Here’s more about this week’s featured classroom:
Teacher: Meryl VanLente-Vink
School: Holmes Elementary School
What makes your classroom special? Our classroom members are special because we are brave and kind! We are not afraid to try new things in our learning, even if it feels hard at first, and we know that being kind can change someone’s day. Our classroom is pretty cool because it’s Disney-themed. Our clock has Mickey ears, our jobs are named after “Beauty and the Beast” characters, our classroom expectations are modeled after the Seven Dwarfs, and a Carousel of Progress shows us our learning targets for each day.
In addition to the curriculum, what are some things you teach your students? I try to teach them about social issues/change so they know that, throughout the course of history, bravery has been at the center of so many movements. We’ve talked in age-appropriate ways about September 11th, the pilgrims and Native Americans, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Abraham Lincoln, and the way those people and events have shaped our world. Even as first -graders, when they hear these stories, it piques their interest in learning and doing.
What special project is your classroom working on now? Our special project is Imagineer Monday! Each Monday, we become Disney Imagineers, our classroom becomes our lab, and we complete various S.T.E.M. challenges. They always have a theme and are usually tied to a story I read prior to the challenge. In November, one of our challenges was to build a tower with candy corn. In December, we built elf traps. For our 100th day of school, we built things with 100 Legos and 100 wooden pattern blocks. We made a door display in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Every challenge requires us to plan and create together, and they look forward to each Monday’s new challenge.
How is your classroom involved with the community? As a grade level, we participated in a coat drive in partnership with Plantenga’s Cleaners last fall. We collected a pile of coats in our classroom, and Plantenga’s Cleaners picked them up, cleaned them, and donated them where they were needed most. We also collected food and supplies for a local food pantry donation. We are a Be Nice school, and those daily efforts translate into the community, as these children learn and practice the expectations and skills at school, recognize the impacts, and take them with them in the outside world.
How do you hope what your students are learning now will affect their future? I always want them to be inspired to think big and be brave and kind. This is an incredible grade to teach for so many reasons, not the least of which is the deep and real love for learning each child possesses. I figure that every exposure I can give them to new and different ways of thinking and doing will plant a seed. Whether or not that seed grows is up to them and their interests and dreams, but if they’re thinking about things in a new way, striving to do the right thing despite fear, and thinking of others in the process, I consider their futures a success.