Looking back, you can probably remember that teacher. The one that spoke in a monotone voice while reciting the periodic table in a crisp, white lab coat. On the other hand, you can conjure the image of your favorite teacher that spoke the words of Shakespeare with spine tingling passion, or took you back in time with tales and images of the Civil War. Two innovative teachers at Mineral Wells Elementary School are pushing the boundaries of art and science to inspire future generations.
It all begins in kindergarten; learning ABCs, shapes, basic colors and so much more. For Shannon Rhodes and her aid, Darlene Barton, music and art are powerful tools to reinforce new language, thinking and motor skills that are vital to learn at such a young age. Every morning, Shannon leads her classroom in singing songs that relate to the various topic listed above.
“When it comes time to test students individually on letters and numbers, I notice they begin to sing our daily songs out loud. They associate music with learning, and it becomes a way of thinking for them. The information sticks in their memory, because the music is creating a connection in their brain that they will never lose,” Shannon said.
The class also has special opportunities to perform songs for parents during holidays and special events. Mineral Wells has one music teacher for 600 students and is limited as far as being able to perform in front of the community. Second through fifth grade classes are the only ones to perform during spring and winter programs.
“The students understand the importance of hearing and knowing the beauty they can produce. I have taught previous groups sign language, which was ‘above their learning level.’ Well, students have the ability to achieve higher than what is expected of them, all they have to do is listen,” Shannon said.
Shannon’s aid, Darlene, also encourages art within the classroom due to the fact all art teacher positions were cut in Wood County. Many of the colorful pieces students create, make their way to the hallway bulletin board. These kindergarten students are also encouraged to create art through Lego’s and blocks.
“All of these elements build hand-eye coordination and gives them a sense of accomplishment. Not only are they proud of their work, but you can see that they work well together as classmates in generating ideas,” Darlene said.
Jill Carden, one of the fourth grade teachers, is constantly generating ideas and techniques to use in her own classroom. Before coming to Mineral Wells, Jill was a stay-at-home mother, and saw the capacity to live a rich, full life when you have all the tools in the tool box to make it happen. She especially encourages young girls to pursue careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic) field. While designing hands-on projects for her students to complete, like constructing a catapult, Jill also invites guest speakers on a regular basis to expose students to various careers. Recently, she has been in contact with astronaut Jon McBride, to Skype her class.
“I do not want any of my girls or boys to feel limited when they walk into my room. There are so many resources that I try to incorporate into the classroom so that they can have fun while seeing the purpose of their learning projected into the future,” Jill said.
Jill may be considered a “new” teacher due to the number of years she has under her belt, but she was mentored by one of the greats. Scott McCormick was Jill’s co-worker, and passed away last summer only one year after retirement. A grouchy exterior led to the humble and generous heart of this man. To honor his memory, Jill, along with the support of McCormick’s family, created the Scott A. McCormick Memorial Scholarship through the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation (where donations can be made). The scholarship will go to students from Mineral Wells whom graduate from Parkersburg South High School.
“I kept thinking how I could best showcase him and keep his memory alive. Scott had a big heart that cared for children beyond the normal realm. He was a big advocate for education and perseverance even in hard circumstances,” Jill said.
Both of these educators along with the others in the Mid-Ohio Valley dedicate their lives to inspiring future generations even with the going gets tough. Their efforts truly make a difference, because no matter what may happen in life, one can always keep learning and improving their mind.
Rebecca is a Mineral Wells native attending WVU Parkersburg. By studying public relations, she hopes to one day use her skills to benefit non-profit organizations in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Even though Rebecca loves the written word, she has a passion for history. You can find her digging through postcards at any antique store or giving tours at The Castle of Marietta.
Photography by Rebecca Rhodes