Virginia teacher filling classroom with photo cutouts of students, alumni and friends

Posted at 6:05 AM, Sep 01, 2020

HAMPTON, Va. — Students and teachers across Hampton Roads are preparing to start the school year virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means empty classrooms for a lot of teachers in the area, including Kecoughtan High School.

"Now it's a little bit different because you're looking around and going, 'Hey, they're not going to be filled,'" said Mark Mingee, a history and government teacher at the school and a 20-year teaching veteran. "I'm going to be looking at a screen to see their faces, as opposed to seeing them right in front of me."

But Mingee is making his classroom a little fuller. He created a fundraiser where people can donate to a scholarship fund and have their picture shown on a desk.

Mingee, an avid sports fan, said he got the idea after seeing several leagues around the world fill empty stands with cardboard cutouts.

"You started to see these images on screens various places, or in the transition of cardboard cutouts of people in the stands," he said. "The more I thought about it, the more I thought, 'Hey, if I'm going to be in my classroom, and I want there to be people around me, the best thing to do is try to emulate that in some way.'"

So far, he said many friends, alumni and current students have taken part.

"We're used to, as teachers, having each one of those seats filled. So, as it appears those seats are filled, it makes you feel like a normal, everyday moment in class," Mingee said. "Anything we can do to encourage these students to keep doing better, that's really what we want."

He hopes to fill as many seats as possible to help him and his students.

For Mingee, it's all about staying positive.

"You've got to be serious as a teacher, but if you can have a little bit of fun while being serious, all the better," he said.

This story was originally published by Zak Dahlheimer on WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia.