Education Breakfast

Altamont High School special education teacher Debi Probst (at podium) talks about the benefits of having students like Chase (left) and Sophia in a vocational program that offers practical experience for gaining workplace skills.

By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Last week’s Kickoff to Education Breakfast offered insight into ways Effingham County schools are emphasizing innovative learning.
Lisa Teichmiller, of the CEO program, summed up the importance of innovation in education before introducing the speakers for the breakfast in the Thelma Keller Convention Center.
“The most important thing to teach our children is to build creative and innovative minds,” Teichmiller said.
Two Altamont Grade School first grade teachers, Brenda Hammer and Sally Zimmerman, talked about how they were introducing the concept of mentoring to Altamont eighth graders through the “Reading Buddy” program with first graders.
Junior High students sit down and read books with the elementary students and develop a rapport with them. Eventually, the first-graders look up to the eighth graders as more than a reading partner. They look at them as role models.
“The eighth graders started to realize their actions could have an effect on someone else. It was more of a mentoring time than a reading lesson,” Hammer explained as photographs were displayed of the different Reading Buddy partnerships over time.
Debbie Probst, a special education instructor at Altamont High School, introduced two students involved in the Vocational Education Program that has students of special needs learning basic work skills in different Altamont businesses, including a grocery store, diners and a home center. The students, Sophia and Chase, talked about the different things they have learned during their experiences in workplaces and how it has built their confidence during their hour and 15 minute sessions.
Probst offered a quote from a noted educator on the potential for people, especially students with disabilities: “There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.”
Cary Jackson, Dieterich Unit 30 Superintendent, talked about how collaboration in recent years between Dieterich schools, the community and government have produced more for all parties. The Dieterich Community Development Corporation was formed to help boost the population of Dieterich and, thereby, enrollment in its schools.
One of the most successful projects has been the North Pointe Subdivision that has added many homes and families to the Dieterich village. The school district has seen a great boost in enrollment.
“The growth we’re seeing in Dieterich has really been a community effort between community leaders, the school district and the village. And our efforts have been followed in all of Effingham County. Now, North Pointe Subdivision is getting full so we’re looking for more land for housing,” Jackson said.
Teutopolis Unit 50 Superintendent Bill Fritcher talked about how a near tragedy produced some changes in thinking for his school district.
Last February, a school bus carrying Teutopolis basketball players, cheerleaders, coaches and cheerleading sponsors was struck by another vehicle on Illinois Route 32 between Windsor and Sullivan. Several students were injured, but quick action by the bus driver prevented more serious injuries or even deaths during the crash.
Fritcher reviewed several lessons learned from the crash that gained national news media attention at one point. For one, it showed how social media can be used to send out accurate information to students, school staff, parents and the news media quickly. He thanked the local news media for their cooperation that day on being patient as information was being gathered from the accident scene and hospital emergency rooms.
Teutopolis School District has updated its social media contract to offer messages on different platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
“We want to get the information out with a click of a button so everyone can be informed,’ Fritcher said.
Planning ahead is vital on simple data such as up-to-date contact information about students on a bus. Teutopolis insists on conducting evacuation drills for students using buses. That policy paid off immediately after the bus crash, Fritcher said.
“We do the evacuation drills often. Our kids said later they knew how to get out of the bus because of the practice on the emergency hatch,” Fritcher said.
Other rules, like not lowering the bus windows past the regulated point, will continue to be enforced as strictly as before.
“If some of the windows had been lowered too far, then some students might have been ejected when the bus turned over,” Fritcher said.
Other presentations were offered on the teacher leadership training in Effingham schools and virtues of education to enhance discipline at Sacred Heart Catholic School. Lake Land College President Josh Bullock talked about the community college celebrating 50 years of offering quality, affordable education in East Central Illinois, as well as being a top 10 community college nationally on technology on its campus.
Eastern Illinois University President Ron Glassman talked about the university’s high placement rate and Charleston being named the second safest college town in the country, as well as the second most affordable college community in the United States.