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Zombies invade high school classroom
October 28, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen. Thom Wilson, student at the Valley Alternative Learning Transitioning School, becomes the subject for some monster makeup applied by instructor Lesley Billingsley as presenter Matt Hebbert watches the progress.

Students at the Valley Alternative Learning Transitioning School are learning that even pop culture, movie and television can become keys for unlocking how science, math, geography work in real life situations.

For the second year during the fall quarter (through December), students are using the television series “The Walking Dead” as a what-if scenario for learning what they would do during a real life disaster.

Karen Reason’s Math class is discussing what people will need to keep on hand in the event of a disaster, whether it’s the Zombie Apocalypse or another type of natural disaster. Students are asked what they would need to take along in case they had to “bug out” to another area. They also talk about money management, investing and insurance.

John Einfalt’s Social Science class talks about the psychology of survival and how mental toughness can save lives in chaotic situations. In the geography unit, students learn how to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and learn to get around without benefit of modern day global positioning satellite technology.

Lesley Billingsley, who teaches English at the school, uses the metaphor of zombies to show students that everyone has something they fear. Students can then tackle themes in literature they might otherwise be hesitant to discuss in a real world setting.

Science teacher Katie Juarez said zombies have become a pop culture standard today, so she investigated how it could be applied to real life learning in several areas of education.

“In our science class, we study pandemics that have spread worldwide in the past, like the flu epidemic in 1918, or the more recent Ebola outbreak in Africa,” she said. “We learn how the Centers for Disease Control track outbreaks.”

Another area of study in the science curriculum is the anatomy and physiology of the brain and how certain injuries or diseases can affect a person.

“Students will diagnose the zombies from the show and try to figure out what’s happening in the brain,” Juarez said. “We always end the quarter with a sheep brain dissection, which the kids love.”

She said that if students aren’t engaged, they aren’t learning. “A lot of the kids watch ‘The Walking Dead’ so I have their attention right away. The show is also a way to look at some serious subjects. Kids can visualize what it would be like to be in an actual disaster.”

On Oct. 25, students readied themselves for Halloween by trying out some monster and zombie makeup. Actor Eric Graise, who has worked with Theatre West and has also appeared on “The Walking Dead” did a Skype video session with the students, talking about acting and the film and stage theater industry.

“We do thematic learning throughout the year,” said George Schlothauer, Director of Alternative Education. “Next quarter will have a focus on the television series Crime Scene Investigation. Troopers from the State Patrol will come as guest speakers on how crimes are investigated.”
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