When Beth Schaeffer is able to meet with preschool-age students at Western Kentucky University’s Renshaw Early Childhood Center, those students will be greeted with a smile.
A permanent smile.
Schaeffer, a former Warren County Public Schools preschool teacher, works with preschoolers at the Renshaw Center and with WKU students aiming for careers in early childhood education.
Her interactions with both have been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, limiting in-person contact and moving most interactions to the virtual realm.
But now Schaeffer is prepared for the inevitable in-person meetings, thanks to a free Warren County Public Library program for educators that provides a helpful accessory to the masks that are now going to be as widespread as crayons and building blocks in preschool classrooms.
Called “Buttons for Teachers” or “The Smile Behind the Mask,” the WCPL program allows educators to utilize the maker space at the Bob Kirby Branch to have photo buttons created.
“Kids are learning to read the cues that come from your mouth and eyes,” Schaeffer said. “Sometimes you can lose the message if you’re wearing a mask. We’re muffled a bit. We can’t change that, but we can change what they see. The button is friendlier than the mask.”
Jennifer Bailey, the library’s marketing and communications manager, said the library staff welcomed the opportunity to provide the free service to educators and others when it was presented to them.
“It came about through one of our community partners, Allison Bemiss,” Bailey said. “She saw something about nurses putting buttons on their scrubs to show what their faces looked like. Allison thought it would be good for educators.”
Bemiss, an author of children’s books and a former Warren County teacher, admits the buttons are “not an original idea,” and she gives credit to the public library for embracing the idea.
“I met with (WCPL Director) Lisa Rice and Jennifer, and they were so on board,” Bemiss said. “They were 100 percent supportive of the idea.”
Bemiss, who works part-time at the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, said the buttons can remove some of the awkwardness of teaching while following coronavirus protocols.
“If you can’t see someone smile, it feels really different,” she said.
The library created a Google Forms page that allows teachers to upload a photo they want used on the button and order it online. They are able to pick up the buttons at the Bob Kirby Branch.
With that page being promoted by Bemiss through the Bluegrass Edu Facebook group she and her husband created, demand for the masks has grown.
“We’ve done over 800 buttons in three weeks,” Bailey said. “It’s mostly Bowling Green and Warren County teachers, but if someone from Logan County or Simpson County wants a button, we’re making them.”
Bailey said the library has made buttons for public school teachers as well as for child care workers, private preschool staff and others who work with children.
“We’ve got it down to a science now,” Bailey said. “Our resources aren’t open to the public right now, so our staff members can make the buttons. We email the teachers and let them know when they’re ready.”
The buttons are being utilized by teachers from elementary through high school. All teachers will have one at Drakes Creek Middle School, where librarian Renee Hale started making the photo buttons with her library’s button-maker before the county library started.
“I think they (buttons) will help, especially for students who may not have seen their teacher’s face before,” Hale said. “We’re just trying to make school as normal as possible.”
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