Eddy Delzer, Jamestown's Louis L'Amour Elementary School principal said promoting passion is a lesson taught in the school's classrooms.
"I went into education because I believe we need to educate the whole child," Delzer said. "When I came to Louis L'Amour I brought seven mindsets with me which include(s) ... passion first."
It is a mindset that has had a whole week dedicated to it in the past.
"With 'passion first' last year we celebrated 'Innovation Week' where students could come up with a plan, studying really any topic that they wanted to," Delzer said. "For one whole week, the whole day at school was dedicated toward studying their passions and doing fun activities that they kind of initiated and made their own."
This year the stars did not align for Innovation Week. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum released a statement Friday issuing the continuation of distance learning for the rest of the school year. Jamestown Public Schools will end the year on May 22. Innovation Week may be canceled and the year may be winding down but there is still time to try something to promote the passion.
"We felt as a staff that it would be fun for families to engage in activities together," Delzer said. "The staff here made it an action plan as to what it could look like and we call it 'Family Passion Wednesdays.' From there Wednesdays through the remainder of the year are filled with students and families passing on family traditions and starting new innovative experiences with one another."
At 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday Delzer conducts a live online reading with students via Zoom. Delzer than facilitates a discussion time where students talk about what they want to do with their loved ones, what they are interested in learning about and how they are planning on accomplishing the task.
"I think it was an opportunity for families to grow closer under certain circumstances and that doesn't include teaching their child how to do math, how to problem solve walking their way through a textbook," Delzer said. "The staff at Louis L'Amour was really positive and wanted an innovative way to create that togetherness as a family and this is a time that we could get that done without the added stress of coming home from a long day at work and making sure their child's work is getting done the proper way for educational purposes."
Family Passion Wednesdays are positioned to give families and parents a break from virtually teaching the youngsters in a traditional format. The Louis L'Amour faculty has full engagement activities on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays now act as catch-up days for students and staff.
"I think it has been a nice reprieve for families who are feeling really stressed during this unprecedented time in our education system," said Heather Tomlin-Rohr, a kindergarten teacher at Louis L'Amour. "In my 19-year career, I could never have imagined trying to teach virtually online to kindergarteners. So I think it is just a nice reprieve for families where they can do something they are interested in. It really lends itself to education in the real world."
The school's first go of Family Passion Wednesdays was April 29. Families have been asked to post photos on the Louis L'Amour Facebook page or on SeeSaw, Louis L'Amour's online learning platform. One week in, Delzer said he has seen students start sewing, making family recipes, starting a garden, filling bike tires and oiling bike chains.
"As soon as Wednesday is over, they are trying to come up with what they are going to do next week," said Erin Paulson, referring to her two children who attend Louis L'Amour. "They are always thinking about what cool innovative thing they can start working on and then try to get resources together. Usually, by Tuesday we have 10 ideas and they have to figure out which one they are going to do."
Tomlin-Rohr said that type of approach is what the breaks on Wednesdays are supposed to be doing.
"I think anytime you can get kids and their families thinking outside of the box and bringing them together to work on a project, what a win-win for everybody," Tomlin-Rohr said.
Delzer and Tomlin-Rohr said the wins could not be accomplished without those at home.
"Our staff here felt that this is an opportunity for students to really discover their passions and family traditions with their No. 1 teachers in life and that was their parents and guardians," Delzer said. "Our Louis L'Amour parents and guardians have been really understanding and appreciative of our initiative. We cannot thank them enough for their dedication in partnership not only in these unprecedented times but also during a normal school year as well."
Amy Everson, a Louis L'Amour parent, said she had enjoyed the extra time with her children since the beginning of the pandemic despite occasional stressful technological challenges. She said Family Passion Wednesdays have been a good way to break up the week.
"I have always baked with the kids but with this break from the classroom, my third grader has decided to master some recipes on her own so that has been fun," Everson said. "We have also planned our garden, gone on hikes, bike rides and built blanket forts. Our big family project is a sewing project. The girls have been learning to use the sewing machine over the past winter and they each are making a special quilt. They have designed their patterns and measured and cut all the squares. Next is assembly."
Heidi Lindberg-Mickelson, mother to Kori Lindberg-Mickelson, a kindergartner at Louis L'Amour, said the midweek break has helped her family get away from the screens necessary to virtual learning and feeling stressed because of a lack of connections with other students.
"Although distance learning can be a challenge, I am very thankful we are able to spend this time together at home and continue to keep them connected and involved with their school," Lindberg-Mickelson said. "Passion Wednesdays allow us time to do our own learning through our own passions such as our flower beds and when we go for walks, looking at nature."
The Lindberg-Mickelson crew has made efforts to stay connected to fellow classmates and teachers by delivering cards to homes and has spent time outside preparing garden beds for the upcoming season. Mickelson-Lindberg said she thinks the new campaign has shown Kori that learning does not have to happen solely in a classroom setting or on a screen.
"When you are outside you learn things about nature and when you do stuff as a family you learn about each other and learn how to treat one another with respect," she said. "It gives her time to do something she enjoys and doesn't have to have the stress of getting an assignment done on that particular day."
Dave Landenberger thanked the Louis L'Amour faculty for making the best out of the situation the students and families have found themselves in due to the pandemic.
"I think it's great for the kids to choose something they are naturally interested in and then dive into the topic. It really helps develop an instinct to research," Landenberger said. "We are learning the history of Lego, the company and the toy, (we) decorated and drove an ATV parade for a friend's socially distanced birthday party, and drew out and played a giant game of Chutes and Ladders in the driveway."