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Hula skirt, kilt: Professor raids closet to earn 100% attendance during Covid-19 outbreak

When coronavirus drove his students out of the university and into the virtual classroom, an assistant professor of culinary arts knew he had to get creative.

ST. LOUIS — When it was clear coronavirus would be driving his students out of the university and into a virtual classroom, an assistant professor of culinary arts knew he had to get creative.

But Robert Rhymes, director of the culinary program at Kaskaskia College, didn’t turn to his own kitchen to keep students engaged. Instead, he raided his closet.

Credit: Robert Rhymes
Robert Rhymes, in one of the many costumes he’s worn to teach his online classes at Kaskaskia College.

For the past 24 days, Rhymes has used his healthy collection of Halloween costumes to dress the part for each of his lessons in cuisine from around the world.

From a kilt to a Hawaiian skirt, a snorkel to full-on Pirates of the Caribbean regalia, Rhymes has dressed up to match the curriculum in a string of classes that has kept his students, and even their families, glued to the screen.

Credit: Robert Rhymes
Robert Rhymes, in one of the many costumes he’s worn to teach his online classes at Kaskaskia College.

It takes Rhymes about 30 minutes to don his costume of the day. He then “travels” to a different room in his house for each online class, helping students imagine he’s teaching about a country’s cuisine while actually in that foreign land.

The inspiration came from the rapid changes he saw happening around him.

Credit: Robert Rhymes
Robert Rhymes, in one of the many costumes he’s worn to teach his online classes at Kaskaskia College.

“So many of my personal friends are actually struggling during this time,” Rhymes explained during a recent Zoom interview. “So we're facing unemployment, a lot of people are just bombarded with the negativity of this coronavirus situation, and so anything I can do to help my students smile, I was willing to do."

His creativity has captivated not just his students, but even total strangers. Rhymes started posting his costumes to his Facebook page, even including a little story with each. Now, he’s got a following he never imagined when he first stepped into costume more than three weeks ago.

As for his students, they have been smiling and laughing for the past 24 days. And class attendance has never been better. An accomplishment for any teacher who has seen students fail to log in during this time of virtual learning.

Rhymes said his goal is to do this for a total of 30 days.

And some of his best looks, he said, are yet to come.

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