(gentle music) (camera shutter beeping) (gentle music fades) (inspiring music) (inspiring music continues) - "Eye on Education."
I'm Fred Martino.
The tallest buildings in Carbondale are residence halls on the Southern Illinois University campus.
The towers have been around for decades, but have a new look inside and are organized as living learning communities.
Here's Anna Twomey from the SIU Alumni Association.
- [Anna] Tall, concrete, and very durable.
It's one of the first things students see when they arrive on campus.
At 17 stories high, the East Campus Towers are the tallest buildings in Carbondale.
- Right now, we're seeing a lot of alumni bringing their children and moving them in.
- [Anna] Jim Hunsaker works for University Housing as the Senior Associate Director of Operations.
- And they're reminiscing about, well, we did this and I met my best friend here while I lived in Mae Smith and I met the best man of my wedding while I lived in Mae Smith and I met my spouse while I lived in Mae Smith.
So it's a situation where it's a generational experience for our students at this point.
- [Anna] Jim has been with SIU for more than 20 years.
In his role right now, he works with students and parents before they arrive to SIU's largest housing option.
- I'm over the contracting process.
We deal with the students and the parents before the students arrive on campus.
And then our Residents Life team takes 'em over after they're moved in and arrived.
But we help 'em contract, we answer all of their questions.
We are the customer service department for University housing.
- [Anna] Jim takes us on a tour of the Mae Smith Tower and shows us how much has changed over the years.
- Mae Smith is kind of a unique building over here on East Campus in the Towers because it is the College of Health and Human Sciences LLC.
So that college is taking up this entire building.
All of their majors are now located in one building.
It's been very successful.
Housing now is built on an LLC or a Living Learning Community model where students in the same college or with the same interest will live in the same area.
- [Anna] Neely Hall was the first tower to be built in 1965.
That was stage one of the University Park Project that also included Allyn, Boomer, Wright, and Trueblood Halls.
Mae Smith and Schneider Halls were finished just a few years after Neely Hall in 1968.
Each tower can house up to 816 students.
Surrounding the towers are Grinnell Hall and Trueblood Commons, two areas that have also seen significant changes.
- Grinnell Hall is no longer a dining hall.
It's actually program space now.
So that'll be different for the alumni.
We used to have three dining halls operating on campus.
Right now we only have two and that's True Blood and Lentz Hall.
True Blood, the dining hall has been renovated with a Mongolian grill within the last five years.
It's really popular with our students.
- [Anna] The first floor of Mae Smith has been completely renovated within the last year and is the most recent tower to get a facelift.
- This is the lobby of Mae Smith Hall and the College of Health and Human Sciences house their Living Learning Community in this building.
So they have really spent a lot of money making this their home.
All of their majors are living in this building.
We have recreational pool tables, charging stations, study space, and meeting space here for all of our students.
- [Anna] Jim takes us up the elevator to show us what the rooms look like.
- [Jim] Laundry is now free for all of our students.
- There you go.
- So they don't have to have a pocket full of quarters to come in and do their- - And do all their- - Do their laundry, yeah.
- [Anna] He says the towers are home to the largest student dorm rooms in the state.
- So this is a typical room here in the towers, Mae Smith.
We've updated all of our mattresses to bedbug proof mattresses so that our students and parents don't have that concern.
We've just recently, last year we did a complete wifi upgrade in the towers.
So the wifi is probably the best on campus.
- [Anna] The typical setup in Mae Smith consists of two rooms attached to one bathroom.
- They can rearrange this furniture any way they want to.
They can bunk the beds, loft the beds, stick the desk underneath the beds, as long as the furniture stays in the room.
- [Anna] Sophomore Bella Meincke lives in Neely Hall and gives us a tour of her decorated dorm room.
- So I have a lot of extra furniture because I thrifted a lot of stuff and I would just like to let everybody know that it is possible to get really cheap furniture.
My cubicle over here was $5, and this is where I have all my perfumes and my DVDs.
And then we have two sets of furniture in every dorm.
So we have my first desk, which is my study desk, and this room divider that I made to hide the mess.
This is my mess corner.
So we have some random stuff back there.
A chair for chilling so that we don't have to be on the bed all the time.
I bunked my beds and I used one as a shelf.
That's my tip to everybody.
Use your second bed as a shelf.
And then here's some more thrifted furniture.
I upcycled this.
This is actually from Walmart, but it was less than $20.
- [Anna] We head up several more floors to a secret location alumni from the '80s know very well.
- So back when I was a student in the '80s, the sun decks on top of the towers were always a popular place for our students.
While the sun decks are no longer accessible by students, a lot of the old signage is still up here and we can go out there and check it out now.
The sun decks have obviously changed since the '80s.
There used to be railing all the way around them, benches for the students to set on.
The rules and the old signage is still, while it's faded, it's still put up up here.
And this one is the rules for the sun deck.
And it's basically all of the rules with the final comment being, do your part so we don't close the sun deck.
- Here on top of Mae Smith Hall is one of the best views of campus, in my opinion.
Directly behind me you'll see Neely Hall, of course.
We move over to the engineering building, the Student Center, Student Services, and just behind there, Faner Hall.
And over here on the north facing side, we can see the rec center, Downtown Carbondale.
We keep walking, we hit the Wall and Grand apartments.
The towers are a symbol of a time when the student population was exploding at Southern Illinois University.
- In '64, the enrollment was still a little below 4,000, but in '65 the enrollment jumped to 12,000.
And that was a surprise to everybody.
- [Anna] C.W.
Thomas came to Southern Illinois as a young boy in the early '60s.
SIU hired his father to assist in the planning process for each of the towers.
When the towers were built, Delyte Morris was President of SIU.
- There was a time when President Morris was literally going from house to house in Carbondale, asking residents if they had an extra room that they'd be willing to let out to the students that the university would help reimburse them for.
That's how desperate times got there for a while.
- [Anna] These photos show the official dedication of Brush Towers in June of 1968, archived thanks to the dedicated work of Morris Library.
Neely Hall was technically part of an area known as University Park while Mae Smith and Schneider were known as Brush Towers, named after Carbondale's founder Daniel Brush.
- My understanding was is that Neely was built first and then Schneider and Mae Smith and then the names all came from University instructors.
There was a person named Neely.
There was a person named Schneider and Mae Smith.
And same thing with Thompson Point.
All those buildings out there are all named after academic people who taught or were administrators.
- [Anna] Patrick Brumleve started with university housing back in 1986 and worked for the department until August, 2014.
Patrick is also an SIU alum with a background in history.
He ended up doing research about the housing area, now known as East Campus.
- But at the time when I was involved, the biggest thing was the population.
It was completely full.
And in fact, it was so full that in the fall they had what they called over assign rooms.
And there was two rooms to each floor that they put a third person in.
I always remembered when I worked for the contracts office, every year we would go out to the areas and let people sign up for the next year wherever they wanted to live in a room.
And the big question always was, in the towers was, is this an L-shaped room?
And what they meant was, is the sink was around the corner.
One room, the sink was kinda like in the middle of the room against the wall.
And then the L-shaped room, the sink was around a corner.
And everyone liked that, liked those rooms for some reason.
- [Anna] Patrick says near the end of his time with housing, there were discussions about tearing the towers down.
For similar reasons, a housing area known as The Triads were torn down.
The Triads consisted of Allyn, Boomer, and Wright Halls and they were demolished in 2012.
The university was looking to build residence halls that were easier to manage.
- And that's why the Triads got torn down because the plan was, okay, we're gonna tear down the Triads and start building those smaller five or six story buildings that would be easier to administer and everything.
But I think once they started really looking into the cost and everything, it's just like, no, let's just keep the towers.
- [Anna] C.W.
Thomas grew up around the towers and can remember visiting his father who had an office in Trueblood.
- When we got here, this was all just a big forest area.
- [Anna] In the '60s, university housing kept men and women in separate areas.
Neely and Mae Smith initially only housed women while men lived in Schneider.
Single undergraduate women had an 11:30 PM curfew.
- If you were a guy, you had to ask for permission to visit down in the lounge.
And you had to be, have a chaperone for that.
- [Anna] Times have changed significantly, yet so much about the towers has stayed the same.
Generations of Saluki's have lived here, then moved their own kids in decades later.
- For me, the towers just mean stability and that they were here three years, they were built three years after we got here, and they're still here, I don't know, what's that?
60 years later, maybe.
- The towers are good.
They're good buildings.
They're still, you know, very usable if they keep up on the maintenance and everything.
That's my, you know, personal opinion.
I think there's still good buildings.
- Thanks to Anna Twomey from the SIU Alumni Association for that reports.
Well long before parents send their children off to school, education often begins in the home with reading as a hallmark of success.
Today I am so pleased to have with us an educator from Carbondale who founded the Brown Bear Book Club.
Her new book is "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly."
Breanna Churchill, welcome to "Eye on Education."
- Hi, I'm so glad to be here.
- It is great to have you with us, Breanna.
I know that you worked as a teacher and as a childcare director and also started the Brown Bear Book Club at the end of 2020.
Tell me about your decision to create the club and how it's been going.
So, I started the Brown Bear Book Club in 2020, shortly, a little couple of years after I had my first son.
And it really was inspired by me wanting to use my education.
I'm a SIU alumni in early childhood and I also wanted to use my experience to not only teach my children, but to also help families and educators all over the world with their children.
- Well, when folks search out online for Brown Bear Book Club, they'll see your fantastic website.
You have so much information on there.
We're gonna talk about some of it.
We couldn't get to everything because there's so much on the website.
As you said, you have kids of your own.
Tell me about how they help when you are writing a new book or creating a resource.
- So my children, they're still pretty young, but one of the ways that they really help is me seeing their development happen before my eyes.
So when I see my baby all the way to my preschooler, to now my kindergartner, I look at, okay, as a parent, what are some of those key things I want my child to learn?
And I think about other parents and other educators and how they would benefit from whatever I'm doing, whether that's activities or writing a new book.
My four year old, he helped me come up with my newest book, "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly."
And oftentimes he's the first one I pitch my ideas to.
So I figured if I can share my title with him or share the storyline with him and he stays engaged, then it's a great possibility that other children will too.
So they're my sounding board.
A lot of my books are also inspired by experiences I'm on with my children, whether it's field trips and things like that.
- I bet your kids and others who see it love the illustrations.
They're just beautiful in the book.
- Thank you so much.
With "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly," I was able to meet a wonderful illustrator, Elisabetta Kress, she lives in Asia and just, she brought the vision to life.
- That's so wonderful, with our connected world, how we can connect with people all over the world to help with projects like this.
Well, I know your club also has resources for parents.
Tell me about those.
So the Brown Bear Book Club, one of the key things that I offer through the Brown Bear Book Club is practical everyday activities.
So everything from how to teach a child the alphabet using sand and shaving cream, to doing fun science experiments.
And I do it in the form of YouTube videos.
I offer tips and strategies there.
I also create lesson plans for both parents who choose to homeschool their children and educators who work with children.
So lesson plans, activities, templates, charts, all things early childhood.
- Yeah, fabulous.
Well, lessons of patience and perseverance, incredibly important things, are part of the new book, which I said is "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly."
Tell me about the book.
So the story begins with an encounter that I had at a local pet store.
And me and my children were on a field trip and we saw this little bird who was just flapping, flapping.
And you could tell he was in distress.
And I asked the worker, I said, "What's going on?
Why is this little bird flapping and flapping?"
And she told me, she said, "Well, we trim his feathers so he can't fly."
And so I just remember thinking how frustrating it must be to be born to do something and not be able to do it.
And so that was how the story began.
And so what you'll find in "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly" is a journey of a little bird.
He sees everybody else flying and he's like, "I wanna fly."
And it's a story that teaches children the importance of resilience, perseverance, don't give up the first time that you try.
And also, it's a story that values family.
You have little bird's family who comes in and encourages him to keep trying, to trust, you know, things will happen at the right time.
And I personally believe as a parent and a educator, that we all are here for a purpose.
And so it's a message that resonates, not only with children, but also adults, to be patient and trust God's timing.
- And such an important thing to talk about.
There's more and more research about how perseverance is connected to success.
And so that's such a great thing to have in this particular book.
You've told us about the origin of this book.
But when I read about the topics of patience and perseverance, it got me thinking about a question I was really interested in asking you, which was, normally when you write a book, what comes first, the lesson that you want to impart or the story?
- So for me, it's the message, the message.
Particularly as we speak about "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly," I thought about how it's very important for children, especially in our age, to realize that the first time you try something, it's not always gonna work out and it's important that you keep trying.
So even in "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly," you'll see he's trying suggestions from his friends, Bumblebee and Squirrel, and it doesn't always, it doesn't work.
And I think that's the reality that children need to know at a young age, that it's not gonna work out the first time you try.
So it's definitely the message.
So as I was writing, I was thinking, I need to put in obstacles because this is the reality of life.
And children need to know that at an early age.
And, so yeah.
- Yeah, it's so important and great lessons for young people and really something for all of us to think about.
We all work on being more adept at perseverance and resilience.
We're gonna get into some of that in your own life.
I want to get- - [Breanna] (laughs) Yes.
- A little more about your story and what surprised you about this journey of becoming an entrepreneur?
- One of the things that has probably surprised me the most is the process of being an entrepreneur.
The process of, some days you see a world full of possibilities and you're just excited and you're just, you wanna do everything, I think, especially when it's something you're passionate about.
But then you have days where you're like, "Okay, I can't do everything.
I need to just focus on one thing."
And then sometimes it can be challenging.
And so I think it's the ups and downs of the entrepreneur that I'm learning as an entrepreneur.
And I think what motivates me is the purpose.
Why am I doing what I'm doing?
And for me, it's my mission to empower parents and guardians and educators with resources for young children.
And that's why you do what you do, or else you're gonna give up and you're gonna be like, oh.
So you have to have a purpose.
So that's what surprises me.
- Is that purpose what's most rewarding for you?
Is that the most rewarding thing?
Or is there a story about what's most rewarding for you?
- I think what's most rewarding is when I hear back from parents and kids.
When I see children with "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly" and they're smiling.
I remember I heard from a grandmother and she says, "My three-year-old never really reads stories or never stays engaged."
And she said, "She stayed captivated the whole time."
One of my missions also is to inspire a love for reading.
And so, or when I hear a teacher say, "Thank you for that YouTube video, I really needed that tip for my class," or "Thank you for that lesson plan, I really needed that," it makes it all worth it.
And I personally believe it's part of my calling, why God called me here.
So that fulfills me.
- This, obviously you have a passion and you can just hear it and see it and you light up talking about what you're doing.
What really brought you to reading when you were younger yourself, and then wanting to be an educator?
- Oh, I'm very thankful for all of my kindergarten, first, second grade teachers and my mom, and my dad.
I think it was just the opportunities of books being all around me.
Literacy was very encouraged at a young age.
The school that I went to, I actually went to a school in Georgia when I was little, and it was a huge focus on literacy and so reading was just promoted.
And so it was, you know, I think when teachers and parents present something that's valuable and they're excited about it, then the child will get excited about it too.
So for me, I've always looked at books and education it was fostered at a young age to love learning and to love reading.
And my teachers made it fun.
My mom, she always encouraged education.
And so I didn't know, honestly, that I was gonna be an educator or an author as a child, but I always love reading and writing.
It takes you on adventures and that's how you learn.
- Did you know it when you decided to come to SIU or did that happen while you were here?
- It happened while I was here.
- While you were here?
- I honestly, when I first came to SIU, I thought I was gonna be a journalist.
In high school, I took some classes at Columbia and I was actually in performing arts.
I was in a whole different, I was going down a whole nother path.
- And then when I came to SIU, you know, I honestly, early childhood just, it was just like a highlight.
It just kind of, I guess it just kind of, it was part of the plan.
I don't even have that aha moment of how I got into early childhood, but I think I've always seen it as a field where I can use my desire of singing and dance and drama and writing and creativity and I can put all of those things into an early childhood environment.
And so that's why teaching was appealing to me.
Being a mother was appealing to me.
My husband, my family.
I put all of that into everything I do, the arts.
So I incorporated the arts into everything I do.
- Isn't that interesting?
- So that's how, that's how I ended up as an author and as an educator.
It was actually the love for the arts, now that I think about it, yeah.
- That's very interesting.
I mean, and how fortunate that you were here because there was an education program, so you could channel your love for the arts into your passion for education.
- That's true.
That's very interesting.
So you've talked about what's so rewarding about being an entrepreneur, but you've also hinted that there are challenges that sometimes, you know, you even have days where you, it may be really a difficult day.
- [Breanna] Sure.
- And so give me a sense of that.
What is most challenging for you in this journey?
- So I would say one of the most challenging things in this current moment is actually keeping a work-life balance.
Because most entrepreneurs, especially when they're super passionate, you could do it all day 24 hours.
But when you are, I'm married, I have a husband, I have two little children, I still teach Sunday school at my church.
I have other multiple hats that I wear that I'm just as passionate about.
So one of the challenges that I have most days is telling myself no.
No, you've been working on this for a couple of hours.
It's time for you to stop because there's something else that's more important, which is my children, my family, or my ministry.
- Yeah, and this is a real challenge for more and more people because even folks who have traditionally worked in an office, now may be working at home all or part of the time.
And of course when you're at home, like you say, it can just end up becoming, you're working all the time.
- All day, yep.
- Yep, yep.
But you have to tell yourself no.
- You have to take care of your health, you have to exercise, you have to read, do other hobbies besides your work because, especially when you love it.
Every time I tell myself no, I never regret it because there's something more important that I need to do in that moment.
- Well, I'm glad you shared as well that one of the most rewarding things for you is getting that feedback from a child or a teacher or a parent, because it's a reminder for everyone watching this, that if someone makes a difference in your life, let them know about it.
I know as someone who's taught myself, the most rewarding thing in all of my career is having a student say, "You made a difference.
Your class made a difference."
- [Breanna] Yes.
- So, great.
Well, Breanna, it has been such a delight talking with you.
Best of luck as you continue with the Brown Bear Book Club.
- Thank you.
- And "The Little Bird Who Wanted to Fly."
- Thank you so much, Fred.
- Good to have you here.
My guest was Breanna Churchill.
She is the founder of the Brown Bear Book Club.
That is "Eye on Education."
I'm Fred Martino.
Thanks for being here and have a great week.
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