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The Living Room Is The Classroom: Elementary School School Teachers Visit Students Via IdahoPTV

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As Idaho schoolchildren find themselves in the unfamiliar education ecosystem of at-home instruction, they’re about to see some very familiar faces – elementary school teachers from across the Gem State – appear in the living rooms, via Idaho Public Television.

A new series, “Classroom Idaho: Learn @ Home” will be beamed free of charge across Idaho each weekday, offering instruction to 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders so they can finish their studies in a school year compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ron Pisaneschi, general manager of Idaho Public Television and Kari Wardle, teacher ambassador at IdahoPTV visit with Morning Edition host George Prentice just prior to their launch of Classroom Idaho, to talk about its rapid development, recruiting teachers from across the state, and public broadcasting’s vital role in this unique moment in history.

“This isn’t just a teacher appearing on your screen talking. They’re going to engage your children and help them learn what they’ll need to know, between now and the end of the school year.”

Credit Idaho Public Television

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. School children and parents are in very unfamiliar territory today with school still shuttered across Idaho. Some school districts have begun remote learning, but something very familiar to school kids and families will be part of this new learning environment, television. In particular, Idaho Public Television, which launches Classroom Idaho, Learn at Home today. And here to talk about that is Ron Pisaneschi. General Manager of Idaho Public Television, and Kari Wardle is Teacher Ambassador and heads school age initiatives for Idaho Public Television. They join us live via Zoom this morning. Ron, Kari, good morning.

RON PISANESCHI: Good morning, George. Thanks for having us.

KARI WARDLE: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Ron. I'd like to start with you. When I first heard of this, I thought, "Well of course. This makes perfect sense. Idaho Public Television is free and reaches to nearly every corner of Idaho."

PISANESCHI: Of course, that's correct, George. We are Idaho's only statewide media and what the sort of genesis for this project, we of course are very well known for our children's programming, especially designed for the really youngest group. Primarily those ages, preschool through second, third grade. And we've already been, for the last several weeks, created a block of programming designed for the middle and high school age kids that are at home. Programs like Nova and American Experience. The sort of area where it seems like, oh, people were lacking in terms of content was in the third through sixth grade area. We also learned that there's tens of thousands of students and families who really don't have broadband internet at home, or don't have devices to be able to do internet learning. That really gave us the initiative, or the impetus I should say, to really say, "What can we do to help meet that need?" Kari came up with this wonderful idea of going to teachers, asking them to do their part by a recording lessons, just as if they were doing it for their classrooms.

PRENTICE: Wow. So Kari, paint us a word picture. Teachers are the stars, yes?

WARDLE: Yes they are. And I'll tell you, George, these teachers have just risen to the occasion that we have given them. This is not just teachers standing in front of a digital whiteboard. They're doing real life experiments. They're bringing in videos of dogs catching treats. It's amazing. The things that they're doing are amazing. Like Ron mentioned we wanted to figure out how we reach that demographic of kids that I know teachers are concerned about. Previously I taught elementary as well, so I'm an elementary teacher. And that was my first thought when school shut down is: “What about those kids who don't have access to internet?” Which especially in some of our rural towns in Idaho can be half of your class. And how do you reach those students? And so I threw the idea out there to our production guy; I'm not a production person, I'm an educator.

And I said, "How hard do you think this would be?" He was like, "Well, I don't know." And then we partnered with some amazing people and in just about a week we had upwards of 24 teachers from all across the state of Idaho signed up for this project. We had the State Department of Education endorsing it and the state superintendent. And really a week from the day that the folks at the station internally, and some of our partners met, a week later I got the first video lesson from one of the teachers. They're passionate about this. They believe in this project. We know that, like you said, Idaho Public Television is the place that can reach these kids that these teachers can't reach. So we're just so proud and excited to be a part of something like this where we can hopefully help to fill that gap for students who don't have the same access.

PRENTICE: Ron, can you speak for a moment about this unique moment in our history when, my sense is more people are watching public television and listening to public radio than ever before. And the public broadcast model is being tested unlike any other time in our history.

PISANESCHI: Absolutely. Idaho Public Television, and public media in general started out in the education world. We were there, they started at universities and school districts around the state. And this kind of direct learning to households is something that's just been part of our DNA from the very beginning. And it's really interesting that we've come full circle and are now doing it even more than ever before. Of course, with new technology and a new way of reaching folks. But yeah, this is… this is a time when public media has really stepped up and we have heard throughout Idaho from our viewers, and supporters how much they appreciate us at this time. And beyond, of course the stuff we're doing in education, we're doing a live program with the Governor, answering viewer questions each week. We're expanding our Idaho reports coverage each Friday evening. We're doing daily coronavirus updates. And I know you in public radio are doing much of the same kind of thing. And it's the viewers and listeners really appreciate what we've been able to provide to them.

PRENTICE: Kari, Classroom Idaho sounds like a blast. To see these teachers as engaged and as animated as you say. I actually can't wait to see this.

WARDLE: I think it's going to be great. Like I said, when you give teachers a task, boy do they deliver. And they have far exceeded my expectations. In fact, I was, before this interview, watching the first lesson that came in. And I didn't want to end watching it. I wanted to find out what was going to happen with the dogs that she had put on that. So, I'm going to go right back to that after this. So, I hope that it is... Teachers have this amazing way of doing that, of making learning fun for kids. And so I hope that what parents know, and what kids know is that this isn't just a teacher appearing on your screen talking. They're going to engage your children and help them learn what they’ll need to know, between now and the end of the school year.

PRENTICE: She is Kari Wardle, teacher ambassador. He is Ron Pisaneschi, General Manager of Idaho Public Television. Stay safe, stay healthy. Best of luck with this. Can't wait to see it, and thank you.

PISANESCHI: Thank you George, appreciate it.

WARDLE: Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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