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South Valley Journal

Teachers share hobbies for fun learning at Oquirrh Hills Middle

Oct 26, 2020 03:57PM ● By Jet Burnham

Fun activities draw students to the school on Fridays to learn new skills and have a safe space to socialize. (Donna Hunter/OHMS)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Teachers at Oquirrh Hills Middle School are more than just experts in their subjects—they are passionate about samurai warriors, conspiracy theories, origami, soccer, mythology, art, movies and Magic the Gathering.

“Our faculty has a wealth of life experience outside of the classroom they are willing to share,” said Principal Donna Hunter. “Many have lived in different countries; some have unique hobbies or skills.” 

OHMS teachers share their interests and skills with students through unique enrichment activities—not for a grade but just to connect with kids as human beings. During a daily 35-minute TA period, students have an opportunity to get caught up with their schoolwork. Those without any makeup work to do can participate in fun activities.

“Our hope is that those activities will be so rewarding that they will do everything they can to keep their grades up, so they don't get pulled out of their TA for intervention,” Hunter said. “It's a work in progress, but we just feel like it's a step in the right direction to make school more kid friendly so that kids get a chance to just learn for fun.”

PE teacher Andy Marsh said in past years, he’d have five to 10 students pulled out of his TA period for interventions. This year’s activities have motivated students to do their work so that they can stay and play in his class. 

“I think the most I've had pulled out so far has been three,” he said. Students in his TA class, held in the gym, get to play pickleball, flag football or work out on exercise equipment. 

TA activities are sometimes related to a teacher’s subject, but others are based on their interests in mythology, astronomy or movies.

“I imagined it to be just low key, but some of my teachers are just delighting me with some of the preparation that they're doing, just because they want the kids to love what they love,” Hunter said.

Jamie Buttars formed the Kindness Crew with her TA class. Her students decorate lockers for birthdays, write thank-you notes and post positive messages around the school to encourage kindness.

“It's an opportunity for a lot of them to do things they wouldn't normally do on their own,” Buttars said.

OHMS teachers have expanded their enrichment activities to accommodate students who come on Fridays. This year, students only attend school on Fridays to work with teachers individually or in small groups. However, those that ride the bus must remain for three hours.

“Those kids may be coming for intervention for one class, but they needed a place to be for the rest of the time they would be here,” Hunter said. “We felt we could capitalize on the enrichment idea by offering learning opportunities that were completely stress free: no cost, no grades or assignments, just fun learning in a variety of different subjects.”

Activities differ every week depending on what teachers want to do, Hunter said. There have been lectures about samurai warriors, the JFK assassination conspiracy and remembering 9/11. There have been soccer tournaments and games of frisbee golf. There has beem yoga, meditation, science experiments and a woodburning demonstration. 

Marsh hosts a Gamers Guild in which students and teachers discover shared interests as they play board games, video games and card games together. He said the social interaction is important for teens, especially those who tend to play video games alone at home.

Sewing teacher Jamie Buttars opened her classroom one Friday to anyone who wanted to use her sewing machines and supplies. The Friday extension activities, she said, help students develop social skills as well as life skills.

“It gives them the opportunity to explore hobbies and activities they may not have been exposed to before, don't have the resources for at home or just don't know how to try,” Buttars said.

Hunter said the Friday activities serve the same purpose as field trips and vacations, providing experiences and vocabulary that expands students’ knowledge base. It also provides students with positive experiences at school and a feeling of connection. And because each activity is limited to 15 participants who follow strict cleaning and social distancing guidelines, it provides a supervised safe place for students to engage in something productive. 

Each week, more and more students sign up to attend Friday extension activities.

“We started out with only about 50 kids showing up,” Hunter said. “The next week was over 100; the third week was over 200, so I think it is catching on. With everything kids have had to go through in the past year, from pandemics to earthquakes, I think they need to have some good memories of this year, too.”

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