Legislative visits to public schools aren’t out of the ordinary, but one south Tulsa lawmaker wanted her colleagues at the Capitol to get out of their own districts when they did so on Monday.
“I wanted you all to see what already exists and what’s possible in Oklahoma,” Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, told five of her fellow female, freshman state representatives from central Oklahoma while they visited Jenks Northwest Elementary.
The group spent the most time inside a fully equipped elementary school STEM lab where second-, third- and fourth-graders spend almost an hour each day learning pre-engineering skills including circuitry, robotics, coding and mechanics. STEM is short for science, technology, engineering and math.
Chief Information Officer Bonnie Rogers explained that Jenks has such labs in all of its schools serving students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, but that wouldn’t be the case if they subsisted on state funding.
“All of them were funded by the (Jenks Public Schools) Foundation except for this one, which was part of this school built with bond dollars,” Rogers told the lawmakers.
Other stops at Northwest, in only its third year of operation, included a pre-kindergarten classroom, a sensory room where students may receive or exclude sensory input and work on self-regulating behavior, and the literacy room where at-risk students receive extra help from tutors.
“This is the first year we have had funding early enough to hire reading tutors at the beginning of the year,” said Jenks Superintendent Stacey Butterfield. “It was your votes to approve the (Oklahoma State Department of Education’s) request for Reading Sufficiency Act dollars that gave us the confidence to use district dollars to front load. In recent years, we were unclear how much money we would have for that line item.”
Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont, who sat cross-legged on the floor with three pre-kindergartners playing with plastic building bricks, said the exchange trip was also a good opportunity for the new legislators to get to know each other.
Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, made friends quickly, making students giggle as she pretended to spar with the crayfish living in plastic tubs in a third-grade classroom and leaving a pre-K room with a special souvenir.
“Harrison made me a picture!” she said, proudly displaying the student’s artwork just given to her.
At Grace Living Center, a skilled nursing facility in Jenks, the lawmakers saw a special, 21-year partnership with the school district at work.
About 44 pre-kindergartners and kindergartners attend school in classrooms specially constructed for them inside the center. Grace charges Jenks Public Schools just $1 rent per year because the main currency exchanged is the special experience shared by young and old.
The legislators oohed and awed as they heard about the nursing home residents and young children reading together, singing together, exercising together, and enjoying weekly ice cream socials.
“This is extremely beneficial. It’s good for us to see what’s going on across the state. We’ve been on visits to prisons, but this is our first education exchange trip,” said Rep. Marilyn Stark, R-Bethany. “I serve on the long-term care committee and had I not come on this exchange trip, I might still not know about this partnership.”