RANCHESTER — Tongue River Elementary teacher Alice Kerns traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, last month to record an online Wyoming history class for Acellus Academy.
Though the course is intended for Wyoming fourth-graders, all Acellus classes are available to all students, so a student interested in learning about Wyoming history will be able to access Kerns’ class from anywhere in the world.
Kerns began teaching with SCSD1 schools in 1981 and has taught every grade at Tongue River Elementary as well as several years at Slack Elementary. She taught Wyoming history for 16 years and after coming out of retirement several times, is substituting long term at Tongue River Elementary and supporting students enrolled online through the district’s Cowboy State Virtual Academy, which uses Acellus. Kerns said she taught some of her current students’ parents.
When former SCSD1 Superintendent Marty Kobza got the district started with Acellus programs, he began asking Kerns to teach the course right away, since she had taught his children and was familiar with her passion for Wyoming history. After Kobza left, Cowboy State Virtual Academy Director Laurel Main, a neighbor and friend of Kerns’, continued encouraging her to do the course.
“I was correct — it was a lot of work,” Kerns said. “But I did it because I feel like if we’re gonna take that next step forward as a school district, that we needed to truly have everything aligned with the Wyoming state standards, and to do that, having someone that isn’t a Wyoming history teacher teach Wyoming history, they might not get it aligned the way it should be, they might look at it superficially, they might not have the passion for it.”
Before traveling to record the lessons, Kerns spent six weeks preparing about 80 lesson plans covering prehistory to statehood and recorded for eight hours a day while she was in Kansas City.
“Part of it is I am a perfectionist, and so I want to make sure that I am giving the kids a great experience, so when they’re watching the videos, it’s not boring, it has the fun, interesting facts that Wyoming history has. Wyoming history is incredibly crazy, it really is.”
Kerns said Acellus was interested in having a teacher from SCSD1 since the district had developed a curriculum that met state standards, which served as the starting point for the online course.
“The benefit to the district is, through Cowboy State Virtual Academy, we have students all over the state, and one of the requirements is Wyoming history to be taught at the elementary level,” SCSD1 Superintendent Pete Kilbride said. “So for our virtual kids, there really is no other way. If they’re not in a brick and mortar school, typically there’s not other programs out there that do it.”
Though Kerns scripted the lessons, Acellus is developing the accompanying assignments and quizzes according to their methodology.
“They have taken, from a scientific point of view, what is the longest period of time for your nine or 10 year-old to have their attention span, so they’ve taken that science and worked it,” Kerns said. “It’s based on the science of learning.”
The course modules consist of three to 10-minute videos, which Kerns said is longer than expected without interruptions from students. Kerns also said the format works well for history, since instruction is story-based.
Kerns tried to visualize herself keeping the attention of a nine-year-old boy, so she included wild and weird episodes like the story of the outlaw Big Nose George Parrott, whose skull was sawed in half and passed around and skin turned into shoes worn by the governor.
Kerns is also responsible for developing the slides to go with the lessons, which she said has been difficult since a lot of relevant material isn’t in the public domain. Instead she’s gathering photographs of items from her family ranch, visiting battlegrounds and getting photos of items from Crow friends.
Kilbride said Kerns’ family experience on a dude ranch contributed to her enthusiasm for Wyoming history.
“The Wyoming way of life is something that they live and it’s near and dear to her heart,” Kilbride said. “It was one of those where, boy, it’s kind of a match made in heaven.”