We all just experienced the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new year. At every school, the new year begins with the falling leaves in September. At Saint John School in Old Saybrook, it also brought new teachers to the Third and Fourth grades, Mrs. Penrod and Ms. O’Brien. While they are new to Saint John School, they both have had plenty of teaching experience.
Ms. O’Brien spent 32 years teaching in the Natick, Massachusetts public school system. During her time in Natick, she took a leave of absence where she traveled to Europe and taught in England and Switzerland. This widened her horizons on different teaching methods. She encompasses many subjects by using chapter books to teach literature, social studies and morals. Recently her class read Because of Winn-Dixie, a book centered on Opal, a 10-year-old girl, who adopts a stray dog and learns about life, loneliness and renewal through searching for her dog. Children can identify with the character as she encounters her neighbors as their true selves. Using this book as a tool, Ms. O’Brien can allow her students to expand their outlooks through literature. Ms. O’Brien is also a proponent of “Hands on Learning”. Her students are asked to pick a public figure, current or historical. They then produced a timeline of their subject’s life. They are given 5 questions to answer dressed as that person and must discover 5 different character traits of their subject. The student researches about history and/or current events and how to conduct themselves through public speaking. This is an amazing way to broaden a child’s abilities and be fun too! Being in front of their peers is something these 4thgraders do quite often. They are called upon to participate in school masses by doing readings and prayers. Ms. O’Brien finds teaching at Saint John School different from public schools but just as rewarding.
In the third grade, Mrs. Penrod, has started the year with great enthusiasm. Her zeal for education has only increased after 19 years of teaching elementary kids. Her previous school was Our Lady of Victory School in West Haven, CT. SJS has been fortunate in hiring such quality teachers. Mrs. Penrod also believes in the efficacy of learning by doing. This Fall, Mrs. Penrod’s 3rdGraders and Ms. O’Brien’s 4thGraders, participated together in a Halloween S.T.E.M. project. This acronym stands for the 4 legs of learning; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The students teamed up to construct a Skeleton Bridge. This required cooperation and sharing of information and planning. Team building is an important aspect. As Mrs. Penrod added, “Everyone has something to contribute”. The bridge was made of common things like Q-tips and had to be strong enough to withstand a quantity of pennies. This meant measuring distances between supports and decking. They used their math skills to accomplish it. It was pretty awesome for a roomful of 8 and 9-year-olds!
SJS also has a wonderful program which is a type of mentoring. The higher classes are paired with younger grades. Ms. O’Brien’s class has kindergarten buddies and Mrs. Penrod’s class has 7thgrade buddies. The students spend time together and help the younger children feel comfortable and accepted in the school community. A student’s conscience and character are definitely part of the curriculum. This makes SJS a great environment for both students and teachers.
Both Ms. O’Brien and Mrs. Penrod agree about the importance of teaching in a Catholic school. Ms. O’Brien said she appreciates Mother Elaine (SJS Principal) allowing her the freedom to bring in her style of teaching. Both teachers concur that the warm and encouraging environment is conducive to teaching the whole child. That’s why we know that SJS is a jewel of a school!