Retiring anatomy teacher is forced to give her classroom an early goodbye


Barbara Tholen

Anatomy teacher Jo Huntsinger packs up her classroom skeleton as Lawrence High closes its building for the remainder of the year

By Zora Lotton-Barker, News Editor

Anatomy teacher Jo Huntsinger carefully closed up her classroom on Wednesday morning — tucking away the classroom skeleton where it would be safe and looking sadly at the boxes holding cats still waiting to be dissected.

Hunstinger, who is retiring this year after 30 years as an educator, will spend her final months as a teacher instructing students online. The change was forced by Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Laura Kelly that schools in Kansas will be closed for the rest of the school year as COVID-19 spreads across the country.

Through her anatomy class, Huntsinger and her students spent several months dissecting cats as they learned about the different systems of the body. This lab will be cut short as a transition to online school is made.

Huntsinger planned to have “brain surgery” on the students’ cats the first day back after spring breaks.

“I am so disappointed,” Huntsinger said. “I am considering taking a video of me dissecting a cat with commentary so my students at least see what they are missing. We dissect a lot fourth quarter, so this cancellation has had a major impact on our class.”

Junior Eila Devours found the loss of dissections to be particularly demoralizing.

“Obviously we won’t be able to do dissections or oral quizzes, which used to make up a huge percentage of our grade,” Devours said. “I’m really mad about not being able to do half the dissections, and that was what I enjoyed  most in that class and why I took it. It’s really frustrating because now it’s just going to be writing and memorizing terms and body parts, and it can’t be interactive at all.”

Senior Hailey Coon, who took anatomy last year as a junior, also believes that the lack of dissection time will be one of the biggest losses suffered by students during the shutdown.

“I got to dissect since I had her last year, but I know that it is unfortunate that the kids this year don’t get to continue on,” Coon said. “It’s a unique experience and her class is known for getting to do that. You learn so much while doing it and it gets nasty at some places, but it’s fascinating getting to see the parts you spent all year studying. It’s so different than just pictures on a screen compared to getting to find it and identify the parts.”

This was Huntsinger’s last year at Lawrence High.

“I have had an amazing year,” Huntsinger said. “I enjoy the students in my classes as well as my colleagues.”

It’s been an unusual school year. Huntsinger was one of the teacher’s impacted when three dozen classrooms were unfinished on the first day of school.

“We started out in the auditorium and got to move to a totally renovated room,” she said. “I was all set to finish strong fourth quarter with some of my favorite units and activities, then found out from Gov. Kelly yesterday that my career had come to an abrupt end. I agree with her decision, but that doesn’t mean that I am not devastated. It was quite the gut punch yesterday. I need to let this hurt for a little bit. Then I can refocus and figure out another way to finish strong.”

One of the most challenging part of the shutdown will be adjusting anatomy to an online class.

“We do a ton of labs fourth quarter,” Huntsinger said. “We haven’t done the internal anatomy of the cats yet, and I have sheep hearts and brains to dissect. I realize that there are online dissections, but it really isn’t the same. I want my future health workers to actually practice the art of dissection before they do it for real on a person. The cats still had a lot to teach my students, and I am disappointed that this year’s anatomy class will miss out on that opportunity.

Huntsinger is trying to see if summer school is an option to catch students up on labs.

“I am currently searching for a place to donate cats to someone teaching summer school, if that is even an option this year,” Hunsinger said. “I would like to find a junior college or something to donate them to.”

Dissection will be the biggest part of the curriculum that students will miss.

“I am going to put a few units on Google Classroom with lecture notes, PowerPoints and Crash Course videos so that students have access to the information,” Huntsinger said. “I may also use Zoom to lecture from home. I was able to pick up some props today at school. I have a heart model, and human torso model that I can use. I am not sure that I can figure out Zoom by myself, but my younger colleagues seem to know what they are going to do and have already offered to help.”

Huntsinger is also disappointed to miss coordinating Mud Volleyball with colleagues, including her friend Charlotte Lauts, who is also retiring this year.

“Mud Volleyball will not die with COVID-19,” Huntsinger said. “Mrs. Lauts and I have been training apprentices for years that are more than qualified to run this tournament.”

Coon said Huntsinger was one of the best teachers she had while she was at Lawrence High.

You know sometimes the material she teaches can be difficult to fully comprehend, but she makes you want to learn more,” Coon said. “She teaches you the material in a lecture which can get old fast but she keeps it interesting with funny stories and little tricks to help you remember the anatomy.”