Super hero for learning: Special guest rewards hard work by MWMS students

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By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON — Most students can’t say that Batman has made a special guest appearance in their classroom to teach a creative writing lesson.

But Mount Washington Middle School sixth graders Lee Hays and Brandon Prater can.

Actually it was MWMS teacher Jeremy Belcher dressed up as Gotham City’s hero Tuesday in efforts to engage two of his most unique students in a creative writing process during which he, Hays and Prater wrote a rough draft about a super hero.

The activity was a small part of Belcher’s latest efforts to engage Hays and Prater, who face emotional and/or behavioral learning challenges.

For the last several weeks Belcher has focused his classroom lessons around super hero-themed activities. From social studies to math and all the subjects in between, the two boys have graphed super hero powers, investigated their super heroes’ hometowns, wrote colorful descriptions about villains and more.

Belcher said his students have gotten more excited about his super hero unit than any other this year.

“I have to tone them down,” Belcher said, noting that Hays and Prater often get so excited about their classroom discussions that he must remind them that they are still in class.

“A lot of students I’ve seen are losing that creative touch,” Belcher said, noting that many schools have been forced to cut arts and humanities programs.

The super hero unit encourages creativity while incorporating core content and creative is exactly what his students have been, Belcher said.

Prater created an entire super hero family during class recently. His main character is named Time Brain and he can shoot smoke out of his hands. Belcher’s super hero unit has even helped Prater enjoy social studies — his least favorite subject.

“We learned about the cities where the super heroes are from,” Prater said.

Lee said his super hero, Machine Speedster, has to watch out for villain Psychic Freak who can become invisible and shoot flames out of his fingertips.

“We have sort of enjoyed it a lot. We are very proud to do it,” Lee said of the work.

Special Education Instructional Assistant Shirley Meredith said it has been amazing how much Hays and Prater have learned during the unique unit. She said the boys have been engaged and come to class excited about learning.

Meredith said recently the students had a math lesson about mean, median and mode using measures of the different super hero powers.

“They will never forget that lesson,” Meredith said, noting how much fun Hays and Prater had in class that day.

Belcher said he got the idea for his super hero unit from friend and colleague North Bullitt High School teacher Chad Buckman, who helped students recall the periodic table of elements by assigning each element a super hero with special powers characteristic of that element.

Belcher said if it wasn’t for his positive working environment where teachers are encouraged to use unconventional teaching methods, he could never have implemented the super hero unit.

“This has got to be the most positive school I’ve ever worked in,” he said.

After Belcher is done teaching the unit in a couple of weeks, he plans to share it with other teachers who might find it helpful in their classrooms. He said Hays and Prater have made amazing progress during the last several weeks and he expected that pattern to continue.

“They’ve worked really hard,” he said of his students. “They deserve to be recognized.”