a community engagement initiative of Waverly Community Unit District #6
If we stop to think about things created to stand the test of time, we might think of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, the Roman Colosseum, or the Taj Mahal in India.
So We Can Last
These structures all have an element of similarity – strength. Built from the ground up, the strength of their construction has allowed them to stand against time and the elements for centuries. Laying a strong foundation is important in many areas of life; from growing hearty crops, building a home, or educating the youth of the community. And laying a strong foundation for the education of the kids in the Waverly Community School District is the driving force behind the institution and implementation of the new core curriculum.
There are several hands on deck in working to get the new curriculum standardized, and the district is fortunate to have Debbie Sidener at the helm of its Curriculum and Instructional Support program, bringing 36 years of knowledge and experience in the field of education. Debbie’s teaching background runs the gamut, encompassing everything from keyboarding, accounting, business law, and yearbook advisor. “I was fortunate to have all of those levels in my career,” she said. Debbie loved her time in the classroom, saying, “I look at it as: we are preparing them for life after graduation; be it college, service, homemaking - it doesn’t matter. They have to have the foundational skills.” Debbie recalled that in all her time teaching, even through the daily hustle-and-bustle of raising two children of her own, that there was never a time when she questioned her decision to teach. “There wasn’t one day in my career that I got up and said, “I don’t want to go to work’. I was always ready to go and happy to be there,” she said. Debbie retired from teaching in 2009, but when she found out she could make a difference in the Waverly district, she jumped on board without hesitation.
When Matt Jokisch came to teach at the Waverly Community School District, he brought 25 years of education experience with him. As a Language Arts teacher, Matt said he wonders if the students question the purpose of learning certain pieces of literature. “Sometimes the kids are looking back at you when you’re working through something that is, let’s say poetry,” he said, with quizzical expressions as if they’re thinking ‘why are we reading this…is this going to make me more money someday?’ Matt has an interesting take on what the humanities bring to education, saying it might not make a difference at the bank, “but it can make you a better thinker, it can make you more compassionate, and it can make you understand the human race better. And help us to, what I would say, solve the tougher problems in life,” he said. In a world increasingly driven by STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), Matt said he understands the desire to want to be competitive and achieve higher economic goals, but he also thinks it’s important to, “[get] some wisdom with all that knowledge, so we can last. So we can stick around.”
In Rachel Chamberlain’s 31-year career, she has spent 30 of those years in the Waverly school district. Though currently the first-grade teacher, Rachel said, “I’ve taught a lot of grade levels, but first grade is my favorite just for the fact that we see so much growth from beginning to the end of the school year.” First grade is an important year for students. Aside from the academic learning children are doing, they’re also learning behavioral skills, socialization, how to be a team player and a good classmate. With this in mind Rachel explained, “We do a lot of different styles of teaching to meet everybody where they are and meet their needs.” Switching gears to the academic portion of first grade learning, Rachel indicated that there is one subject that will have an impact on many others. “They begin reading, and it’s pretty serious business for them. … It factors into everything that we do, even our math. There’s a lot of reading involved in the story problems, and the directions for a math paper. If you’re struggling with reading, that becomes pretty difficult to do without some support,” she said. Reading is arguably one of the things we use the most, in our childhood on through to our daily lives as adults. “And when we send them on to second grade, they are readers,” she said.
These are just a few of the wonderful educators working together to get the new curriculum off and running. Last year, administrators recognized a need for continuity between the individual schools in the district. “We have collaboration at elementary, junior high, and high school. It’s dedicated collaboration and the teachers meet [three times per week],” Debbie explained. This collaboration time allows the teachers the opportunity to troubleshoot any potential snags before they become a larger issue.”
There are a number of benefits to a standardized curriculum, which is designed to create a seamless flow for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. “They have the continuity that they need when they leave kindergarten. There are skills that they need, and these conversations are taking place now. … These are the non-negotiables, these are what our kids need to have to move from grade level to grade level,” Debbie said.
Matt is part of the team who are in the process of bringing the English curriculum into alignment between elementary, junior high, and high school. “It’s going really well,” he said, “Once we’ve aligned with everyone else … we’re collaborating with the elementary to make sure we’re picking up where they’re leaving off in sixth grade.” This alignment helps to ensure that material isn’t being unnecessarily repeated at multiple grade levels, and that reading material is introduced at the appropriate reading level. “Figuring out what everyone is teaching, and whether it’s in sequence or not, is probably the most difficult challenge,” Matt said. He further indicated that one of the rewarding aspects of the hard work they’ve been doing is that when a new teacher comes in, this information is already in place which enables the new teacher to hit the ground running rather than having to create something from scratch.
The ability of the teachers to work together to achieve a common goal is crucial to its success, and sets a great example for the students. “I feel like we’re a pretty close-knit staff and we work well together,” Rachel said, “We are resources for each other, … if I don’t have something that I need, somebody does. Or we troubleshoot or talk about solutions. I’ve worked with a great bunch of people, which makes a big difference.”