Children could be heard loud and clear from room 717 at Effingham County Middle School on Thursday, buzzing in anticipation of being read Dr. Seuss stories for the annual Read Across America day.
“Doc-tor Seuss! Doc-tor Seuss!” they chanted.
However, the students doing it were about 320 miles from Effingham County.
The children, students at Chisholm Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala., were linked via a video feed with ECMS’ virtual field trip classroom. The school in Alabama connected with four in Effingham for the virtual field trip.
ECMS eighth-graders and Effingham County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse read Dr. Seuss stories to Guyton Elementary students who were in the classroom with them, while a camera mounted in the room projected their image to Chisholm Elementary and Ebenezer Elementary. That was followed by a second “field trip,” among ECMS, Chisholm and Springfield Elementary.
“You often hear in education, '21st century education,' getting students to embrace technology,” said ECMS counselor Aurelia Moss, “so they got a chance to see school-age peers that were across the county and across the state, just showing how technology can bring us all together — and it’s all for the love of reading.”
The virtual field trip was a joint effort between Moss and her brother Aubrey Larcheveaux, the technology coordinator at Chisholm Elementary. After about three weeks of planning and coordination, the schools in neighboring states enjoyed Dr. Seuss stories together.
“I can’t take credit for the idea. It was my brother’s idea,” Moss said. “When he heard that we have a virtual field trip room here at Effingham County Middle School, he said, ‘Wow, I have a great idea of how we could Read Across America.’”
Students in the Leadership ECMS program read and acted out “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Lorax” for the youngsters, and Shearouse read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” Though Shearouse has read to children many times, this was his first time reading to one group of students while two others were projected onto a screen on the wall.
“I think it’s really important anytime we can connect our schools,” he said. “Technology has really made the world smaller in regards to connecting schools or connecting programs and classes. It’s very unique.”
The Effingham County School System is in its third year of offering virtual field trips. Effingham schools have participated in about 50 in that time, according to instructional specialist Justin Keith.
Virtual field trip classrooms are set up at the county’s three campuses with adjoining schools: Ebenezer Elementary/Middle, Effingham County Middle/High and South Effingham Middle/High. The campus with younger students hosts the classroom, and the older students can walk next-door to use it.
“The equipment for the rooms is mounted on the wall, so all the teacher has to do is walk in, turn on the projector and they either get called or they call (the other location),” Keith said. “We have rooms to serve six different schools, and then we have one roaming set of equipment that serves the remainder.”
The virtual field trips are a cost-effective method to “take” students anywhere that has the technology to participate. For example, Keith said, NASA offers virtual field trips every day, which combine lessons in science, math, history and geography.
One of Effingham’s more memorable virtual field trips, Keith recalled, was around the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. ECMS teacher Betsy Morgan’s students virtually visited the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota.
“We went underground to a private missile launch site,” Keith said, “and the guy gave a tour and showed where you had to put the keys and everything if there would’ve been a missile crisis. It was really cool.”
The subject matter wasn’t quite as heavy on Thursday. The young children enjoyed several laughs as ECMS students Nick Akins, Hannah Berry, Chanses Bowers and Micah Fansler dressed in character and acted out Dr. Seuss tales.
“I really like reading to kids, and I really like kids just in general, so this was a lot of fun,” said Akins, who dressed as the title character of “The Lorax.”