Monday, January 20, 2020
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Students in rural Ark. can ‘phone a friend’

Every student can benefit from having an outside experience in the middle of the school day, says Amanda Jones, a high school science teacher in the tiny, rural town of Poyen, Arkansas, and one of this year’s finalists for Arkansas Teacher of the Year.


Lifelines remaining include “Phone a Friend” (Peter Taylor / Flickr CC)

The school district just outside Little Rock is so small that she has to teach multiple subjects—biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science—every year, and she just “can’t be every place every time someone has a question or needs help,” Ms Jones told Education Week.

Borrowing an idea from a TV game show, Ms Jones set up a little database of community members, many of whom graduated from Poyen High School, and put their names on “phone a friend” cards. Students can call them or Facebook Live with them or Skype them on days when her science class is running a lab that they might know something about.

“The kids, they love it,” the trade magazine quoted her as saying. “Even if they think they have [the experiment] figured out, they pick up the phone and FaceTime whoever it is. They let the mentor watch it with them.”

Some of the experts in the community have even developed short presentations involving the subjects of labs. For example, she one day was running a lab on the coating that pharmaceutical companies put on certain pills. A pharmacist who graduated from Poyen worked up a short demo of why the coating on the pills is so important.

“It’s always more memorable, and it’s a much better learning experience if my students are enjoying what they’re doing and they see a link to real life,” Ms Jones was quoted as saying. “I get to keep learning every day. … People who are successful in their careers are always lifelong learners, and that’s something that’s hard to teach in a textbook.”

So, here’s an idea: Do you know people in your community, graduates of your high school, former students, and so on, who would make good “Phone a Friend” volunteer mentors? Give them a call. You might be surprised at how good an idea this can be.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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