Classroom of the Week | Rounding the bases of learning at Stearns Elementary

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Jenn Smith — The Berkshire Eagle
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PITTSFIELD — For some, the idea of centering a yearlong curriculum around the theme of baseball, may seem out in left field, but in Andrew Mickle's fifth-grade classroom at Stearns Elementary School, that theme has been in full swing for the past six years.

"I'm known as 'The Baseball Teacher,'" said Mickle, who integrates into his lessons the "Sliding Baseball Across the Curriculum" plan, written by local educator and baseball historian, Larry Moore.

On Thursday morning, a sign was taped to his door enlightening his students to the fact that March 29, 2018 marked Opening Day for Major League Baseball. For March, Women's History Month, he created a mini-library on one classroom shelf, dedicated to books about women in baseball, with titles like, "She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story," by Audrey Vernick and Don Tate, and "Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen," by Marissa Moss and C. F. Payne.      The Boston Red Sox fan even wore a tie with a baseball design on it as he conducted a literature lesson reading and teaching his students about the classic baseball ballad, "Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888," penned by Lawrence, Mass.-born Ernest Lawrence Thayer.

"I'm so lucky and fortunate that I work at a school where I can bring my passion and my craft," Mickle said.

He acknowledged the fact that not every pupil who walks through his door is a baseball fan or enjoys sports for that matter. But he credits his classes for being accepting of the theme. "These kids are very adaptable and very open-minded to whatever I teach, as long as I keep it fun and interesting, which is what the baseball curriculum is all about."

When asked about what baseball teaches them, students brought up women's history and gender parity, geography, history and race.

"We learn about segregation," said Jayden Lewis, explaining about how they read books about the early Negro leagues in baseball.

Mickle also teaches them about how those themes tie to current events. "It's important to know because [segregation] is still happening today," Lewis explained.

In keeping with the baseball theme, Mickle and Moore take the students to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. each spring. They also acquaint the students with the local Pittsfield Suns team, with players and staff visiting the classroom to talk about their field and to read to the students.

Each year, Mickle enrolls his students in Scholastic's "Breaking Barriers Essay Contest," which asks students in grades 4-9 to share their personal stories about how they use baseball icon Jackie Robinson's nine values to face their own barriers. Mickle said that this year's submissions from his class range from coping to a loss of a pet to dealing with their parents' divorce to struggling in school or with friends.

April White, a parent of one of his students, nominated Mickle and his group as a "Classroom of the Week." She wrote, "The kids love to learn, and with a subject like baseball, they are happy to be there and they are intrigued and ask questions, and actually are involved and not falling asleep while learning at the same time."

Indeed, the fifth-grade students seem to extend their teacher the same sort of attention he gives to them. They greet each other and classroom guests with "good morning," and say "thank you." The desks in Mickle's room are arranged in a U-shape, so that he can see everyone and they can see him. The students tend to lean in when a classroom conversation gets going, and hands willingly go up, and enthusiastically so, when Mickle asks them questions about the material they're studying that day.

The Stearns fifth-grade consists of 29 students. Mickle said he works well and closely with fellow fifth-grade teacher, Susan Hollister. She teaches math and science, and he focuses on history, geography and English language arts. Together, they coordinate classroom guests and integrate the other teacher's content area into their lessons. They also co-coordinate a student council that's partnered with Berkshire Community College's Student Government Association on various service-learning projects.

Beyond baseball, the students also participate in the Berkshire County Real Women's Essay Contest and Massachusetts Arbor Day contest. Recurring guests in their classroom this year include members of Mass Audubon, Junior Achievement and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Mickle's also on the board for Ramblewild aerial park and conservation area in Lanesborough, and all the fifth graders will get to take a field trip there and to Howe Caverns in Howes Cave, N.Y. later this spring. "Hopefully they'll gain confidence through teamwork and talking with each other," Mickle said. They'll also talk more about ecology and the science of these landscapes.

"They do a lot of nice activities with us to get us going," said fifth grader Audrey O'Leary.

Asked if there was anything else the class would like people to know about their classroom, student Alec Ginsberg chimed in and said, "There are a lot of nice students and teachers here. Mr. Mickle is nice and kind and does lots of fun stuff with us."


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