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Working smart

Editor’s note: Community Builder is a periodic Q & A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today’s conversation is with Mike Rogan and Jeremy Sinks, local pioneers in teaching digitally who have been teaching with technology for decades.

Q: What are your roles in the Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science?

Mike: Crater High School has three smaller more personal schools within it. The Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science is the small school Jeremy and I teach in. We team-teach a two period co-curricular block of English, social studies and business. This junior/senior class meets for two years, so we get to know our students pretty well. Jeremy and I have been teaching together for 12 years. We also team-teach a digital media class that works with freshmen through seniors on Adobe products.

Jeremy: I started out as an English teacher. Then I met Mike and Todd Bennett, who were teaching this integrated curriculum that I thought was really sweet. I started playing around with Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver. I learned to code HTML and CSS and did some web and graphic design so I could be a part of the program.

Q: How did COVID-19 change the end of the last school year?

Jeremy: We’ve done a digital delivery of our content and collected student work digitally for many years now. That part of our operations didn’t really change all that much. What changed was we couldn’t meet physically with our kids. Instead we were meeting via Zoom or email or calling them using Google voice. We normally do a big end of the year project in our third trimester, and this year it was the international marketing project. We had to adjust some of the work, but students were able to complete almost 90% of it online.

Q: Prior to COVID-19, what percentage of your curriculum was digitally delivered?

Jeremy: 100%. We didn’t need to change much of anything in terms of our curriculum. That was an easy transition. What was harder for us was not being in a classroom and having that day-to-day contact with kids. That’s what we missed the most. We had to be very flexible with kids. A lot of kids got jobs. Some of the students had siblings at home they had to watch during the day, so they worked at their own pace and submitted work sometimes late in the night.

Mike: The work the kids did was super solid, but what was missing was the heart. The heart comes from being with each other every day. We have kids two periods a day for two years. Google Voice worked really well, but we were still missing the personal touch.

Q: What is the promise and the limitation of remote learning?

Mike: There’s going to be a lot of really cool things that come out of this. Learning needs to be individual. It will be a challenge for teachers to be innovative and figure out a way to individualize and personalize curriculum. The downfall is the lack of opportunity to meet with kids. Our classes are like a big family. We have so many rites of passage in our program that our kids look forward to. To me, missing that connection is the biggest limitation.

Jeremy: Building a culture, building rapport with your students is a lot more difficult remotely. Kids can hide themselves and retreat. But at the same time, it offers them more flexibility and more personalization. Some kids really want that, and others don’t. Others want to be in class. I think school districts will need to figure out how to do both in-person and remote learning, because this COVID situation may not go away quickly. It will be harder for teachers. But we owe it to our families and our kids to give them an experience that is better than just average online classes.

Q: What might education look like in the future?

Mike: I know a lot of people like the structure of an 8 to 4 day, but I can see shifts at school. Why aren’t schools open to 8 o’clock at night? Why don’t we run different shifts of teachers and kids? We need to change. A lot of our kids turn in work at 12 o’clock at night or 2 o’clock in the morning.

Jeremy: My hope is that teachers embrace technology on a bigger scale and aren’t afraid to use it as a tool. I sometimes take technology for granted because we use it so much. We use it to supplement our teaching and integrate it as a tool. It’s not about just learning how to use a piece of software, it’s more about the application to humanities or history or business. “Does it diminish my stature as a teacher if I integrate technology?” There is a real fear about that. I hope that teachers embrace technology and figure out how to use it to enhance their own personal style of teaching.

Q: Tell us about DECA. You’ve been involved it for many years.

Mike: DECA is an acronym for Distributive Education Club of America. DECA is a business and marketing club that challenges students with real world business situations. We’re going into our 23rd year, and it’s been fabulous. Kids compete in areas including retail, apparel, sports and entertainment marketing and accounting. Individually or in teams. They are presented with business specific role play situations, determine a strategy and present their conclusions to a judge. They are scored on their ability to professionally solve the problem. The DECA advisors in Southern Oregon — from Klamath Union, Henley, Phoenix, North Medford and South — do something on an almost monthly basis. We kick off the year with a bootcamp at Crater for 60 to 120 new kids. We’ll be practicing for competitions during the fall. State competition is in February or March and nationals after that. We’ve been super successful. It’s been the most realistic type of activity kids can do.

Q: How did you come to teaching?

Mike: I came to teaching from the restaurant industry. I was managing a restaurant in Malibu when one night, driving home after closing at 2 a.m., there was this public service announcement on the radio, “Be a star, be a teacher. From Plato to ” I thought, “Hey, maybe I could be a teacher!” I had a great high school experience. My wife is from Southern Oregon, and we were ready to start a family. I hired a lot of Pepperdine kids at the restaurant and had an affinity for working with young people. I love their energy.

Jeremy: I got into teaching because of a legend, a Crater teacher, Vince Wixon. I planned on being an English teacher. I love to read. I love literature. I love to write. Working with Mike and seeing what they did at Crater School of Business, I was drawn to the integrated curriculum right away. I like feeling that I’m always learning.

Q: What is it about working with teenagers that you enjoy?

Jeremy: We are in a unique position with our two-year program. We get to start talking about future plans and goals with our students as juniors, then see it come to fruition as they graduate. It’s more than just making sure I cover the content standards for a course. I enjoy talking to young people about the things they enjoy and the goals they have for themselves, then helping them navigate their next steps to turn those goals into reality. There is nothing better than seeing the excitement on a student’s face about their future. It’s powerful and fulfilling.

Mike: I enjoy the energy, excitement, spontaneity, talent and humor they bring to my world each day. There are so many new experiences coming at students in rapid fire and they take them on with relish. While they are continuing to learn who they are and what they will be, they also have this unique courage about them to take on these new challenges. I also love their honesty and willingness to work with me to bring out their best.

Q: What keeps you in Southern Oregon?

Mike: Southern Oregon is such an amazingly beautiful place — from the mountains to the rivers and creeks. The area can be as big as I want or as small as I like. From the standpoint of my professional life, I have been surrounded and supported by such talented individuals throughout my educational career. Individuals who have challenged me, driven me and laughed with me. I am a lucky guy.

Jeremy: I grew up here. I love the outdoors, and Southern Oregon provides ample opportunities to get outside. I love mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking, camping, rafting, paddle boarding — I can do it all in a 40-minute radius. And I love working at a school where my creativity is valued.

Q: What are these times like for you as teachers?

Mike: The combination of a teaching staff that is driven by challenge, administrative teams that support and encourage growth, families who have worked with and supported our vision, and students who push and believe in themselves to reach their greatest success have led to an excellent public high school.

Jeremy: I think it’s imperative for teachers and administrators to see the challenges of COVID-19 as an opportunity to advance our craft in ways we may never have thought of before — technology being at the center. By thinking about it as an opportunity, as opposed to a crisis, we can put ourselves in a more positive mindset to create innovative practices and opportunities for our students. School districts will likely not see another opportunity like this again to innovate at the district level — every grade, every school. I know it’s more work. I know technology can seem a bit intimidating. We may not get everything right the first time, but in those problem-solving spaces, we will get better. We owe it to our students, their families, the community to provide an education that seamlessly adapts to the challenges we face.

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

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Bio: Mike Rogan and Jeremy Sinks

Mike Rogan earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Illinois University and his Masters in Business Education from Southern Oregon State College. He taught at Phoenix High for 4 years and has been at Crater High for 23 years. Before entering education, Mike was a 10-year veteran of the restaurant industry.

He serves as the advisor for Crater DECA, Coach of Crater Ultimate Frisbee, and Community 101 Advisor. He is a cancer survivor.

Rogan is married to Mary (Weinhold) Rogan, and they have two children, Grace, a first-grade teacher in Denver, and Bryce, a quantitative analyst with the Los Angeles Angels.

Jeremy Sinks earned his BA in British literature and MA in Teaching from Southern Oregon University. He has taught at Crater for 14 years.

Before becoming a teacher, Sinks worked as a ski/snowboard and bike technician at GI Joes. He enjoys mountain biking, snowboarding, rafting, paddling and hiking. In his spare time, he works on remodeling projects at home.

Sinks is married to Whitney (Simonin) Sinks, who is vice president at Alliance Trucking. They have two children, Brennon and Kadyn.

Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science teachers Mike Rogan, left, and Jeremy Sinks, stand by their motto for their students, "Work Hard, Work Smart." Photo by Denise Baratta