chapter with the refuge’s resident star skunk, Riley, which ties into the story because Bat, the main character in the book, also has a pet skunk.
She will also read with dolphins on a dolphin cruise, with turtles at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station and with a teacher who reads to cows on her farm on a regular basis.
“We really want to tie the book to the community and real life. We want to tie it to careers. And we also want to provide moms and dads, families and children, with that example of what reading a book out loud should look like,” Barber said. “So that when families are reading at home, they see the kind of expression that the adult who’s reading the book is putting into the book. But it’s also a shared experience for the family at home, the family with their children, and it’s a shared experience while they learn about a location in our community.”
Barber also hopes that learning about different places in the community will encourage families to get out and visit once stay-at-home orders are lifted, helping to boost the local economy.
In addition to the videos with animals, the curriculum will focus on hands-on learning and experiments to help children at home follow along with the book. Jeff Baugus, the district’s coordinator of math and science, said each learning department created two assignments per week, for a total of eight assignments, that follow along with the storytelling in the book.
“The book really focuses on the mother’s occupation as a veterinarian, so there’s a lot of animal-based content,” Baugus said. “Part of it talks about cooking with his mom and having spaghetti, so it gives us a chance to talk about temperature changes and what it takes to get noodles ready for spaghetti. And so as students read that book, we want these extension activities to be familiar with the context they’ve read, yet still address the state standards required in each of those courses.”
Mike Thorpe, the district’s director of professional learning, is bringing in Microsoft experts next week to help teachers, parents and students get a better grasp on technology and how to make better use of online learning. He’s also rolling out ways to translate the curriculum for students whose first language is not English.
“You will start seeing a presence of us doing activities at night again, for parents and students to plug in to better understand the Microsoft Teams platform,” Thorpe said. “All of this is to help help not only teachers, but everyone that’s involved in this distant learning be more comfortable with what’s going on.”
“I think both distance learning and these types of school district projects just have a richness to them. They have a togetherness to them. And I think we’re going to explore how we can do more of this in the future, whether we’re in school or not.” – Tim Wyrosdick, Santa Rosa County School District Superintendent