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  • Giselle Smith

Local Teachers on Everything "Back to School" Related

Late May, we asked for nominations for your favorite school teachers in the area. We had dozens and dozens of nominations, and of those, seventeen teachers volunteered to participate. In addition to fun photos, each teacher gave helpful tips on keeping your kids sharp this summer and preparing students for what may lay ahead in the 2020-2021 school year. The original, printed title of this feature was "Back to School!" As I share this post today, things are seeming more uncertain than ever, but some of your favorite teachers are here to offer words of wisdom for back to school... Or a potential endless summer. Fab photos of your favorite teachers by the talented and wonderful, Elaina Janes Photography.

Heather Paulsen

4th Grade Reading

Morningside Elementary School

The most important advice I have for parents when it comes to reading is to have your kiddos read aloud and then talk about what they read. There are some fantastic children’s books out there! Pick up a book, read with your child, and take time to discuss the storyline: “What connections do you have to the characters and/or events? What are the characters like, and how do you know?” Use this time to dig through the reading and find evidence from the story to fuel these discussions. Even the most reluctant readers will enjoy sitting down and reading with a family member. As teachers, we are looking forward to being back in the classroom, but we are equally unsure of how that will look. The most important thing to do is to assure your child that no matter what scenario comes our way (NTI or face-to-face), their teacher loves them and will do everything they can to make the time they have together memorable, exciting, and full of learning.

Angela Hill

4th Grade Math

Vine Grove Elementary School

To keep their children learning over the summer, parents can give their child math goals to reach throughout the break. My students loved working for little prizes. For example, parents can reward their children if they become 100% fluent within so many weeks. Fourth graders specifically need to know multiplication and division and should be encouraged to practice over the break. Even playing games that use money is a great way to keep children working on their math skills during the summer. I have four children of my own; three of them have IEPs, so I know that learning at home can be very overwhelming. The biggest thing that helped me get through NTI was having my boys on a routine. They knew that as soon as they ate breakfast, it was time to learn. It is so important that they get their work completed on time because once a child gets behind on work, it can be tough to get them caught up.

Penny O’Neal

Intervention & Enrichment Specialist

Lincoln Trail Elementary School

Children pick up on nervousness, and it amplifies their feelings. Back to school should be a fun time! Try taking your child on a special shopping trip for school supplies to get them excited for the year ahead. This is a great time to share your own back to school stories and bond over the back to school jitters! When it comes to preparing for a cleaner school year, I would suggest encouraging sanitizer use and hand washing at home now, so it becomes a part of their daily routine. I have taught my daughter about “germ juice” and the rules that come with it: germ juice only works on hands, can’t go in your mouth, and can’t be wiped on others. For mask-wearing, just let your child know it is okay. Explain why we are wearing masks, and give them time to wear one before school begins. To provide them with a sense of ownership of their health, try having them decorate their mask and individualize it to what they like.

Brandi Newman

Preschool Director & Teacher

Saint James Catholic School

For preschool-aged children, it is important to make learning fun! Children at this age cannot sit for long periods of time. Because of this, the best way to get your preschoolers learning is by making it fun and keeping them moving. You can make a game out of almost anything. Preschool can be scary, especially because for some kids, this is the first time they are leaving their parents. As the school year nears, you should explain to your children how preschool will work and talk to them about all the fun they will have while there. Masks may seem scary to little ones who are not used to seeing them. So start wearing them at home periodically and talk to your kids about them. At home, you can have your child play with one that is their size so that they are familiar with a mask and understand there is nothing to be concerned about if they see someone wearing one.

Caitlin Shilts


Panther Academy

One way to keep kindergarten kids on track over the summer is to make learning fun and engaging. There are a lot of simple ways to incorporate learning with items you may already have at home. You can have your child practice writing their name in shaving cream on the table, use chalk to write sight words outside, and even practice math skills while keeping score during a game of basketball. But one of the most important things you can do for your child is to read with them! School may look a little different next year, but there will still be a smiling teacher to greet your child. If you are concerned about germs and keeping your child safe, you can rest assured knowing that nothing excites a child more than their own personal hand sanitizer complete with a carrying case key chain for their backpack. In my experience, they also love sharing their sanitizer with friends.

Danika Peak


St. James Catholic School

To keep students learning this summer, read to them. If your child is already reading, let them read some of their books to you now and then. Kindergarteners also need to know letters and sounds. Kids learn best through play; play games like writing letters with sidewalk chalk and then ask your child to move to a letter using letter names and sounds. Most students coming into kindergarten are transferring from a half-day preschool program and get a little tired at first. So, prepare your students to expect a full day without naps. Your family should also practice using hand sanitizer at home so that students know the proper way to put it on. But keep in mind that it’s not a replacement for proper hand washing. If we do return to NTI, create a schedule for your day so that students aren’t sitting for too long. Be sure to break it up with movement breaks, snack breaks, and just playtime. We would be doing the same thing in the classroom.

Tiffany Spratt

9th-12th Business Education

Central Hardin High School

On my heart and mind constantly is the mental health of my students. Teenagers tend to show their anxiety by acting out (attitude) or completely shutting down. During this time of uncertainty, their mental health is far more important to me than anything I can teach. For some, not having in-person daily school due to NTI has been a change for the better. Not having to worry about daily peer pressure, trying to fit in, anxieties of relationships, comparing themselves to another, etc., has been a relief. Many are thriving, and a sense of happiness has washed over them. Others have to juggle schoolwork with even more responsibilities, such as caring for siblings, possibly working additional hours, and helping provide for their families. All the while wondering if there will be enough food for the day, week, or even month to feed their families. I would love to see my students being kids over the summer.

Desire’e Denham

6th Grade Math

North Middle School

I would encourage parents to incorporate Mathematical conversations naturally to help children see the relevance and importance of having Math skills in real-life. A critical skill that all students need to have mastered by middle school is multiplication. Students can use flashcards or free online games for just a few minutes each day to enhance their math skills. The most important consideration when preparing children to return to school is their mental health and ensuring they know the pandemic has affected everyone. It is important to teach our children to be kind, to be patient, and to know when to seek help. Everyone should be kind to one another because you never know what others have gone through and are still going through during this difficult time. Students should also be patient with themselves. It is okay to struggle because it challenges them to use their problem-solving skills, to think critically, and to learn from their experiences. If your child reaches a point of frustration, encourage them to take a break and ask their teacher for help. Teaching is our passion, and that’s what we are here for.

Kelsey Hood

1st Grade

Helmwood Heights Elementary School

As teachers, one of our favorite things to do over the summer (besides going to the pool) is getting our classrooms organized, clean, and ready to go for our new classes. This coming year, I would encourage families to stay excited about school, whatever it may look like. We are working hard to create an environment that is fun, exciting, and safe for our students to learn. Cleanliness is more important than ever, like washing hands thoroughly and often and not touching your face, mouth, and eyes. Families can look for opportunities to practice good hand washing, wearing a mask when around others, and keeping their hands out of their mouths. Being intentional about this will ease the transition of going back to school. I look forward to meeting all my sweet new first graders, building relationships, and partnering with parents in their child’s educational journey!

Jenna Walters

1st-5th Grade Art

Helmwood Heights Elementary

While teachers are beyond grateful for the support we’ve received, the real heroes are the parents on the front lines helping their kids navigate through these unique circumstances. In my personal opinion, NTI was a total success considering the lack of training and preparation we were given, but learning gaps are inevitably going to be present as we begin the new school year. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep the learning alive this summer while still enjoying the break! Consider creating a set routine that has both learning and loads of fun! Just twenty minutes of learning or extra practice a day can keep your child’s brain active throughout the summer. Outside of those twenty minutes, encourage your child to spend some time away from the screen. Create, explore, learn a new skill, get outside! Summer is full of opportunities to gain new experiences, and sometimes those experiences are just as important for our kiddos!

Carla Sloan

6th Grade Reading

West Hardin Middle School

Summer is a time for relaxation and freedom, but routine is still good for kids of all ages. Reading can be incorporated into daily activities, whether it’s sitting down and reading a chapter or two as a family after breakfast or as a bedtime ritual. Children mimic us, so it’s good to model reading for them. Summer is the perfect time to pick up a good book and escape for a while. Middle school is definitely a transitional period, and organization seems to be one of the biggest obstacles kids this age face. Keeping things simple is key. One binder with a folder for each class is important for staying organized to ensure their assignments don’t get lost. A daily routine with a chart or an agenda is really helpful to ensure that assignments are completed in a timely manner whether we are in the classroom or online again. Keep an open line of communication with each teacher through emails, phone calls, or checking grades through the grade book website.

Nicki Coleman

Law Enforcement Pathway Instructor

John Hardin High School

To help prepare students for next year, have them write a letter to their new teacher. Encourage them to ask their teacher questions about what the school year will look like (after the decision has been made) and what they should expect to learn about next year. I am confident that our district will continue to educate parents about all safety precautions. I would ask that parents watch those videos with their students so that they can talk about what it might look like together. I think that if we do have to participate in NTI learning again, parents should openly communicate with teachers about their needs and situations at the house for their students. Just like each classroom has a different “look,” each home has a different way of managing NTI. If a student needs special accommodations, parents should communicate that with the teacher sooner rather than later.

Olivia Dvorjak

6th Grade Social Studies

7th & 8th Grade Theology

Saint James Catholic School

Some advice I would like to share with students is that life has many ups and downs. There will be times in their lives that they are super happy and rejoicing about what happens, maybe the birth of a new sibling, eating at their favorite restaurant for the first time in months, or getting a job that they really wanted. But there will also be times of disappointment, frustrations, and stress, like when someone is mean to them, when they can’t be at school like normal, or other hardships. During these times, remind them that they are resilient and they are able. It might seem difficult in the moment, but it will help shape the young man or woman that they are. When your child is scared or anxious, encourage them to take a second to close their eyes and remember that they are loved and wanted.

Carmen Caldera-Brzoska

Pre-K-12th Theatre & Appreciation of the Arts with Elizabethtown Performing Arts Center for EISD

If your child is an artist (visual or performing), help them stay active in their art form this summer. There are free classes online for every level of student in every form. Support their gift, not as a hobby, but as a passion. Have them perform for you or create artwork to send to our frontline workers, nursing home residents, or even family members. Teach them to share their gifts, and they will thank you. If your child isn’t an artist or hasn’t found their niche, explore a few, and see if it sparks something. You never know what hidden talents a child has until they are given the opportunity to shine! In preparation for the next school year, talk about flexibility. Every change is about making things safer and better for them. Learning to be flexible and make the best of every new situation is a valuable life skill. None of us like change at any age and this is a golden opportunity to help them understand that change is necessary, and it’s better to embrace it and move forward then to fight it and get left behind.

Candace Dailey

Kindergarten-5th Grade Art & Music

Cecilia Valley Elementary School

Learning opportunities are all around us. I have found that kiddos are engaged and excited about learning when you establish real-world connections and provide hands-on opportunities. You can connect art to video game graphics or decorating cookies. You could connect music with music within movies or TikTok. This is truly a unique time for learning because it allows us to connect with the opportunities all around us and develop relationships and connections as a family. The virus is still new, and we have to think in ways that we never have before. This is the time when caring for others, and being compassionate is vital. My mom, sister, and nephew are all immunocompromised, so I wear a mask, wash my hands, sanitize, and follow protocols. Parents and teachers remind your kiddos of how we are caring for one another and why following the rules is essential. Establishing those real connections makes being uncomfortable bearable, especially for the little ones in any situation.

Candace Payne

1st Grade Teacher

Morningside Elementary

The best way for our parents to keep students engaged and learning over the summer is to find something they enjoy and sneak in opportunities to practice reading, writing, and math within that activity of interest. You might also try faint on some family field trips to Kentucky parks and historical sites. These provide a hands-on opportunity to incorporate history and science learning. For your daily schedule, make reading together a priority, and allow students to read whatever interests them. The impact of reading 20 minutes per day exposes the student to 1.8 million words per year! You can also incorporate all kinds of different fun resources to practice sight words such as a paintbrush with water, Play-Doh, rocks (and while you are at it, count those rocks!), Legos – truly any type of active child play can promote continued learning during the summer. Check out one of our favorite sites to view some more great examples of creative learning during the summer:

Crystal Goodman


Lincoln Trail Elementary

Summer learning at home doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. There are so many activities for kids that can be made in just a few minutes! You can go on a sight word hunt, letter hunt, create dice games, and use a deck of cards to practice ordering and comparing numbers. Even better, you can go outside and find materials to count, measure, and sort to learn math. One thing this pandemic can’t take away from us is the ability to read with our children. Cuddle up together and READ, READ, READ! Kids love to listen to their parents read. Kindergarteners need a lot of play in their day to sharpen their social development skills, so work on a puzzle, build a fort, or even look at old family photos together. Remember to keep it relaxed and fun!

Getting back together in our classrooms will be so much fun! I am excited to see everyone, sing and dance, work together, and learn from each other. All of the fun things we experience in Kindergarten like singing, dancing, drawing, painting, counting, reading, and phonics will still happen wearing a mask

How are you getting your children ready to go back to school? We would love to see!

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Thanks so much for reading along Elizabethtown!

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