Louisville teacher’s NTI setup draws rave reviews

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A student sits at a table surrounded by a trifold backdrop that has pockets for a schedule, pencils and a calendar.
A social media post from Angelina Harper, a special education teacher at Cochran Elementary School (Jefferson County), about how to create student work stations at your home has gone viral. She created this work area for one of her daughters from items at a local discount store for less than $15.
Photo via Angelina Harper’s Twitter account

By Jim Gaines
jim.gaines@education.ky.gov

A Jefferson County public school teacher’s home setup for her children is being shared far and wide, providing other parents with ideas to keep kids focused during online schooling.

Angelina Harper, a special education teacher at Cochran Elementary School (Jefferson County), had been thinking how to make non-traditional instruction (NTI) work for her three children. Her husband is working remotely from a desk in the basement, and Harper is setting up her own desk there to begin remote teaching when Jefferson County schools resume virtually on Aug. 25.

Her 8-year-old daughter Aubrie is entering 3rd grade, and her twin 6-year-olds Paige and Peyton are starting 1st grade.

“I was just thinking, ‘If I add three more desks down here, it’ll be chaotic,’” Harper said. She wanted to set up a space for each child, a private learning environment so they wouldn’t distract each other.

She saw a social media post about making children’s workstations with a trifold poster and added to the idea herself. Harper’s classroom at Cochran has dividers for students who need help focusing or privacy during testing, and she decided this was a good way to get the same effect at home.

Harper took trifold foam boards and cut them to be about 18 inches tall. She personalized them for each child with their favorite colors and added “simple Dollar Tree stuff” – a pencil pouch, calendar, dry-erase board, hooks, book light, NTI login information and some inspirational words.

“I thought about what my kids need so they don’t have to go look for it,” Harper said.

She posted the results on Twitter, and her post has been shared around social media. On Aug. 18, her school counselor texted to tell Harper it has been shared 105,000 times on Facebook, she said.

Harper made the work stations herself, assembling them in her bedroom to surprise her children. She set them up on her kitchen table and called her kids in one at a time.

“I’ve got my own office!” Aubrie said. Harper’s son Payton sat at his and began doing schoolwork unprompted, while daughter Paige fetched her Chromebook and did the same. They worked for about 90 minutes until they had to leave, Harper said.

The work stations only take about 10 minutes to make, Harper said. An adult can do them, or they can be a family project. She made hers out of foam board, but they also can be made from cardboard with just a glue stick and the necessary accessories.

“You can really do this for under $15,” Harper said.

Other families may not have room to set the work stations up at individual desks, but they can even go on the floor, Harper said.

She has gotten a flood of Facebook comments and questions, including from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, San Diego and New York. Some were just saying thanks. Parents told her they are discouraged about doing distance learning, and said her helpful idea made them feel better. Teachers also are asking permission to share Harper’s pictures with their students’ families.

“It’s hard for kids, too. My kids, they want to be in school,” Harper said.

Gov. Andy Beshear has asked Kentucky schools not to hold in-person classes until Sept. 28 in hopes that COVID-19 infection rates will have declined enough by then to reopen schools successfully. Most schools nationwide are looking at some period of online-only learning. A few districts in other states reopened for in-person classes and quickly had to shut down again due to outbreaks of COVID-19.

Harper advises parents to create a specific work space for online classes, set a schedule, and separate school from home and work from play. Children need a place and time to focus, she said.

“I think we can make this unprecedented time successful if we just work together,” Harper said.

MORE INFO …

See a video from Angelina Harper on how to set up a student workstation on YouTube.

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