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Online Exclusive - Posted May 10, 2012 11:10 a.m.
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photos by Drew Belle Zerby

Day of Wonder

Window on a Wider World (WoWW) throws first annual event to deepen experiences of children and to further learning

African dance, wind energy and exotic animals are just a few of the enriching and educational opportunities children will be exposed to tomorrow at the first annual WoWW Day.

“The purpose of this was schools come to the end of the school year and what do they do? They have a field trip that has no learning experience,” says Ali Tiegs, executive director of Window on a Wider World, an educational program designed for kindergarten to fifth-grade students in the Panhandle “They just want a fun day so we thought, ‘Why don’t we, WoWW, offer a fun, learning day for children?’

WoWW’s mission is to enhance children’s understanding of their surroundings as well as the world through artistic measures, Ali says. Partnering with more than 30 nonprofit organizations that supply more than 150 programs and working with 14 Region 16 school districts, WoWW aims to integrate beneficial programs within school courses to more efficiently teach children.

“WoWW was really a conduit,” begins Ali, who boasts more than 40 years in the education system as a teacher, ESL instructor and principal. “We take [schools’] programs and we can facilitate that, and where we discover holes in the curriculum, we can create some things to fill those holes.”

Originally planned to take place at the Amarillo Zoo, the rain moved the event to the Amarillo Civic Center.

Located on the first floor of the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, WoWW opened its doors in January 2006. During its first year, three out of 63 school districts became involved with the program, including Stratford, Wellington and AISD, making up seven elementary schools. The following year, WoWW tripled that initial number of schools, and this year, WoWW currently works with 14 school districts. Ali plans to collaborate with all 63 school districts with hopes of eventually expanding into bordering states.

For an organization’s programs to be eligible to join WoWW, they must possess curriculum ties and TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) objectives because “it’s not just art for arts sake.” For example, the Palo Duro Metro Chorus of Sweet Adelines applies the use of fractions during their costumed performances. Palo Duro Canyon State Park brings a fully-dressed Comanche woman to chronicle the history of the Comanche people that lived on the Caprock, and the Carson County Square House Museum flaunts trunks that store historical artifacts, such as Native American clothing.

“What a fun way to learn history,” Ali exclaims.

Tomorrow beginning at 9:30 a.m., nine organizations will exhibit learning stations for the 450-500 students in attendance at WoWW Day.

“For three hours kids can do hands-on, engaged learning things. Wouldn’t this be fun?” Ali asks excitedly. “I would have loved to do this when I was a kid.”

Students of participating schools and districts will receive a WoWW Day T-shirt and a passport so children can show off the stations they visited and the games and puzzles they completed. Not only will students partake in an entertaining day of activities, but they will also gain invaluable knowledge about the world that they can discuss with their friends and families.

“Kids that are going to experience these things are going to go home and say, ‘We did this and we did that. Look what I brought!’ So that’s dinner table conversation and that’s a fun advocacy of what they got to experience here,” Ali explains.

Lone Star Ballet is bringing four of its dancers to assist with the event. Derived from the show “Rainforest: A Children’s Odyssey,” Lone Star Ballet will showcase and teach movement and dance to children.

“Kids have an opportunity to do a little moving to the drums and to some rattle machines,” says director of dance, Vicki McLean, who is also bringing her personal African musical instruments to spice up the show. “It’s going to be great fun. It’s a very interesting dance and I think the kids will have fun.”

One third of WoWW programs, including Lone Star Ballet, have the means to visit distant schools. Its traveling program implements educational messages into its dance routines, such as geometric designs, storytelling and history.

“We talk about geometry because what we do is very special. I try to incorporate a lot of things depending on what they’re learning, what grade they are in and the history of it,” Vicki explains. “It’s a lot of fun and kids really do enjoy it.”

Class 4 Winds & Renewables’ station will allow students to make pinwheels in order to visually explain the functions of the wind turbines that dot the Panhandle, says AJ Swope, executive director.

“They need to understand them because… they are so important to the region,” he says. “They may work with wind and renewable energy some day.”

Joining WoWW at the beginning of the 2011 school year, Class 4 Winds & Renewables has visited several classrooms throughout the year, and employee Sadie Newsome says students always seem interested in what she and AJ have to say.

“They’re really engaged and they always ask questions,” she says. “I’m eager to hear what students from the rural areas have to say about wind because they see the turbines every day unlike the students who live inside the city limits of Amarillo.”

The Amarillo Zoo will present small, touchable animals, such as snakes and lizards, for students to interact with, as well as displaying invertebrate creatures. Coming into its second full year with WoWW, the Amarillo Zoo fully supports and appreciates the organization’s educational endeavors.

“WoWW is a great program,” says Mike Boley, visitor services coordinator. “The ability for them to give information that helps teachers learn about field trip opportunities, program opportunities outside the classroom, makes it a one-stop shop and clearing house.”

The zoo’s Zoo School provides on-site and off-site programs for WoWW students. The ZOOmobile, which travels all over the Panhandle, allows rural students to connect with educational offerings that are not easily at their disposal.

“It gives kids a real, hands-on, learning opportunity to learn about classification, adaptation and rainforest animals,” Mike says. “We can bring that book-learning to life.”

Don Harrington Discovery Center, the YMCA, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, High Plains Food Bank, Amarillo Botanical Gardens and Carson County Square House Museum will also set up learning stations at WoWW Day and present a myriad of entertaining, educational demonstrations for students.

Don Harrington Discovery Center is bringing along “flinkers” and “insta-snow powder” that students can play with at the station. The YMCA will provide materials for students to create an art project of an aquatic animal. At Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum’s booth, students can make a bear-claw necklace to take home with them. High Plains Food Bank will talk about the food cycle and explore the environmental elements that contribute to the process. The Botanical Gardens station will discuss the life cycle of a butterfly and showcase an ant colony. Students will also be able to make a candy butterfly. The Carson County Square House Museum will build an assimilated cow chip fire where students can sample beans, cobbler and cornbread just like pioneers of the past.

“When we first started talking about this, I threw out the word ‘organized chaos,’” says Bonnie Kellogg, development director at WoWW. “I have a picture in my head: It’s the end of school; kids are done with testing. It’s a day that they’re still learning because they’re doing hands-on learning activities, but they may just not know they are actually learning. This is more of a fun experience. I want them to be able to go and play, but it be educational as opposed to just a day where they’re not getting anything out of it.”

For more information on Window on a Wider World, visit windowonawiderworld.org.

by Drew Belle Zerby

After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.
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