K-State film about school district’s transition to online teaching goes viral

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MANHATTAN — A 13-minute video produced by the Kansas State University College of Education chronicles one rural Kansas school district’s transition to remote teaching because of COVID-19.

“Wamego’s Response” was posted on the college’s Facebook page and reached nearly 30,000 people in its first 24 hours. It opened with national news stories about school closures then segued to the Wamego Public Schools.

Debbie Mercer, dean of the K-State College of Education, said it was imperative to capture this historic event for the public and future teachers alike.

“If ever there was a teachable moment about the true heart and soul of schools, this was it,” Mercer said. “There is so much that happens inside a school that people never see, and this film pulls back that veil and reveals just how much work, preparation, planning, worry and heart it requires to educate and care for students.”

Randy Watson, Kansas commissioner of education, said the film also offered a chance to celebrate educators.

“What a wonderful video, tribute and storytelling of what we have just been through over the last 60 days,” Watson said.

Tim Winter, Wamego Public Schools superintendent, explains in the opening the district serves 1,600 students from Wamego and the neighboring communities of Louisville and Belvue.

“Our teachers and staff, administration… it’s really quite amazing how they came together and in one week’s time, we went from being a traditional school to being completely online,” Winter said. “Our teachers are working very hard to meet their students’ needs, maintain relationships and make sure they are healthy, happy and doing well as best we can under these trying circumstances.”

Heather Petermann, special education teacher at Wamego High School, recalls the moment she learned Kansas school buildings were closing.

“I was in the family room doing a workout when my phone went off and I got a text saying school was going to be canceled for the rest of the year, Petermann said. “I just crumbled up and started crying because teaching the kids that I do, school is everything for my students. I saw their faces come before me, and just knowing that for my kids that are low functioning that have so many severe needs, they don’t have friends reaching out, they don’t have Snapchat, and I just remember seeing the word lonely come before me.”

Rusty Earl, video producer for the K-State College of Education whose kids attend schools in Wamego, was motivated to make the film once he saw how the teachers and district addressed the crisis.

“Part of our inspiration for filming was watching the way my kids’ teachers reached out the first week they started back remotely,” Earl said. “There was so much care and concern for them. They were calling, emailing and even driving by the house to wave at the kids. We wanted to capture that as best we could. Our family is so grateful for our teachers during these troubling times, and we hope this story serves as a token of appreciation for good teachers everywhere.”

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Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.