This year the Ludlow Public School administrative team accepted the Shadow a Student Challenge, a campaign that asks school leaders to follow a student during their entire school day to learn alittle about life on the other side. According to their website, organizers explain the challenge “is a fun, illuminating, and supportive journey where school leaders come together to empathize with their students and take new kinds of action at their school.”
East Street School had not one, but two administrators participate in the challenge. Mr. Thomas Welch, East Street Principal, shadowed Ethan Stephens, a kindergarten student in Mrs. Erin Keane’s class and Dr. Erica Faginski-Stark, LPS Director of Curriculum, shadowed Daniel Nam in Mr. Gregory Bertsch’s 1st grade class and Mrs. Kerri Kinne’s English Language class.
Welch and Faginski-Stark started their day eager to turn back time and experience being an elementary school student in 2017. “On my way to meet Ethan at his bus stop to accompany him to school, I realized it had been 50 years since I had been a kindergarten student,” reflected Welch, “and that so much has changed!
Both Welch and Faginski-Stark quickly remembered the finer points of elementary school-- staying in line while navigating the hallways with their class, raising their hand to answer a question, eating lunch in the cafeteria with your friends, completing worksheets, singing songs, coloring, learning to read, that feeling of excitement when it’s time for recess, how cool gym class is and wonderful it is to make new friends! The one experience that wasn’t in their memory banks was the level of technology available to students in 2017--- SMARTBoards, classroom computers, iPads and listening centers.
“I enjoyed my day immensely,” shared Welch, with a childlike smile. “I had my own crayon bucket, coat hook, and mailbox. Ethan was a perfect host. He helped me all day long with a smile and plenty of patience. My day as a student was full of academic activities and learning. The day was filled with learning. Mrs. Keane and the classroom staff are amazing!”
“I think Mr.Welch had a great day,” commented Ethan. “He behaved and followed the rules. He helped me in speech class say a word. He was a good listener to the directions in math. It was so cool when he was in my bus line at the end of the day.”
Of her principal turned student for the day, Keane commented, “Overall he had a very good day. At one point, however, I had to check in with him to see if he was listening because he was chit chatting on the carpet with a friend, and almost missed his turn on the SMARTBoard!”
When why she chose East Street School, Faginski-Stark shared, “One of the aspects to my job is directing the English Language Department, and accompanying services, so I was interested in shadowing an English language learner to experience the day from their perspective and the experience was great! As most of my career has been at the middle school level I had an interest in spending the day in our primary level school.”
“One thing that I took away from spending time in the EL classroom was the importance of structure in each lesson that helped guide each student,” shared Faginski-Stark. “Mrs. Kinne was explicit about tiered language, she was conscious about defining key words within the lesson that were unfamiliar, and each portion of the class was broken down into manageable parts to promote student success.”
Of her day as a 1st grade students Faginski-Stark shared, “The day was filled with joy. This mirrored my recollection of school as a child. It was great to go back and see other students having the same happy, positive experience I remember. I was so impressed with the work both the classroom teacher, Mr. Bertsch and the EL teacher, Mrs. Kinne did; it reflects best practices for EL students.”
“I liked helping our new student,” commented Daniel, and noticing that Faginiski-Stark’s name card remained on his locker he immediately asked his teacher when she would be returning. Although not be returning as a student in his classroom, Faginiski-Stark was happy to report that she and Daniel are now pen pals, She explained, “Each week I am making an effort to write a note in the journal I received while in class that day, to say hi, encourage Daniel and just check-in to see how things are going.”
Welch and Faginski-Stark agreed the experience was not only fun but also offered them a new perspective on student learning and how to better support district goals to improve instruction. They also agreed that their day walking in the shoes of an East Street student left them with an even deeper appreciation and respect for school staff and their dedication to the students who enter their classroom each morning.
As Ethan boarded the bus for home at the end of a memorable day, Welch remarked, “This was an amazing experience. As Principal Welch I always knew that the staff at East Street strives to facilitate student learning at every opportunity throughout the school day, for each of our students. And now, after spending a day as a kindergarten student, I agree with Principal Welch 100%!”
Mr. Welch and Ethan
Dr. Faginski-Stark and Daniel
Photo Credits: Mr. Welch, Mr. Bertsch, Mrs. Keane