StoryCorps Preserves Ozarks Education Conversations

Susan Lee facilitates a conversation between Bill Looney, left, and Joe Donley, of Gainesville, during StoryCorps' visit to West Plains.

Over the course of two days, Ozarks educators shared their thoughts about choosing teaching as a profession, memorable moments, why sons and daughters followed their parents’ career paths into teaching, and what makes a good teacher.

It’s possible one of these conversations could end up on National Public Radio’s weekly StoryCorps feature. It’s certain that their conversations will end up in the National Library of Congress to inform future generations about the state of this noble profession in 2012.

The StoryCorps National Teachers Initiative traveled to West Plains Friday and Saturday to interview 12 sets of educators selected through the Rural Schools Partnership for 40-minute blocks as part of an effort to make sure rural education was represented in its year-long project.

Those educators included Greg Swick, now director of the GLADE environmental education project and his daughter, Laura Swick, a fifth-grade science teacher at Ozark Upper Elementary.

“I think there’s a story to tell about how we teach our young people to care for the environment,” Greg Swick said. “I think our story has lasting value in that way.

“That’s what our program is all about – encouraging youth to go back into their communities,” he continued. “And take ownership,” Laura injected.

Bill Looney, who retired as Gainesville’s superintendent in July after 31 years in education, recorded his conversation with Joe Donley, the incoming superintendent who has worked in the district for 12 years.

“It’s important to me that maybe my kids and grandkids will hear this someday,” Donley said. “It’s important to share that hard work and character is what you need to build your life on.”

Looney said he thought their conversation would resonate regardless of whether they were rural or urban educators.

“Education trends are going to come and go,” he said. “But as long as you are a good listener and treat people right, our kids will continue to be successful. Those qualities will be good no matter where you are. Success depends on those qualities.”

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