When asked why I think parents should send their kids to SJCS these are the reasons that immediately occur to me.
Innovative instruction – At SJCS, teachers have the freedom to innovate. This can be a HUGE benefit to kids because if a teacher is excited about the curriculum and can change (tailor) this curriculum based on the needs of their students, students will absolutely benefit academically. An example of innovative instruction is being allowed to choose how we teach reading – not the standards, but how we teach the standards. I attended the WaSLA reading conference and heard Donalyn Miller speak about her book titled The Book Whisperer. I left knowing that this was a book that I must have as part of my curriculum and I’m currently implementing her ideas about independent reading, genre study and book talks.
Small class sizes – These allow teachers to really track the academic expectations that have been established for each student in the classroom and hold kids accountable, making them active participants and responsible for their own learning. An example of differentiation is the individual meetings that students have with teachers to talk about their work and discuss successes as well as receive specific ways to improve. These meetings provide a way for me to connect with students in a positive way about academics. Students need to understand that we, as teachers, see their progress and give them small ways to improve, and that we expect them to make these improvements by the next meeting. Receiving constructive feedback and changing work as a result of this feedback is crucial to a child’s academic growth.
Teacher-to-student and student-to-student connection – Fewer students mean that it’s easier to connect with kids. To me, when you talk about my educational philosophy, I strongly believe that when students are connected to each other and to their teacher, they thrive. A positive classroom atmosphere allows kids to be at their best because they want to come to school and they want to learn. Our morning meetings, where students greet each other by name each day (“Good Morning, Zakai” or “Shalom, Zakai”) , welcomes and recognizes students. One child shares something about their lives and other students get to ask questions. We’ve had everything from, “I ate a scrambled egg this morning” which provided some comic relief and actually elicited many funny questions, to, “I’m having heart surgery” which makes kids stop in their tracks and ask serious questions.
At SJCS our goal is to always ask the question – what is best for our kids? Sometimes, this answer is not easy and not what we want to do. For example, it’s quite easy to create colorful projects and hang them in the hall, but what have students actually learned? What is the goal for each project? Sometimes, learning takes place when kids make protest signs, sometimes it’s when they draw a comic strip with stick figures in pencil about a historical event, and sometimes it’s in the conversations that they have with each other in groups and yes, sometimes it’s colorful projects in the hall. We need to always justify why we, as teachers, make certain academic decisions. If we remember to always have the question – what is best for our kids- in mind, we will be successful in educating well rounded, skillful, thinking citizens who are connected to their community.
Tia Rizk, 5th Grade General Education Teacher