Students at Autumn Hill School for the Severely Disabled in Union held a rain gutter regatta last week as part of their lessons charting Rich Wilson’s progress in the 2016 Vendeé Globe solo, nonstop, around-the-world sailing race.

Wilson’s current position in the race and how he’s fairing have been featured in The Missourian each weekend since the race began in November and will continue into the spring. The “Ocean Challenge Live!” segments that appear in the paper (written by Wilson himself from aboard his sailboat and his team of experts) is part of this year’s Missourian In Education program.

Heather Suerig, who has been teaching at Autumn Hill for 11 years and using the newspaper in her classroom on and off for several years, said the “Ocean Challenge Live!” feature is exactly the kind of cross-curricular and multifaceted activity that she looks to bring into the school.

“We always try to find more hands-on activities for our kids,” said Suerig, “and this was being able to build (a toy boat), which could include science and math, plus it’s the fun of decorating your boat, designing your boat . . .”

The students made their toy boats out of paper, milk cartons, tin foil, plastic water bottles . . . whatever recycled items the teachers and paraprofessionals could find around the school.

Suerig added water to two small gutter sections that had been donated to the school a few years earlier for another project, and the regatta got underway in the entrance area of the school.

On a bulletin board where each of “Ocean Challenge Live!” segments that had already been featured in The Missourian were posted, Suerig added a tournament bracket to show the results of each race.

In the finals, as she led the students at the start of each race, Suerig was as excited as they were to see how each boat performed.

That kind of enthusiasm for using the newspaper in lessons at Autumn Hill along with Suerig’s leadership in bringing the program to the school is what led her to be selected as the 2016 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year, said Dawn Kitchell, The Missourian’s educational services director.

“Heather has been a great role model for integrating the newspaper into the classroom at her school,” Kitchell said. “She organized a teacher in-service early in the school year, participated in our annual Run to Read, and shares her enthusiasm for using The Missourian as a teaching resource with students at all levels.”

‘For Us It’s the Basics’

A state school for students who are disabled, Autumn Hill has students who come from across the Franklin County area (Pacific, Union, Sullivan . . .) and beyond (Owensville, Hermann, Rhineland, Strain-Japan . . . ).

Students range in age from 5 to 21, and they each have an IEP, or individualized education plan, due to a disability, which range from physical to cognitive.

Suerig, who teaches in the older students’ classroom, which has students from ages 13 or 14 up to 21, is one of four teachers and 12 paraprofessional aides at Autumn Hill. This year the school has 28 students.

Suerig is the school’s contact when copies of the Weekend Missourian are delivered each week for all of the teachers to use in their classrooms.

“The papers are delivered on Mondays, and we hand them out Tuesday,” she said. “Everyone makes their own choice of how to use the paper with their students.”

One way all the teachers like to use the newspaper is to follow the serial stories, like “Jim the Wonder Dog,” which will begin in the Jan. 21-22 issue and tells the story of a world-famous dog who lived in Marshall, Mo.

Not only was the English Llewellin setter a champion hunting dog, but he seemed to understand and carry out instructions given to him — even make accurate predictions, such as locate a car by make, color or a license number, or from a crowd, select the “man who sells hardware,” the one who “takes care of sick people” or the “visitor from Kansas City.”

Autumn Hill students participate in The Missourian’s annual Season’s Greetings contest where students submit holiday drawings and winners are featured in the Christmas issue of The Missourian.

The students like to read those pages, looking at all of the drawings and searching for their own names, said Suerig.

Other newspaper activities they use include having students look in the headlines and stories to find the letters and numbers that match their name and address. For students who are more visual learners she may have them find a picture of a dog or count how many deer photos are on a page.

“For us it’s the basics,” Suerig commented, noting the academic requirements are different than at a traditional school where the emphasis is on learning facts and figures.

“We have a functional curriculum built on what works for each individual student,” she said. “We work their IEP needs into themes that we come up with that help us embrace it and make it more fun, at the same time, working on those functional goals.”

Like all teachers who use the newspaper in their classroom as a learning tool, Suerig said she prefers it over worksheets or textbooks because her students are more engaged with it.

“It’s just more fun. The kids like the noise it makes . . . It’s colorful, it’s bright, and worksheets aren’t,” she remarked.

“We send the newspapers home with the students, so their parents can look through them. For some of our parents who don’t live in this area, they can see what’s going on in the community,” she said.

Seurig doesn’t find using the newspaper in her classroom the least bit disruptive or complicated.

“We have the advantage of having a smaller class size. I have eight students in my classroom, and there are four staff, so that’s a good ratio,” she said. “And we have the space and flexibility to do (newspaper activities) when we want and how we want.

“We are structured, but we don’t have to follow the schedule as strictly as other schools,” she explained.

‘Great Learning Opportunity’

The “Ocean Challenge Live!” feature is something Suerig and the rest of the Autumn Hill staff has used as a theme for the entire school year.

“Each room has been doing some different things. We are trying down the line to have someone bring in some MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) because we are talking about what kind of food these guys eat on the boat. What’s it like? How do you manage to eat?” said Suerig.

“Rich (Wilson) talks about how he needs to eat 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, so we talk about how do you pack that much food for up to three or four months on a 60-foot boat? One of the girls here, her dad has some MREs, so we are going to try to get her to bring some in. Just to see what it is and all.”

In one of the younger student classrooms, the students conducted a “sink or float” experiment, where they placed various items in a bucket of water to see what would happen. Afterward, they made a poster of which items sank and which floated.

In that same classroom, the teachers created a large map of the world and students painted the blue water so they could post the location of Wilson’s boat and others in the race.

“Just this one aspect of the (Missourian In Education) program has given the entire school a myriad of learning opportunities,” said Suerig. “The teachers have run with it. We are all about what’s real world, hands on, because that’s what our students respond best to.

“The race has been a great learning opportunity for all of our students across the different ages and abilities,” she added.

The success of last week’s rain gutter regatta already had Suerig thinking about organizing another race for the spring, perhaps with some longer gutters.

Teachers also hope to take the students outside this spring to draw the length and width of Wilson’s sailboat on the parking lot so they can see how small the boats really are.

“They are only 60 feet long,” said Suerig. “We pulled up (an image) in our classroom and compared it to the ‘Deadliest Catch’ boat, because some of our students watch that show. This is like one-third the size of that boat.

“So we talked about what it’s like for him to be out there all by himself, with the waves, on the ocean, how four guys have already quit because they’ve run into stuff in the ocean, hit floating debris, I think.”

She and her students also have been paying attention to how little sleep Wilson is getting by checking the biometrics page on his website.

“It’s wild to watch how much sleep he’s getting, like just three hours a day,” said Suerig. “On his biometrics page it charts if he slept 45 minutes or less . . . 45 to 90 minutes or if it’s a 90-minute or more block. And how does he sleep when he’s out there alone? Does he drop anchor, auto-pilot, or just pray he wakes up?”

Recognizing Good Teachers

As the 2016 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year, Suerig will receive a $100 award, a one-year home subscription to The Missourian, and a framed copy of this feature story.

The Missourian has been recognizing a Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year since 2003. Kitchell said it’s just another way to recognize good teaching.

“Our Missourian In Education award recognizes teachers who use the newspaper in great ways, but I believe you won’t find a teacher who uses the newspaper who isn’t a great teacher,” Kitchell said. “So we’re recognizing some of the most outstanding teachers in our area communities.”

This year, more than 100 teachers in 42 area schools are participating in the Missourian In Education program. With help from community partners and sponsors, The Missourian is delivering thousands of student newspapers every week at no cost to the teachers or schools.

Inside the newspaper so far this year, students have learned about Miranda Rights in a Constitution Day feature, the role of various government offices in a Vote Missouri series and the First Amendment (in this issue) for Bill of Rights Day.

Students also have been honing skills in comprehension, skimming, scanning and restating though the weekly Missourian In Education News Quiz posted online each Monday. Each week students win gift certificates to local restaurants like Imo’s Pizza and Sugarfire Smoke House for taking the News Quiz.

A series on World War I will begin in March, following the annual Reading Across Missouri series on “Jim the Wonder Dog.”

The annual community Family Reading Night will be held Friday, March 3, at Washington Middle School. The theme will be Bedtime Stories, and the guest author will be Sherri Rinker, who wrote the New York Times Bestsellers “Steam Train Dream Train” and “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.”

And The Bee 2017, the seventh annual regional spelling competition organized by The Missourian and sponsored by hth companies will be held Saturday, April 22, at East Central College.

Teachers of the Year

Previous Missourian In Education Teachers of the Year include:

2003 — Lauri Link, Gerald Elementary.

2004 — Jennifer Hawkins, Edgar Murray School, St. Clair.

2005 — Sister Pat Gloriod, St. Vincent de Paul, Dutzow.

2006 — Jennifer Wirthwein, Washington Middle School.

2007 — Wynn Scheer, Fifth Street Elementary, Washington.

2008 — Ann Joyce, Our Lady of Lourdes, Washington.

2009 — Maria Kerr, Franklin County Special Education Cooperative, St. Clair.

2010 — Joan Obermark, Clearview Elementary, Washington.

2011 — Sheila Grgurich, St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus, Villa Ridge.

2012 — Linda Sentivany, Washington Middle School.

2013 — Karen Brinkmann, Beaufort Elementary School.

2014 — Angela Hopkins, Campbellton Elementary.

2015 — Mike Brusca, Washington West Elementary.

The Missourian In Education program is available to teachers in all communities served by The Missourian. Classroom newspaper subscriptions are provided at no cost to educators, thanks to support from community partners. The Missourian also provides training and curriculum at no cost.

Parents and educators can follow the Missourian In Education Facebook page for updates, book reviews and other literacy-related news. For more information on The Missourian’s educational outreach efforts, contact Kitchell at 636-932-4301 or kitchelld@emissourian.com.