Town Diary - September 2001
A day with Mrs. Connole's fifth grade class.
The Barkhamsted Elementary School in Pleasant Valley plays an important role
in the daily life of the town. About 350 students attend pre-school and the
16 classes covering kindergarten through grade 6 (most grades are comprised of two
classes, but some have three). Each school year includes 180 school days,
and this year started on August 29. Classes are scheduled to end on June 11
but here in Barkhamsted the school year is invariably extended to make up for snow
days. Let's quietly take a seat in the back of the room of Mrs. Connole's
grade 5 classroom to see what transpires on a typical school day, Thursday, September
Photo- Barkhamsted Elementary School, Pleasant Valley section of Barkhamsted.
At a little after 8:30 a.m. students start filing into the classroom to
start another day. Most students arrive by bus after a ride that averages
about 20 minutes. There are 6 different bus routes that pick up students from
every corner of the town. Some students are dropped off by parents, and a
small number walk or ride bikes to school, weather permitting.
After arriving at the classroom, students unload heavy backpacks filled with
textbooks, binders, lunches and completed homework assignments. Each student
signs in and checks off a lunch option for the day. There are three lunch
options: 1) hot lunch; 2) an alternate lunch, which includes a sandwich; 3) eating
your own lunch brought from home. The hot lunch is $1.75 plus $0.45 for milk.
The sign in sheet used for the lunch options also provides Mrs. Connole with the
day's attendance. Today there is one student absent, which is not unusual,
although a typical day will see full attendance. The students finish signing
in and take their seats.
Mrs. Connole's class is made up of 24 students, which is somewhat larger than
the average class size at the school. The average class runs about 20 students.
At 8:45 the students stand and recite the pledge of allegiance, then sing one of
several patriotic songs. Today the song is America the Beautiful. On
other days the song may be the Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle or This Land
is Your Land. With the singing over, everyone sits down, and the room is quiet
for a brief period of meditation.
Earlier, Mrs. Connole has written the day's schedule on the board, and now she
begins to review this schedule with the class, covering what will be happening and
when on this Thursday. She then asks the class to share a personal event or
highlight that has occurred in their lives. A couple of students discuss recent
incidents they have experienced. At about ten minutes before nine o'clock
the students settle into a silent reading period, reading an item of their choice
at their desks until 9:00.
Photo-Mrs Connole's fifth grade class, Barkhamsted Elementary School
At 9:00, the students in the two fifth grade classes regroup for math class.
Students are grouped into two math classes based on their proficiency in mathematics.
Some of Mrs. Connole's students leave to go to Mrs. Bowler's classroom and vice
versa. Mrs. Connole's math class reviews alternate forms of expressing whole
numbers. For example, students learn that 16 tens plus 4 ones equals 164;
and that 12 hundreds plus 13 tens plus 16 ones is equivalent to 1,346. Next,
the class listens to stories containing math-related problems. They must identify
the operation or number sentence needed to solve the problem. The exercise
concludes with a very difficult story problem, one that requires students to guess
a possible answer and test their answer to see if it is correct. This is a
co-operative exercise, with lots of chatter on the possible answer.
At 9:55 a.m. the two math groups are finished and reassemble in their original
classes. By 10:00, the students are settled and Mrs. Connole starts the reading
lesson for her class. On Thursdays, the students sharpen their editing skills
by identifying errors in a paragraph. After a student-led discussion of the
paragraph, they are given the task of writing a final corrected copy. Then
the class discusses the class novel that they are reading, My Side of the Mountain
by Jean Craighead George. Some summaries are shared of how Sam, the main character,
captured a baby falcon. Students focus on the use of transitions and specific
language used in the summaries.
At 10:45 it's time for a special activity: student photographs. The students
march to the gym where the photographer is all set up. Hair is combed and
smiles are encouraged as individual photographs are taken. The process is
well organized and everyone is back in the classroom after 15 minutes.
Photo- students hard at work on the colonial trade project.
book reports are due and four students are selected to present their work before
the class. Each month a book report is assigned, with each student reading
a different book. Each month has a theme for the book report, for example,
special costumes relating to the story. For September's book report, the theme
was the story as a mirror. Each student constructed a mirror and placed a
summary of the book on the mirror to highlight the lesson or moral learned from
the book. The student is encouraged to "see yourself in a book!"
Now comes the best part of the day: lunch and recess! The students file
out of the classroom and proceed to the cafeteria for lunch at 11:35. Mrs.
Connole's class is in the first of three lunch groups, each occupying the cafeteria
for nearly 30 minutes. Today's meal is a cheeseburger, French fries, green
beans, peaches and milk. The alternative meal is a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich, French fries, green beans, cheese cube, peaches and milk. Students
can also purchase fruit rollups or ice cream. On days with popular menu items,
about two thirds of the class will purchase lunch. Today's cheeseburger meal
is of average popularity. The two most popular meals are tacos and pizza.
On days when the meal is not a hit, the majority of the class will bring their own
lunch. The buzz of many conversations fills the cafeteria as everyone munches
their food, watched by two teachers to keep order and lessen the likelihood of a
mass food fight!
With full stomachs, the class heads outside for recess at 12:00 noon. Those
students who participate in the school band forgo recess today to attend rehearsal.
Eight students from Mrs. Connole's class are in the band. The band is made
up of about 30 students drawn from the 5th and 6th grades.
(Band rehearsal is only on Thursdays. Other special activities, such as computer
workshop, occur on other days of the week.)
The students at recess amuse themselves in a variety of ways: swings, monkey
bars and a playscape (which was constructed by parent volunteers about 15 years
ago). A teacher supervises the recess.
At 12:30, tired but happy students come back in from recess and settle down for
about 10 minutes of silent reading. One student is reading Goosebumps:
A Night in Terror Tower. This book from the classroom library tells a
chilling tale of two kids who get separated from their tour group while visiting
London and find themselves in a gloomy prison tower. During the silent reading,
students take turns getting drinks from the water fountain in the hallway.
Photo- hallway of Barkhamsted Elementary School
Silent reading ends
and the books are put away. At 12:40, Spanish class begins with the arrival
of the school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Wu. Students are taught the Spanish words
for basic geometric shapes using a patterning activity.
By 1:00 the Spanish lesson is finished and the Spanish teacher leaves the room.
Students now begin work on an ongoing special activity: the Colonial Trade Project.
Each student has selected a trade from the past and has depicted that profession,
covering the tools or special products involved in that work. For example,
one student is documenting the work of a wig maker, including the source of the
raw material and the final wares produced. Students work on producing a "Help
Wanted" ad requesting an apprentice in their particular field. During the
Trade Project activities, Mrs. Connole and Mrs. Height assist the students.
Mrs. Height is a teaching paraprofessional, and throughout the day she rotates among
the four classes of the 5th and 6th grades providing additional
support to the teachers.
At 2:10 attention turns to writing class. The students pull out a past
writing assignment and exchange papers with a neighbor. The exercise today
involves editing symbols that are used to highlight errors (for example, "sp" and
"^"). The students edit the writing samples and then pair off to discuss the
Finally the clock creeps toward that magic time, 3:00! Well, 3:00 is pretty
close to the magic time. There are just a few more tasks, including the assignment
of homework for the next day, before dismissal. For homework, each student
is expected to read for at least 20 minutes, which is pretty much a standard assignment
every night. Specific assignments for today include finishing the writing
exercise covered earlier in the day by completing a final corrected version of the
writing sample. Also, spelling work is assigned. The students are divided
into three groups by spelling proficiency, and each week they focus on a new group
of words, completing different exercises using those words. Tonight the exercise
is right to the point: study all the words! A few of this week's words for
one spelling group are: hose, whole, joke, votes, frozen and oar.
The class is a hive of activity as students pack up and complete some assigned
jobs. Each student has an assigned job, many of which are done now.
Jobs include things like erasing the blackboard, clapping erasers, looking for backpacks
that may have been left behind and seeing that wastepaper is recycled.
Job duties are rotated about once a month in case you tire of your job. The
loudspeaker crackles with announcements relating to dismissing the school for the
day. Mrs. Connole doles out handshakes, hugs and high fives as students file
by. The children proceed to the buses as a class, and another day is done.
Let's go home!
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