Walk as a Child: A Day in the Life of a Fourth Grader

Over the past several weeks, Lower School and Preschool teachers have “walked as a child” from morning carpool until afternoon pick-up. Last Friday, Mrs. Sue Rittenberg, Preschool and Lower School Learning Specialist, spent the day as a fourth grader.

She describes her day walking a child in her own words:

“Lightning-fast. Eye-opening. Way more fun than any school day I remember.”

And if she were to let us peek into her journal or diary, fourth-grader-Sue describes her day from the point-of-view of a Walker student.

After socializing at my table in Gatti Hall, everyone lines up, quickly, to get upstairs. The day starts fast, and the pace is set.

There’s an easy flow to that first organizational piece of dropping off homework and writing down assignments. Teachers have us programmed well to get assignments from the white board — some sit at a desk, but others sit on the floor right in front of the white board. (Probably would have been me in fourth grade!) There’s a quiet hum as students hold up their hands to have assignments signed off by Mrs. Mulroy. At precisely 7:55 a.m., we are hearing the next chapter read out loud from a great novel she’s reading to the class. Must be great to have your own “book on tape” installment every morning.

First class is a social studies test. Wow, Mrs. Jackson has quiet music playing when we walk into the room. (My brain sure feels calmer just having that music in the background.) And I can’t believe how helpful she is when she hands out the test. She actually tells us which key words to highlight for the first four questions. Even better, on the second page, she draws the picture we went over in class to remind us of the details for that Mayflower Compact question. And she tells us to come up to her desk and say, “I have a question about this question.” Some kids go ask questions…it’s no big deal, and makes a big difference if I don’t understand how the question is worded.

Now we move to math class. I’d probably feel a lot differently about math if I had Ms. Ahmed as a teacher in fourth grade. She’s always saying things like, “I’m not that fast with my multiplication facts…can someone tell me how they would get that answer?” or “Numbers are easy, it’s the words that get in the way — let’s walk slowly through the words.” A classmate said that she didn’t understand the reason zero wasn’t a prime number and, get this, Ms. Ahmed said, “I don’t like that reason either, and I’m going to come back with a better reason on Monday and share it with you guys.” It’s super safe to raise your hand in here, and you don’t have to be certain you have the exact right answer!

Back to English class to work on our personal narratives. I really didn’t know what a “hook” was, but now I get it — it’s how to trick the reader by saying something funny, or using dialogue, or maybe a contrast — and then they’ll read the whole piece of writing, even the parts that aren’t that exciting. Mrs. Mulroy is awesome at saying things over and in a different way — until we get it. (Should probably go back and rework the hook to this piece.)

Finally, it’s recess and then lunch — then PE. No one complains about running 4 laps right after lunch, probably because Coach Brady just makes everything FUN, even all the conditioning drills! (Those fourth grade arms were much stronger than mine doing the 5 pull ups following a full minute of sit-ups).

What better way to end the day than to have Science with Mrs. Waddington and Mrs. Mullins? When Mrs. Waddington said we were having a quiz, I thought “Oh, great.” But guess what? She had us work with a partner and make up our own quiz! That’s more fun, but actually not that easy. We had to make up easy, medium and hard questions — plus a bonus question. And we had to figure out the answers for every question. Science goes by way too fast—all the kids say that!

Now, quickly check the books we need for homework, listen for our carpool number, and down the steps to carpool circle!!!

What an incredible, amazing experience this was.  I really can’t begin to describe what these teachers are able to pack into a day. Tomorrow, I’d love to be a first grader…then a Kindergartner…and then….second grade…and then…

What did I learn about Walker from this experience walking as a child?

  • Students feel so respected and are constantly encouraged to ask questions or make comments on other’s answers by agreeing or disagreeing.
  • Critical thinking takes place in EVERY class — students are asked to discover answers on their own, or better yet — come up with the questions. Students simply don’t have the chance to “sit back.”
  • Learning strategies are being taught in so many ways and naturally incorporated into how students ask for help, how to use resources, and how to walk through a test.
  • Being in the classroom, it’s easy to feel how much these teachers care about each student — encouraging someone to ask a question that they haven’t heard from yet or authentically commenting on what a great connection was just made.
  • These kids should be TIRED when they get home — they are going nonstop, and it moves fast!!!

About the Author: Mrs. Sue Rittenberg, M.A., is the Preschool and Lower School Learning Specialist. She is in her seventh year at The Walker School and is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist.

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Where does the money go?

The phenomenal results of last year’s annual fund testify to the great strides we have made in building a culture of philanthropy at Walker.  Parent participation rose twelve percent (12%) and the total amount raised increased by more than fifty-six percent (56%)!  Everyone at Walker is thankful to Lyric Resmondo and her team of parent volunteers who helped spread the word on the importance of a strong annual fund.

Interestingly, though, the success of last year’s annual fund has led to an important question: How does the annual fund positively impact my child’s experience at Walker?  It is an excellent question.  There are several facets to consider when answering this question.

First, The Walker School’s operating budget is ninety-five percent (95%) dependent on tuition dollars.  Without an annual fund, the school would be totally dependent on tuition dollars.  The National Association of Independent Schools recommends that schools operate based upon eighty-five to ninety percent (85-90%) tuition revenue. As our annual fund increases, it will have the effect of relieving pressure to increase tuition to cover expenses.

Second, because last year’s annual fund increased at such a dramatic rate, it allowed the school to support the educational program in significant ways:

  • the school purchased new buses which alleviated rental costs and actually created more discretionary money in the athletic budget because transportation costs were reduced
  • new technology initiatives were funded as the school purchased classroom sets of ipads and tablets as well as a new laptop for each teacher
  • school-wide security measures were upgraded and will continue to be so this year
  • several programs were expanded, such as the robotics program, flag football, and girls’ lacrosse
  • faculty salaries and coaching stipends were increased thanks, in part, to increased annual fund support

Third, because of the success of last year’s annual fund and the anticipated success for this year, our tuition increase was lower.  Essentially, the increased amount raised in last year’s annual fund represented more than a one percent (1%) tuition increase.  The increase made a significant difference as we planned for this year’s operational budget.

Finally, I would close by noting that a successful annual fund represents a voluntary vote of affirmation by a school’s two most important customers, parents and alumni.  When major donors are approached and asked to make a transformational gift to the school, a successful annual fund represents the equivalent of a blue chip stock or a Consumer Report “best buy” rating.

Thank you for investing in The Walker School and for your support of Walker’s Annual Fund.

The Gift of Being a Pre-K through 12 School

As I have taken on a new role at Walker this year, one common (and very reasonable) question I hear is, “What is a Director of Studies?” Officially, my role as Director of Studies includes leading the implementation of our long-term self-study goals identified last year and leading the vertical alignment of our Pre-K through 12 curriculum. I am also maintaining my responsibilities as Upper School Academic Dean. More simply, though, I am charged with helping us take better advantage of the gift of being a Pre-K through 12 school.

Being a Pre-K through 12 school means that we have students ages 4 to 18 all on the same campus being guided by faculty that have expertise in developing learners at all ages. These circumstances set the stage for inspiring interactions between students of different ages. Starting last year, our teachers have been meeting monthly in vertical teams, which include all of the teachers that teach the same subject from Preschool to Upper School. One of the main initiatives for the vertical teams this fall is to facilitate meaningful cross-divisional student collaborations. What value do these collaborative moments bring?

A second grade student can remind a Middle School student of the curiosity and wonder that can be found in everyday materials while they both construct cardboard arcade games that will later be played by Preschool students.

A second grade student can remind a Middle School student of the curiosity and wonder that can be found in everyday materials while they both construct cardboard arcade games that will later be played by Preschool students.

fables

A sixth grade student can apply her knowledge of grammar to mentor a first grade student as they read, write, and edit fables.

LSandMSgarden

Seventh grade students alongside fifth grade STEM students can interweave history and botany as they learn natural techniques for clearing weeds in preparation for planting their “culturally significant species” garden.

Preschool students and Upper School students can both enhance their appreciation of music as the chorus class performs Italian arias for their young audience.

sciencegabi

An Upper School student – in this case “Science Gabi” as she is called in Mrs. Waddington’s class – can deepen her understanding of core scientific concepts by assisting instruction in the Lower School Science Lab.  As anyone who has helped their child with homework can attest, nothing deepens your understanding like teaching a concept to others.

kindergarten balletKindergarten students can stretch their bodies as well as their minds by participating in a ballet class with the Upper School dance students. Those dancers returned to serve as models in the Preschool art class later in the week.

All of the pictures above are a sample of the cross-divisional student collaborations that took place just in the last week, and they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the interactions that will be taking place over the course of this year.  Older students are seeing themselves as mentors and role models and finding deeper understanding through teaching others. Younger students are sharing their knowledge confidently with older students – finding mentors that they naturally look up to in the process. These moments are the true gift of a Pre-K through 12 school – all students have the opportunity to learn through collaboration and shared experience.

Welcome Home

dsc_4074The excitement is beginning to build as we look forward to the festivities of Homecoming (Friday, October 18).  The entire student body will get swept up in Spirit Week and the Upper School students will get to enjoy their Homecoming dance on Saturday night.  Our football team will go out and face off against a rival in what is always a packed stadium at Robertson Field.  But when you trace Homecoming to its roots, it is really a time for our alumni to come home.

The Walker community is comprised of several groups including students, faculty/staff, parents, trustees and more, but our largest group, by far, is our alumni.  With 1,976 alumni spread out across 33 graduating classes, our alumni are a diverse group.  They range in age from late teens to early fifties and reside in some 37 U.S. states and nine other countries around the globe.

As one of those 1,976 graduates, I like to think that what makes Homecoming so special for our alumni is that it is a time to reflect on what has changed and, perhaps more importantly, what hasn’t changed at Walker.

dsc_4108For those who haven’t visited in several years, the changes may seem overwhelming at first.  Relatively new and expansive buildings cover a campus that is more than twice the size it was when the school relocated here in 1977.  Though football is now very much a part of Walker’s fabric, it is still practically a new creation having existed for only the last decade of Walker’s more than 55-year history.

Yet, what remains constant are those friends and those faculty members who, in truth, are more like family.  As with any family, members grow older and new members are added as time passes, but Walker isn’t a place that people return to in order to see buildings.  Walker is a place our alumni come home to each and every year to see each other and see those who have been a part of their lives for years – even decades.

dsc_4067To put on an event the size and scale of Homecoming takes nearly a year of planning and the support of many of our school’s staff as well our Alumni Board.  But what makes all the effort worth it are the scenes you see in the few photos shared here – of old friends reuniting, of children being introduced to classmates, of alumni once again seeing their favorite teacher.  That’s what it means for our alumni to come home to Walker.