From Hudson Observer: ‘Miss Amara’ helps second-graders learn geography
Today’s second-graders aren’t easy to fool.
youngster named Luke said when the students in Mrs. Julie Warren’s
classroom were asked where in the world Miss Amara was.
Luke was the second to volunteer an answer, and he was right.
Amara Treuenfels had been checking in with Mrs. Warren’s class at
Willow River Elementary School via Skype over the previous three and a
half months as she traveled Europe.
Last Thursday was to be her
final video phone report. Each week, the second-graders were provided
with daily clues about Treuenfels’ whereabouts, leading up to the
Thursday Skype sessions in which students would make their guesses and
learn the answer.
No one told the students that Treuenfels had
returned to Hudson the previous day (Wednesday, May 2). The plan was to
begin the video phone conversation as normal, and then have Treuenfels
surprise the students by walking into the classroom.
Luke, the suspense didn’t last long. When he insisted on Wisconsin as
the answer, the screen on the Smart Board where Treuenfels’ image had
appeared went blank. After a short walk from a nearby room, the
vivacious coed made her entrance.
Judging from the wide grins
on faces and excited chatter, most of the class was surprised – and
happy to see Treuenfels in the flesh.
UW-RF International Traveling Classroom
Treuenfels, who just completed her sophomore year at UW-River Falls,
traveled to Europe as a participant in the university’s International
Thirty-five students, accompanied by three
professors, toured 10 countries, staying in youth hostels and holding
classes in whatever space was available.
Their longest stay was in Paris, which they visited for 10 days.
“The benefits of studying abroad are unambiguously clear. You learn
more about yourself and other cultures, and develop self-reliance and
other skills that can help you both in your personal and professional
lives,” a university description of the program says.
The students earn college credits for the experience.
The recent tour was led by Dr. Wesley Chapin, a political science
professor specializing in international relations and comparative
Dr. Charles Rader, a geography professor, and Dr.
Kristin Tjornehoj, conductor of the UW-RF Symphonic Wind Ensemble, also
provided instruction. Tjornehoj, a Hudson resident, was along for part
of the tour.
The Traveling Classroom’s bases were in the cities of London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Verona and Vienna.
Treuenfels undertook her work with Mrs. Warren’s class as an honors project – in addition to her required studies.
As an elementary education major, she saw it as a chance to apply
some of her training and spice up the geography lessons in Warren’s
Her relationship with Warren goes back to her first
year out of high school when she served as a volunteer reading coach at
Willow River Elementary.
“That’s how I decided to be a teacher,” she said of the experience. “I hope to be just like Mrs. Warren one day.”
After graduating from Hudson High School in 2009, Treuenfels took a
year off from studying to earn some money and do volunteer work before
Before leaving for Europe last January, she
put together a detective journal for the second-graders (titled “Where
in the World is Miss Amara?”) and a series of picture clues about the
countries she would be visiting.
Warren gave the students the
clues to paste in their journals, and assigned them to write down what
the pictures told them about the country Treuenfels was visiting.
On Thursdays, Treuenfels would visit with the class for 15 or 20
minutes via the Internet video phone service and reveal where she was.
She’d tell them about her traveling experiences and the country she was
visiting that week.
The inquisitive second-graders were full of questions, she reported.
Warren is pleased with how the project went.
“It’s been a pretty elaborate collaboration, but it’s just worked so
well,” she said. “And the kids have loved every bit of it.”
Warren said the activity fit into her social studies curriculum and helped students develop reading inference skills.
Willow River Principal Peggy Shoemaker, who was in the classroom for Treuenfels’ surprise visit, also supported the activity.
“It’s been a great project in terms of raising awareness about geography,” she said.
Life had been quite a journey for Treuenfels even before her travels in Europe.
She lived with mother, stepdad and three siblings in rural Montana
through her sophomore year in high school, attending a little school in
Stanford, a town of 350 in the central part of the state.
the start of her junior year, she came to Hudson to live with her dad,
Leif Halverson, stepmom Heidi and three younger Halverson siblings. She
was eager for life in a city and the opportunities a large high school
Hudson High School was everything Treuenfels hoped it would be.
“It was great,” she said. “Everyone was super, super nice. I was in
volleyball and met a whole bunch of people that way. And then I got into
the theater and choir, and that was a whole new group.”
“It was the best,” she said of her high school experience.
Treuenfels’ two Halverson brothers are Willow River students. August
is in fourth grade and Jasper is in second grade. Her sister Chloe
Halverson is an eighth-grader at the middle school.
Her stepmother, Heidi, suggested that the Star-Observer report on Treuenfels’ project. She’s proud of her.