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How one school program gave students wings

  • Fourth graders experience how one person can make a difference by teaching others and changing their own behavior.
  • Students share information about recycling, composting, and clean energy using fun, hands-on outdoor learning.

If you walked into the courtyard at Kingswood Elementary last Tuesday or Wednesday — anytime during school hours except for lunch — you would have seen magic happening. Like any magic show, the seemingly effortless production was the result of a lot of hard work and impeccably coordinated actions. If you bear with me, I’ll even share with you a secret I learned.

But unlike a magic trick, the results in that courtyard were not an illusion.

A handful of the school’s fourth and fifth grade students were more engaged in their learning than ever before — quite a feat in itself for the last few weeks before summer break. In charge of everything from the topics and activities to the timing of groups rotating through each station, the students were alight with pride at their accomplishments.

Photo Credit: Alisa Herr/EdNC
Photo Credit: Alisa Herr/EdNC

Kingswood’s Green for Life Day was a culmination event where the entire school had time to visit the courtyard to participate in learning stations focusing on living a “greener” lifestyle. Environmental leaders in fourth grade conducted activities at a series of education stations. They shared information about recycling, composting, and clean energy and proved how one person can make a difference by teaching others and changing their own behavior.

At the Race for Recycling station, students took turns tossing different items into the correct bin — paper, plastic, compost, or trash. One of the student leaders was so into this project that she voluntarily spent time outside of school researching recycling and creating a poster of information to share with others.

 

Students had the chance to spin the Wheel of Future and answer trivia questions about being environmentally conscious. Correct answers won them enthusiastic praise and a ticket, which are used school-wide as a reward system for positive behavior.

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The Information Center featured story books about ways to live a “greener” life, information about renewable energy, and a solar-powered car. As the new groups of students came to the station, the student leaders introduced themselves and asked for the others’ names.

Another student leader wanted to make a coloring book, so she illustrated pages with facts about the environment and renewable resources for students to take home with them. When quizzing their fellow students about the topics of sustainability and green living, the students cheered them on and congratulated them for correct answers.

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The student leaders took their roles seriously. This experience was their chance to show how far they have come and how much they have learned.

Here’s the thing you couldn’t see by just walking through the courtyard: These students were individually chosen to participate in this project because they were identified as falling behind. Only this April did Kim Manganelli join Kingswood as the intervention teacher and STEM specialist. In a month and a half, she empowered these students by giving them responsibilities and letting them find their own way to engage with learning.

Photo credit: Alisa Herr/ EdNC
Photo credit: Alisa Herr/ EdNC

At the previous school where Manganelli taught, “Green for Life” was a year-long project culminating in a school-wide Green for Life Day. At Kingswood, this whole production was prepared in less than 20 percent of the time, but you wouldn’t know it. The efforts paid off.

Kingswood Elementary students outside STEM school garden

When asked what their favorite part of the day was, the student leaders told me, “Seeing the younger kids smiling,” “Being the teacher,” and, “Sharing what we learned about ways we can save the animals and the environment.”

So the secret? Some students may need a little bit of a different approach, but once they are engaged with learning, they can soar.

 

Alisa Herr

Alisa Herr is the former chief technical officer of EducationNC.