High school students logging into remote learning sessions with University of Kentucky alumna Whitney Walker find a social studies classroom full of celebrities such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Michelle Obama.
After the shift to online learning, Walker—a UK College of Education graduate and current doctoral scholar—wanted to liven up the empty desks in her classroom at Lafayette High School in Lexington.
Walker, with help from retired Lafayette librarian Susie Jolliffe and student-teacher Mallory Shaw, filled empty desks and chairs with life-size cut-outs of Miranda, Obama, George W. Bush, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dolly Parton, among other luminaries.
Even the cat from the viral “woman yelling at cat” meme is in attendance.
“When my students join in via Zoom, many have said they actually feel like they are in the room, and they chime in on what some of the folks in the seats would have to say when we have discussions during class,” Walker said. “I hope that when we return to Lafayette, that our students enjoy the space and it brings them some joy.”
Prior to COVID, Nearly every inch of Walker’s classroom was covered with souvenirs, maps, retro toys, puppets, folk art and campaign signs from both sides of the aisle.
Walker already had placed life-size cut outs of Taylor Swift, George Washington, Marilyn Monroe and Jar Jar Binks.
Now, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear sits between George W. Bush and Michelle Obama.
Walker said she felt a need to add a bit of whimsy to online learning with rising COVID-19 cases delaying the return to in-person learning.
Walker teaches ninth-grade government, world cultures and advanced placement human geography.
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“I believe social studies, and its branches, are the most imperative disciplines taught in schools,” Walker said. “When those students exit their high school doors with their diplomas, all must be prepared to understand and question the world they are walking around in.”
Walker earned her bachelor’s in education from UK in 2004, a master’s with initial certification in social studies in 2005 and is finishing up work on her Ed.D.
“Knowing my kids come from all paths,” Walker said. “I wanted the classroom to resemble a kid’s space, knowing that many kids may not have their own spaces in their homes, and have strived to continue to ensure all students are represented in my room.”