Vikings Return initiative puts recent graduates back in classrooms

NILES — A unique challenge posed by COVID-19 in the classroom led to an opportunity for recent high school graduates to rejoin the classroom in a different role at Niles High School.

Davie Haynes, a recent graduate of Niles High School pursuing a degree in education at Indiana State University, joins students in-person as a classroom management assistant in the kindergarten through eighth grades to assist teachers who have to use remote learning during the pandemic. The Vikings Return initiative gives Haynes, and others like him, real world experience in the classroom, and the students their teacher’s instruction with support of an in-person assistant.

It also helps bolster the school system during a local and nationwide shortage of substitute teachers.

“There was increased probability of teachers and students needing to be quarantined due to contact or exposure [to someone with COVID-19],” said Adam Burtsfield, director of special education and non-certified personnel. “How could we have the teacher present virtually – and who could manage the behavior of the kids? Who is going to be able to help students log into Google Classroom? Why not start building some of our young folks and give them the opportunity to get into the classroom.”

Haynes is currently back on campus at ISU working through his sophomore year of studies. When he returned to Niles for winter break, he reached out to the school to see if there might be an opportunity available for him to gain experience from within the classroom. As a Viking student, he had completed the Cadet Teaching program and was looking for more ways to use his education.

“I reached out to Donna Roark [assistant superintendent] and asked if I could work while I was home over break,” Haynes said.

Burtsfield said it was that call that sparked the idea for the administration.

“By providing support to our teachers when they are remote, classroom management assistants are helping the district continue to offer the high-quality education our students deserve,” Roark said.

The classroom management assistants receive support from building administrators and educators in neighboring classrooms throughout the day.

Burtsfield said the initiative also helps students in the classrooms.

“David [Haynes] just graduated, and kids can relate more to people closer to their age,” Burtsfield said. “They could see that college could be in their future. It could change some of the perceptions of students and build relationships.”

Burtsfield said there were around half a dozen graduates currently participating in the Vikings Return program. The participating graduates attend both area colleges and ones elsewhere, and work when they are able. The program is flexible for when the college students are available and can come help in the classrooms.

“We perceive we will continue to have a need,” Burtsfield said. “It’s a way graduates can help out and make a couple extra bucks while they do it.”

For Haynes, the experience has been a positive one. He looks forward to returning to the classrooms in Niles Community Schools during his spring break in April.

“It’s just a wonderful experience,” he said. “I hope others to get to have this experience, and I am glad I have this opportunity.”

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