Hands-on teaching in Brookings: Educator for a Day program benefits adults, kids alike

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BROOKINGS — A piglet? Check. Robots? Check. An animal skull? Check!

Nov. 15 was Educator for a Day at Camelot Intermediate School — and it was a day the school’s fourth- and fifth-graders won’t soon forget as they leaped wholeheartedly into the event’s unique learning opportunities. The event also gave dozens of parents and other community members the chance to take on the role of an educator and have face time with the youngsters. 

“Parents and community leaders come in and they experience what a day looks like in a school and they have an opportunity to share their passion or expertise with our learners,” Amie Engebretson, a fourth-grade teacher and the event lead, said in an interview with the Brookings Register. “It just gives them a picture of what it looks like in a school setting today.”

In its ninth year in Brookings, Engebretson had her hands full getting Educator for Day organized, but her efforts paid off handsomely. Students went from session to session, learning about the science of birds, yoga, nutrition, a dairy farmer’s life, aviation, dog training and so much more.

The organizing took multiple steps, she said.

“There are 22 homerooms — we have 11 fourth-grade homeroom classes and 11 fifth-grade homeroom classes,” Engebretson said. “Communicating with them, finding out when they want to do their sessions, when it works to schedule in between band large group and orchestra large group and to make sure that the schedules match up.”

She continued, “Then it’s communicating with all of the community. We throw it out to the community — the one day I spent a couple of hours just brainstorming different businesses in town that would be good to contact and filling out forms, sending a general email to everybody. We’re just so appreciative of all of the businesses that take part in this and are willing to come in.”

That said, special focus is given to parents when the initial call goes out for volunteers, and it’s for a pretty good reason beyond the fact that they’re, well, parents.

“First we look at parents … many of them work in businesses around the community and so we look for them, we ask them if they would like to volunteer,” Engebretson said. “We also do the community, where we reach out to different organizations and businesses and see if they want to come in and present.” 

In all, 70 sessions needed to be scheduled, each at 45 minutes apiece. Suffice to say, parents and the greater Brookings community helped fill every one of them.

“We were very grateful for presenters that were willing to do more than one session, and then it also gave more kids an opportunity to experience that session as well,” Engebretson said.

She went on to note that the Educator for a Day program always take place during American Education Week, which was Nov. 13-17 this year. The program’s history extends far beyond Brookings, she said, and originated years ago with the National Education Association, with the first observation/celebration taking place in Massachusetts. 

“They actually had people come in, and they did every role — from the lunchroom to the hallway monitors to the recess monitors, and so they did everything,” Engebretson said. “We have a little different spin on it; it’s just coming in and teaching 45-minute sessions to our classes.”

The variety of topics whets students’ appetites, literally. 

“We have people coming from dairy and food science at SDSU and they’re like, ‘Ooh. I wonder if there’s going to be food involved, and ice cream involved?’ We have people coming from salons and gyms and things like that,” Engebretson explained. “Everybody gets a taste of different things.”

It’s not only the kids who benefit, either. Adults are also left with lasting impressions, so much so that more than a few come back each year.

“I feel like that speaks in itself to the fact they value that community/school connection that we have,” Engebretson said. “The kids love it when you have somebody else come in. Anytime you have a presenter that comes in from the community — some of the sessions that we’ve been telling them about, they’re super-excited about.”

She’s already looking forward to next year’s Educator for a Day event. 

“If there’s an opportunity for anyone else that’s interested that would like to be a part of it next year, we’re going to continue this tradition during American Education Week each year, and if they would like to reach out, we can certainly get them on the schedule,” Engebretson said.

— Contact Mondell Keck at mkeck@brookingsregister.com.